Kartini Day: Indonesia’s proto-feminist heroine

Raden Ajeng Kartini was cloistered in an aristocratic family, but managed to befriend some progressive Dutch and Indonesian individuals who stimulated her thinking. She was determined to improve the lot of Indies women, even though her father made her the fourth wife of an older man. She poured her heart and hopes into letters to liberal-minded friends but died following childbirth at 25.

A collection of her letters was published posthumously, in English called “Through Darkness to Light” and later “Letters of a Javanese Princess”. These spread her ideas and are still republished today. For more, see: http://www.shadow-chase.com/women-of-the-indies.html

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Indonesia: freedom of speech?

There were two pieces of disturbing news from Indonesia last week regarding freedom of speech.

The South Jakarta District Court found political activist Asma Dewi guilty of ‘insulting those in power or legal institutions’, in violation of Article 207 of the Criminal Code. In a Facebook post, she had used slang words meaning stupid and crazy when criticizing the government. The court said Asma’s comments were ‘not constructive’, as the words ‘could be construed as insulting’.

Asma was sentenced to over five month’s jail but she’ll probably walk free, as her detention since her arrest last September was taken into account. The prosecution had requested two years’ jail and an extremely hefty fine.

Indonesians have never enjoyed freedom of expression as it is understood in liberal democracies but, since an era of reformasi was heralded after the demise of quasi-dictator Suharto two decades ago, there have been gradual advancements on that front. More recently, however, it seems Indonesian politicians are becoming more thin-skinned.

Witness to this trend is last weeks’ new Legislative Institutions Law, empowering the House of Representatives’ ethics council to press charges against anyone ‘disrespecting’ the House or its members. The law shields members themselves from investigation by law enforcement authorities without the approval of the president and the council.

Civil rights groups are worried the law could be used to silence critics (who would have guessed?) but parliamentarians claim they distinguish legitimate criticism from insults. To his credit, President Joko Widodo refused to sign the law but that doesn’t stop it coming into effect. He suggested the public should challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.

Let’s hope some brave souls are prepared to try.

[Sources: Articles in The Jakarta Post, 15 March 2018.]

Indonesian Heroes Day – the eve of Armistice

We all know 11 November is Armistice Day, when we remember those fallen in battle, especially in major wars that everyone knows about. But few people other than Indonesians are familiar with the Battle of Surabaya, celebrated on 10 November as Heroes Day in Indonesia.

This is despite the fact that one the main protagonists, apart from Indonesian nationalists, were the British armed forces (including many Indians), with numbers of Dutch personnel. It was a battle for independence for Indonesians and for reassertion of colonial power by the Dutch, with the Brits caught in between.

British armor in Surabaya

During the battle, there were propaganda broadcasts by ‘Surabaya Sue’, a Scots woman whose life included many moves, name changes, adventures and delusions (for more, see http://www.shadow-chase.com/women-of-the-indies.html). If she is to be believed, at least two Australians present crossed over to the Republican side, as did significant numbers of Indians.

BersiapinSurabayaTo see how the battle worked out, click  DUTCH EAST INDIES October 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 1 and DUTCH EAST INDIES November 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 2.

Happy Heroes Day to Indonesia, and respectful remembrance to all Commonwealth forces who did what they thought was their duty.

End of Silence: the 1965 Genocide in Indonesia

During the rule of Indonesia’s inaugural president, Sukarno, a group of generals were plotting to remove him for being too left-wing. One morning in 1965, the bodies of five of these generals were found in a well and members of the Presidential Guard took over part of the capital, Jakarta. The head of special forces, Major-General Soeharto, promptly subdued the Guards, assumed control and effectively put Sukarno under house arrest.

S&S

Soeharto quickly promulgated a story that communists were responsible for the killings and unleashed a murderous witch-hunt: the final death toll was around the million mark. Many victims were not communist, merely members of student or worker organisations, or not activist at all. Any discussion of the initial murders and subsequent purge was actively suppressed and this applies today, despite the ousting of Soeharto in 1998.

The End of Silence: Accounts of the 1965 Genocide in Indonesia, by Soe Tjen Marching (Amsterdam University Press, 2017), presents first-hand accounts of victims and family members who suffered from the witch-hunt. [See https://www.amazon.com/End-Silence-Accounts-Genocide-Indonesia/dp/9462983909/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502021215&sr=8-1&keywords=end+of+silence+%2B+soe+tjen+marching%5D

For her, the purge is very personal: “My mother’s trauma of witnessing her husband being dragged from our home by Soeharto’s troops… makes her believe that silence is a virtue. I am almost the complete opposite… I believe that I have the responsibility to reveal these stories so that more and more people find out about what happened…”

marching Marching wanted to reveal how the purge was perceived by surviving victims and their families, and how they have been affected since. Her book achieves that aim excellently, comprising an analysis of Soeharto’s campaign and its legacy, followed by chapters devoted to the stories of direct victims, their siblings, their children and grandchildren respectively, and a reflective epilogue.

The accounts she presents make gripping and sometimes harrowing reading. While often amazed at how resilient people could be, I was sobered by stories of brutality, families broken up, careers ruined, inner pain, and secrets kept fearfully for half a century. The difficulties of direct victims and their families did not end with release. Identity cards were stamped to show victims’ past status, employment became near-impossible to secure, and they were subject abuse and even violence, with lasting negative consequences.

Marching explains how Soeharto and his allies implanted widespread fear in Indonesian society so his troops’ actions could gain public approval and support. Soeharto’s anti-communist campaign permeated Indonesian life right down to his demise in 1998 and beyond, with the official line on the purge being replicated in school texts and propaganda films.

The author argues that the powerful in Indonesia (which still includes perpetrators and their cronies), by sustaining fear, have turned the victims and families into their agents in maintaining the silence, while themselves remaining demonised and stigmatised.

Marching hopes this collection of victims’ accounts will help prevent the destruction of memories of 1965-1966. Her closing words reflect exactly my own estimation of her work: “This book has given the space for the survivors and their families to challenge the chronic stigma maintained by the perpetrators and their cronies: it is time to end the silence.”

Indonesian Independence Day

On 17 August 1945, just two days after Japan had admitted defeat in World War Two, Indonesia proclaimed its independence from Dutch colonial rule. The man doing the proclaiming was the new nation’s first leader, President Sukarno. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRU93–5aOg

proklamasi

It wasn’t smooth sailing. The Netherlands did not accept the proclamation but was unready to reinstall government there immediately, so – ironically – the Japanese were left with the task of keeping the peace until Allied command for Southeast Asia (SEAC) could sent troops in. Indonesian nationalists didn’t fancy any of the above and hostilities broke out. In some cases, sympathetic Japanese commanders allowed arms and munitions to fall into the hands of the nationalists.

Then SEAC sent in its troops, mainly Indian sepoys with British brass. Hell broke loose. You can read about it at these links: DUTCH EAST INDIES October 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 1 and DUTCH EAST INDIES November 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 2.

After five years of struggle, Indonesia was finally recognised as an independedent nation. Happy Birthday, Indonesia!

Writers Festivals in Asia-Pacific 2018/2019

A brief roundup of writers festivals in the Asia-Pacific region (last updated 15 Sept 2018). Criteria for inclusion: proceedings must be mainly in English and the locale in the Asia-Pacific region — this includes the west coasts of the Americas, and the north and east coasts of Australia. Does not include comic, anime, zine or poetry festivals, nor book fairs. Where there are no details to hand for a festival, it is tentatively listed under the month it is usually held in.

YEAR-ROUND

Litquake, various dates, San Francisco, USA: a bunch of year-round events with an ‘epicenter’ happening in October. This year’s guests includes Amy Tan and Michael Chabon. Check out their calendar at www.litquake.org.

AUGUST 2018

Byron Bay Writers Festival, 3 – 5 Aug, Australia. Watch: https://byronwritersfestival.com.

Cairns Tropical Writers Festival, 10 – 12 Aug, Australia. Watch http://www.cairnstropicalwritersfestival.com

Sunshine Coast Readers & Writers Festival, 12 – 13 Aug, Coolum Beach, Australia. Watch: http://www.sunshinecoastreadersandwritersfestival.com.

Mountain Echoes Literary Festival, 22 – 25 Aug, Thimphu, Bhutan. Watch http://www.mountainechoes.org

SEPTEMBER 2018

Brisbane Writers Festival, 6 – 9 Sep, Queensland, Australia. Watch https://bwf.org.au.

Pebble Beach Authors & Ideas Festival, 28 – 30 Sep, Carmel, California. A powerhouse of thinkers and commentators, ranging well beyond creative writing. Watch http://www.carmelauthors.com/

National Young Writers’ Festival, 23 – 30 Sep, Newcastle, Australia. Program due out now. Watch http://youngwritersfestival.org.

OCTOBER  2018

Litquake Festival, 11 – 20 Oct, San Francisco, USA. “Smart, eclectic, 76% free, ten-day gathering.” Luminaries include Ursula le Guin, Michael Chabon & Amy Tan. Program & tickets out now.. Watch www.litquake.org

Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival, 15 – 22 Oct, Canada. Program and tickets available now. Big line-up includes popular author Jodi Picoult and thriller writer Michael Robotham. Watch http://www.writersfest.bc.ca

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, 24 – 28 Oct, Bali, Indonesia. Theme: ‘Jagadhita‘ (The World We Create). Line-up of 160 includes Leila Chudori, Hanif Kureishi, Anuradha Roy, Michael Vatikiotis and Dee Lestari. Big leavening of Indonesian writers this time. Program out now & tickets available. Watch www.ubudwritersfestival.com

Bangalore Literature Festival, 27 – 28 Oct, Bengaluru, India. Their website is light-on for details, but you can register now. Watch http://bangaloreliteraturefestival.org

NOVEMBER  2018

Kauai Writers Conference, 9 – 11 Nov, Kauai Island, Hawaii. Covers fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting & agent pitch sessions. Line-up includes Kristin Jannah & Scott Turow. You can register now. Program (“schedule”) is on their website. Watch http://www.kauaiwritersconference.com

Irrawaddy Literary Festival, Yangon, Myanmar.  A new governing board was created in May, but no details yet of the next festival (2018’s was in Nov). Watch www.irrawaddylitfest.com

Singapore Writers Festival, 2 – 11 Nov. Program out now. Presenters mainly Singaporean, with a smattering of overseas writers. Watch www.singaporewritersfestival.com

Hong Kong International Literary Festival, 2 – 11 Nov, Tai Kwun arts & heritage site. Line-up includes Irvine Welsh and Ma Jian. Program out now. Early bird tickets available. Watch http://www.festival.org.hk/

Wollongong Writers Festival, 23 – 25 Nov, Australia. The theme, What feeds you?, questions what drives creativity and how artists energise themselves. Line-up is shaping up. Program due 28 September. Watch www.wollongongwritersfestival.com

George Town Literary Festival, 22 – 25 Nov, Penang, Malaysia. Theme: The state of freedom. Program details still to come. Watch www.georgetownlitfest.com

DECEMBER 2018: nuthin!

JANUARY 2019

Fairway Galle Literary Festival, 16 – 20 Jan, Galle, Sri Lanka. No other details yet, but you can register. Watch https://galleliteraryfestival.com

ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, 24 – 28 Jan, Diggi Palace, Rajasthani, India.  General registration open now. Program due in 6 weeks. Watch http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/

There are many other writers festivals throughout South Asia – see http://www.sangamhouse.org/literature-festivals-in-south-asia

FEBRUARY 2019

San Francisco Writers Conference, 14 – 17 Feb, Hyatt Regency Embarcadero. Goal: “to help writers become published authors”. Keynoters include thriller/romance author Catherine Coulter and writers’ writer Jane Friedman (I recommend her newsletter). Watch http://sfwriters.org

Lahore Literary Festival, Pakistan. No details to hand about 2019 – was on 24-25 Feb last year. Watch http://www.lahorelitfest.com/about-llf

MARCH 2019

The Bookworm Literary Festival, Beijing, China. No details to hand for 2019. Watch http://bookwormfestival.com

Shanghai International Literary Festival, 14 – 27 March, China.  No other details to hand. Watch http://www.m-restaurantgroup.com and click on ‘the M literary festival’.

APRIL 2019

Newcastle Writers Festival, 5 – 7 April, Australia. No other details to hand. Watch www.newcastlewritersfestival.org.au

Sydney Writers Festival, 29 April – 5 May, Australia. No other details to hand. Watch https://www.swf.org.au.

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, USC campus, USA. No details to hand for 2019. Watch http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/festival-schedule

MAY 2019

Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival, New Zealand: “Probably early May”. No other details yet. Watch http://www.dunedinwritersfestival.co.nz

Auckland Writers & Readers Festival, 14 – 19 May, New Zealand. No other details to hand. Watch http://www.writersfestival.co.nz.

NT Writers Festival, 16 – 19 May, Alice Springs, Australia. No other details to hand. Watch http://www.ntwriters.com.au/

JUNE / JULY 2019: Apparently bibliophiles hibernate during this time.

NOTE: New Zealand Festival Writers & Readers Week, Wellington, is not on till March 2020. Watch https://www.festival.co.nz.

Heroes Day: the eve of Armistice Day

We all know 11 November is Armistice Day, when we remember those fallen in battle, especially in major wars that everyone knows about. But few people other than Indonesians are familiar with the Battle of Surabaya, celebrated on 10 November as Heroes Day in Indonesia.

Indian troops under fire

This is despite the fact that one the main protagonists, apart from Indonesian nationalists, were the British armed forces (including many Indians), with numbers of Dutch personnel and a few Australians. It was a battle for independence for Indonesians and for reassertion of colonial power by the Dutch, with British and  – for a while – Japanese caught in between.

During the battle, there were propaganda broadcasts by ‘Surabaya Sue’, a Scots woman whose life included many moves, name changes, adventures and delusions. If she is to be believed, at least two Australians present crossed over to the Republican side, as did significant numbers of Indians.

BersiapinSurabayaTo see how the battle worked out, click  DUTCH EAST INDIES October 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 1 and DUTCH EAST INDIES November 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 2.

Happy Heroes Day to Indonesia, and respectful remembrance to all Commonwealth forces who did what they thought was their duty.