The absence of sessions about, as chair Janet Steele says, “the year that cannot be named and the event that cannot be named,” meant that it was a frequent topic under discussion at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. The cancellation of panels, book launches and films on 1965 Indonesia made similar waves around the world and throughout international media to the Bali 9, a similarly contentious topic that “allowed the world to truly focus on the death penalty and their (Indonesia’s) stance on it,” as Patrick Burgess said during the Final Call session.
A late replacement session called Uncensored made a solid stance against censorship, holding up all the books and posters of films that have been censored and conducting a frank discussion and illiciting strong opinions. Okky Madasari said, “we have a duty to be brave and courageous as writers” and that duty, as has been highlighted throughout the festival, was met by the young and national agents for change on the panel.
Nowhere on the program was this more clear than legendary journalist Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s talk on storytelling with a journalist’s eye. His famous quote, “when journalism is silenced, literature must speak, because while journalism speaks with facts, literature speaks with truth,” applies so perfectly to the blending of conversations about freedom and writing that has gone on throughout the festival.
Galuh Wandita’s session on her new book Enduring Impunity was an illuminating and emotionally-charged discussion of issues of women from 1965, Papua, Aceh, East Timor and Myanmar. Galuh and Andreas Harsono were the perfect couple to tackle human rights and the role of telling the stories of repressed people. She expressed that the past has not passed and we must keep asking questions and pressing our own governments to ensure that the painful past is not swept under the carpet, “because the carpet doesn’t fit, it is too lumpy”.
Young panelists Sam Cooney, Andina Dwifatma, Sunili Govinnage, Liam Pieper and Pooja Nansi discussed how social media, although its often used for shallow and narcissistic purposes, can also be an agent of change and to allow people with marginalised voices to have a place to be heard.
“The censorship machine cannot keep up with the fluidity and agility of social media platforms,” said Liam Pieper, which suggests it may be a developing avenue of uncensored free speech for a new generation of Indonesians and a digitally connected world. The conversation of past wounds in Indonesia has been opened on an international level and theres no doubt that conversation will continue, either through journalism, fiction or festivals like Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and censorship and freedom of expression will continue to be fought for at the forefront of societal equality.