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

Advertisements

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

A brief roundup of writers festivals in the Asia-Pacific region (last updated 21 April 2018). Criteria for inclusion: the 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.

YEAR-ROUND

Litquake, various dates, San Francisco, USA: a bunch of year-round events with an ‘epicenter’ happening in October. Focuses mainly on Bayside authors. Check out their calendar at www.litquake.org.

JANUARY 2018

Fairway Galle Literary Festival, 24-28 Jan, Galle, Sri Lanka.  Watch https://galleliteraryfestival.com

ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, 24-29 Jan, Diggi Palace, Rajasthani, India.  Watch http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/

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

FEBRUARY 2018

San Francisco Writers Conference, 15-18 Feb, Mark Hopkins Hotel, USA. Watch http://sfwriters.org

Lahore Literary Festival, Pakistan, 24-25 Feb, Alhamra Art Center. Watch http://www.lahorelitfest.com/about-llf

MARCH 2018

New Zealand Festival Writers & Readers Week, 8-11 March, Wellington. Watch https://www.festival.co.nz/2018/writers-readers/

The Bookworm Literary Festival, 8-24 Mar, Beijing, China. See http://bookwormfestival.com

Shanghai International Literary Festival, 15-28 March, China.  Watch http://www.m-restaurantgroup.com/com…/m-literary-festival/

APRIL 2018

Newcastle Writers Festival, 6-8 April, east coast of Australia. Done & dusted. Watch www.newcastlewritersfestival.org.au

Sydney Writers Festival, 30 April – 6 May, east coast of Australia. Program out now. “A wealth of writers who explore, confront, question and challenge life as we know it.” Line-up includes Min Jin Lee (‘Pachinko’), Alexis Okeowo (‘A Moonless, Starless Sky’) & Helen Garner (too many too mention). Watch https://www.swf.org.au

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, 22-23 April, USC campus. Program out now – wide range of topics. Huge line-up includes Margaret Attwood & Tash Aw. Watch http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/festival-schedule

MAY 2018

ASEAN Literary Festival: Hosting is rotated around member states, but no details yet of when & where for 2018. Their domain has expired and their Facebook page inert since last August. Not looking hopeful.

Auckland Writers & Readers Festival, 15-20 May, New Zealand. Theme: Love Story. Line-up of 230 includes luminaries like Karl Ove Knausgård, Alex Miller, and Catherine Chidgey. Program out now. Watch http://www.writersfestival.co.nz

‘Wordstorm’ NT Writers Festival, 24-27 May, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. Theme: ‘Year of true stories’. Profiling Indigenous and Northern Territory voices. Calling for volunteers now. Watch http://www.ntwriters.com.au/

Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival, New Zealand: NOT ON in 2018 – will be held in 2019 (probably early May). Watch http://www.dunedinwritersfestival.co.nz

JUNE / JULY 2018: Apparently bibliophiles hibernate during this time.

AUGUST 2018

Byron Bay Writers Festival, 3-5 Aug, east coast of Australia. Program due out mid June. www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au

Cairns Tropical Writers Festival, 17-19 Aug, northeast coast of Australia. No other details yet. Their Facebook page for 2018 says they don’t have any upcoming events! I think it’s on, though – will keep you posted. Watch http://www.cairnstropicalwritersfestival.com

Mountain Echoes Literary Festival, 22-25 Aug, Thimphu, Bhutan. Program coming soon. Watch http://www.mountainechoes.org

Sunshine Coast Readers & Writers Festival, Coolum Beach, Australia. Possibly on , but their website http://www.sunshinecoastreadersandwritersfestival.com is stuck on 2017.

SEPTEMBER 2018

Brisbane Writers Festival, Queensland, east coast of Australia. No details yet. Watch uplit.com.au/festival

Pebble Beach Authors & Ideas Festival, 28-30 Sep, Carmel, California. Line-up to be announced 1 Sept. Watch http://www.carmelauthors.com/

National Young Writers’ Festival, Newcastle. For any questions, email info@youngwritersfestival.org. Also watch http://youngwritersfestival.org.

OCTOBER  2018

Litquake Festival, 11-20 Oct, San Francisco, USA. Submissions now open. Check out www.litquake.org

Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival, 15-22 Oct, Canada. No other details yet. Watch http://www.writersfest.bc.ca

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, 24-28 Oct, Bali, Indonesia. Theme: ‘Jagadhita’, roughly translating as ‘The World We Create’. For the Balinese, it means the pursuit of universal harmony and prosperity as one of life’s primary goals. Watch www.ubudwritersfestival.com

Bangalore Literature Festival, Bengaluru, India. May be on, but no details yet. 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. Watch http://www.kauaiwritersconference.com

Irrawaddy Literary Festival, Yangon, Myanmar.  Maybe on, but no details yet. Watch www.irrawaddylitfest.com

Singapore Writers Festival, 2-11 Nov. No other details yet. Watch www.singaporewritersfestival.com

Hong Kong International Literary Festival. May be on, but no details yet. Watch http://www.festival.org.hk/

Wollongong Writers Festival, 24-26 Nov, east coast of Australia. Theme: ‘Where the stories are’. Watch www.wollongongwritersfestival.com

George Town Literary Festival, Penang, Malaysia. May be on, but no details yet. Watch www.georgetownlitfest.com

DECEMBER 2018: nuthin.

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.