A worker carries out fogging at the Pancasila Sakti (Five Sacred Principles) monument in Jakarta on Sept. 29, 2015, in preparation for Kesaktian Pancasila (Sacred Pancasila) Day celebrations held on Oct. 1 to remember the country's 1965 massacre. (TEMPO/Dia Triyuli Handoko)

A worker carries out fogging at the Pancasila Sakti (Five Sacred Principles) monument in Jakarta on Sept. 29, 2015, in preparation for Kesaktian Pancasila (Sacred Pancasila) Day celebrations held on Oct. 1 to remember the country’s 1965 massacre. (TEMPO/Dia Triyuli Handoko)

Heated discussions on whether the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo should issue an apology to victims of the 1965 tragedy have recently emerged among the political elites.

Almost all mainstream and social media have been flooded by the pros-and-cons of the idea. At the grassroots level, the debates have reached a point beyond trading words.

If not quickly checked, it will be very difficult to control. History has taught us so many precious lessons. Negligence may have dire consequences. A prompt and proper response from the government is therefore required if we — as a nation — do not want to see our national unity torn into pieces again.

This concern is not without foundation. As a young nation-state of 71 years, Indonesia still has a series of unresolved historical burdens, which once threatened the existence of Pancasila, the state philosophy and the 1945 Constitution, a fundamental legal framework upon which the unitary state of the republic is based.

Those burdens were political as a result of various opposing camps trying to seize control of the country, using ideologies that were absolutely incompatible not only with Pancasila, but also with the Constitution.

These include the 1948 communist putsch, the Darul Islam/Indonesian Islamic Armed Forces ( DI/TII ) uprising of 1949 — 1962 and the People’s Universal Struggle ( PRRI/Permesta ) rebellion of 1958 — 1961.

The fall of president Soeharto in 1998 with all its ramifications, including the loss of innocent lives, is yet another political chapter that the country has yet to resolve.

These burdens need to be overcome urgently. Otherwise, they will continue to hamper the nation’s efforts to achieve its national interests, amid fiercer competition for market access and for the acquisition of, and control over, the world’s rapidly dwindling finite resources.

If these political agendas continue unresolved, Indonesian progress will soon be eclipsed by other middle-power countries, such as Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil.

These emotionally charged debates on offering an apology to the so-called victims of the 1965 tragedy could become our Pandora’s Box, potentially triggering much wider and wilder debates on all outstanding political issues. If that is the case, emotionally exhausted Indonesia will be severely inhibited in performing its constitutional duties to develop a united, just, stable and prosperous country.

Worse, it may serve as a starting point for the balkanization of Indonesia. Some quarters — if not countries — will surely be happy to witness the weakening of the nation, for potential threats from the world’s fourth-biggest country would also be diminished.

On the brighter side however, these recent heated debates can also serve as an opportunity for the government to try to find an all-inclusive and dignified solution to all those outstanding political disputes, while upholding to the fullest national unity above anything else.

Though political, these historical burdens contain legal facets. It is only natural therefore to assume that they should also be politically resolved.

In other words, these legal dimensions should not necessarily be resolved through litigation, as amply demonstrated by the experiences of other nations, which went through similar tragic historical trajectories.

Australia and South Africa are cases in point. Litigation proceedings — especially those that put so much emphasis on the sense of extreme self-victimization — will definitely backfire as the concept of victimhood can be conveniently manipulated by all opposing camps as befitting only them. A vicious circle will ensue to the detriment of national unity.

Some have mentioned that it would be praise-worthy if and when all Indonesian people could and would simply forgive each other as we always do during the end of the fasting month. It would be however more dignified, if we, as a nation, could come up with an all-encompassing solution to enable the healing process to take its course.

One of the best possible scenarios is to push the government to issue an all-inclusive apology statement not solely addressed to victims of the 1965 tragedy, but to the whole nation, because during those times of political turbulence it had miserably failed to protect the people’s right to life, a constitutional duty, which no democratically governed country should neglect.

This statement should be designed and interpreted to reflect the government’s remorse, and at the same time reaffirm its strong commitment to protecting and upholding the country’s constitutional duties, a solid foundation to prevent a future recurrence of similar tragedies, hence negating impunity.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd of Australia also issued a public apology addressed to the whole nation, Aborigines in particular, in 2008, for the crimes committed by his predecessors.

This apology has historically humbled the nation ever since and the healing process has also borne fruit. Together with South Africa, Australia is able to leave the past behind and march forward as a united and prosperous country.

The litigation dimension did not appear in Rudd’s apology or in the case of South Africa.

As a highly cultured nation, Indonesia should also be able to follow South Africa and Australia’s exemplary footsteps, to enable it to focus its energies on developing a united, just, and prosperous country capable of contributing to global peace and security.

This continual infighting will only prevent Indonesia from shining on the global stage, while it has so much potential, which only a few selected countries possess in this world.

Imron Cotan

*The writer was Indonesian ambassador to Australia ( 2003 — 2005 ), and to China ( 2010 — 2013 ). He is a member to the Defense Minister’s Advisory Group. The above views are personal. It was first published in the Kompas daily.