Jakarta (AsiaNews) - In what many believe to be an opportunistic move to broaden his appeal, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed Presidential Instruction 12/2014, reintroducing the terms Tionghoa and Tiongkok in lieu of Chinese and China. Yet, the change gives Indonesian of Chinese ancestry, who are one of the country's largest minorities, greater dignity and respect, marking a major break with the past. Not everyone agrees with the move though.
In signing the decree, the president went back to terms used before General Suharto seized power. After he took over, the latter led a brutal campaign against the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and its members. In 1967, he issued Presidential Instruction 14 banning everything associated with Chinese culture and traditions.
In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, any connection with Communism or past membership in the disbanded PKI is still a matter of controversy today.
The attempted coup on 30 September 1965 by pro-communist groups within the secret services against President Sukarno left an indelible mark on the nation's history.
During his time in power (1967-1998), Suharto governed with an iron fist. His regime hunted down Communist party members and sympathisers, sending many of them to a virtual penal colony on Buru (Maluku Islands) without trial.
Over the years, some two million people were killed or went missing. Even today, the issue remains in a cloud of distrust, hostility and fear of persecution.
Under Sukarno, Indonesia's first president, the Communist Party had at least five million members and a close relationship with both China and the Soviet Union. He also promoted a Jakarta-Beijing-Pyongyang axis against British and US imperialism in Southeast Asia.
The political upheaval and Suharto's takeover led to a rapprochement with the West, a crackdown on suspected Communist "sympathisers" and the banning of all things Chinese.
This lasted until the years 2000, when reformist President Abdurrahman Wahid "'Gus Dur' reintroduced the Chinese New Year and revived the notion of Indonesia as a pluralistic and multicultural nation.
As parliamentary elections loom on 9 April and the presidential vote does in July, President Yudhoyono decided that a ban on the old names - Tionghoa and Tiongkok - was a "violation of the constitution" and that allowing them was more respectful and inclusive towards the country's Chinese minority.
However, the president's decision has not pleased everyone. "It is purely political," said Hendrawan, a 60-year-old Catholic from North Jakarta. It is designed "to win Chinese votes" in this year's parliamentary and presidential elections.
For 55-year-old Ancella Lily, a graduate in Chinese literature, age must be taken into consideration. "For those under 60, Cina and Tionghoa mean more or less the same thing. But for those over 60 years who suffered under the Suharto regime, these two words have a very different meaning."
Michael Purnama Utama, a Catholic businessman and prominent activist, who has fought for Sino-Indonesians rights, agrees. "Our long battle to get both terms has been successful . . . Deo Gratias," he said.