Pramoedya Ananta Toer is one of Indonesia’s most prominent, outspoken and honest writer. This year he celebrated his 80th birthday. My friend, RT, named his eldest son after Pramoedya ~ he admires him so much. Pramoedya is really a man of principle ~ his thought is crystal clear and he’s always bluntly fortright about his opinions on taboo subjects in Indonesia. I think he’s the first Indonesian writer that honestly discuss about Chinese-Indonesians’ history and their place in Indonesia’s political landscape. Following are articles about him, including interviews, his views on some political issues, and his memory about the women in his life. The higlights are mine.
The Jakarta Post
Saturday, February 5, 2005
Author Pramoedya celebrates birthday
Jakarta: Friends and members of the literary community have arranged two events to celebrate the 80th birthday of Indonesia’s most prominent author, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, on Sunday.
In the first event at 11:30 a.m. in the lounge of the Pakubuwono apartments in South Jakarta, Pramoedya will be showered with presents and speeches from fellow writers.
Two books about Pramoedya’s works, which have been translated into 40 languages, will also be launched during the event.
At 8 p.m., the Jakarta Arts Council will hold a gathering at Galeri III at the Taman Ismail Marzuki arts center on Jl. Cikini Raya in Central Jakarta.
Pramoedya is expected to speak during the event.
The Jakarta Post
Sunday, February 6, 2005
Happy birthday, Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Internationally acclaimed writer and Nobel Prize for Literature multiple nominee Pramoedya Ananta Toer celebrates his 80th birthday today.
In as much as Pramoedya himself is a controversial figure in his outspokenness and unabated quest for truth, his work has drawn both praise and criticism, but is undisputed in its chronicling of modern Indonesian history through the struggles of the common man.
We mark this special occasion by sharing birthday messages from his friends and contemporaries:
May Pramoedya’s hard work and courage make the world more humane.
— Eka Budianta, poet
A long life for he who has left his trace on this world of men.
— Eka Kurniawan, novelist
May you always remain in good health so you can continue to write for Indonesia.
— Ferry Salim, actor and presenter
Happy birthday, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a true feminist!
— Gadis Arivia, philosopher and founder of Jurnal Perempuan
“Beware the breath; you’re approaching death. So be glad!”
— Landung Simatupang, actor, poet, translator
It seems only the deaf can hear the pure echo reverberating from the throat of the nation.
— Nirwan Arsuka, curator, Bentara Budaya
To one of Indonesia’s greatest living authors, we wish you a very happy 80th birthday and many more years of inspiring readers around the world.
— Mark Hanusz, publisher, Equinox Publishing
Keep up your great enthusiasm for writing. Long life to you!
— Golagong, writer and TV screenwriter
Many happy returns of the day to a true fighter of Indonesian literature who has left his mark of dignity on this world of men.
— Mudji Sutrisno, philosopher and man of letters
Not many people have the privilege to enjoy the opportunities that Pak Pram has had: good health, creativity, experience and a long life. While thanking God for what He has bestowed upon you, and at the same time wishing to hold up as my model your sensitivity to capture the vibrancy of life and the bitterness of experiences — and your capability of expressing them in the interests of many — allow me to congratulate you on your birthday. May God look after you and keep you in good fortune. Please accept my profuse and warm wishes.
— Riris K. Toha Sarumpaet children’s literature expert, University of Indonesia
Power has sent this nation into a deep abyss of degradation. Pram is the savior. (Happy 80th birthday to Pramoedya Ananta Toer)
— Martin Aleida, novelist
Happy Birthday. May God always be with you in all your work. God bless you.
— Maya Hasan, harpist
Pak Pram, many have heaped praises on your novels, and as you celebrate your 80th birthday, I have discovered that my favorite is your collection of short stories in Cerita Dari Jakarta (Tales from Jakarta).
— Gus TF, writer
Happy birthday, Grandpa Pram, may you remain healthy and continue to write.
— Ahmad Tohari, novelist
What a delightful honor to be wishing you a Happy 80th Birthday, Bung Pram. You’ve been master and mentor to legions of us younger writers, and your courageous and insightful work has been an inspiration to me personally in so many ways.
— Richard Lewis, author, The Flame Tree
Happy birthday to the great writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer. There is no literary monument more universal and timeless than yours. I wish you good health.
— Kurnia Effendi, short story writer
Pak Pram, your madness is so beautiful. It is not imaginable in the world of our politicians. Happy birthday.
— Slamet A. Sjukur, composer
On behalf of your many colleagues, friends and readers in Norway, it is a great pleasure for me to congratulate you, Pram, on your 80th birthday and wish you all the best for the future. I believe it gives hope to this turbulent and in so many ways, afflicted, world that your Buru Quartet is just now being read and admired by so many people in a country thousands of kilometers from your own homeland.
— Geir Pollen, president, Norwegian Authors
Happy birthday, Bung Pram! May you be granted the time to see the new generation of writers move on to a higher plane.
— Djenar Maesa Ayu, writer and housewife
As you celebrate your birthday, the world continues looking forward to see you produce more monumental work in the years ahead. Best wishes.
— Taufik Darusman, poet and TV presenter
Dear Pak Pramoedya, I wish you a day and a year of good health and great happiness. Your life has been a journey of hardship and courage. May we all learn from your experience. You certainly touched my heart, and I only hope my children will appreciate the gift you have given Indonesia.
— Janet de Neefe, director, Ubud Writers and Readers Festival
Bung Pram, Happy Birthday! You’ve been a fighter against injustice. A survivor against degrading repression. A giant in world literature. Now in your golden years, you are the light the rest of us warm to, so that we shall have the courage to carry on your legacy.
— Richard Oh, novelist and director of QB World Books
- 1951 First prize from Balai Pustaka for Perburuan (The Fugitive)
- 1953 Badan Musyawarah Kebudayaan Nasional for Cerita dari Blora (Tales from Blora)
- 1964 Yamin Foundation Award for Cerita dari Jakarta (Tales from Jakarta) – declined
- * 1978 Adopted member of the Netherlands Centre of PEN International (during Buru exile)
- * 1978 Honorary Member of the Japanese Centre of PEN Int’l
- 1982 Honorary Life Member of the International PEN Australia Center, Australia
- 1982 Honorary member of the PEN Center, Sweden
- * 1987 Honorary member of the PEN American Center, USA
- 1988 Freedom to Write Award, PEN America
- 1989 Honorary member of Deutschsweizeriches Zentrum PEN, Switzerland
- * 1989 Free to Write Award, PEN USA
- 1992 International PEN English Center Award, Great Britain
- 1995 Stichting Wertheim Award, the Netherlands
- 1995 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Philippines
- 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature nomination (Pramoedya has been nominated constantly since 1981.)
- * 1996 Honorable mention, UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh award for promoting peace and tolerance 1999 Honorary Doctoral Degree of Humane Letters, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
- 1999 Chancellor’s Distinguished Honor Award, University of California, Berkeley
- 2000 Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France
- 2000 Fukuoka Asian Culture Grand Prize, Fukuoka, Japan
- * 2002 Finalist, Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize
- * 2004 Norwegian Authors’ Union Freedom of Expression Award
- * 2004 Award from Chilean President, centenary Pablo Neruda
Many Happy Returns to Pramoedya
Feb. 7, 2005
Dear Bung Pram,
So, you’ve made it to 80! Well done!
Here’s wishing you the strength and health to keep going strong for another twenty years. And warm greetings to your family who must be enjoying the celebrations with you.
You came through so much under the Dutch, then under Suharto, yet never surrendered your determination to use your literary skills, making an inestimable contribution to Indonesia’s culture and a better understanding of its history of struggle.
You deserve all the accolades being heaped upon you by the scores of people greeting you on this day.
With love and best wishes,
The Jakarta Post
Monday, February 7, 2005
Pramoedya still going strong at 80
By Evi Mariani, Jakarta
“I don’t know what to say,” novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, overwhelmed by the moment, finally uttered at his 80th birthday party with family and friends on Sunday afternoon.
After giving a brief thank you to all the people who came to his birthday, he sat down and wiped the tears from his eyes.
The frail writer has to walk with the aid of a stick. He also has difficulty hearing. But in the 80th year of his rich and venerable life, he looked quite strong, healthy and happy.
“Oh, I’ve been taking a break from writing, except for signing my pay receipts,” Pramoedya said jokingly, during the function held at the lounge of the luxury Pakubuwono Residence in South Jakarta.
The birthday party, in large part arranged by Indonesian author Eka Budianta, was attended by a wide range of people, from university professor Apsanti Djokosujatno, entrepreneur Bob Sadino in his usual short pants, veteran singer Titiek Puspa, to television soap opera actress Cornelia Agatha.
After being the symbol of the oppressed for the duration of the authoritarian New Order era, Pramoedya is still cast as a literary icon.
Pram, as he is often called, born in Blora in Central Java on Feb. 6, 1925, was jailed for 14 years without trial by Soeharto’s New Order regime due to his links to the literary wing of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).
The years he spent in prisons, in particular the 10 years in a prison camp on Buru Island in Central Maluku, were his most productive years when he created his internationally acclaimed quartet novels — The Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps, and House of Glass. They were published surreptitiously in the 1980s by Hasta Mitra, which was managed by Pram’s friend Joesoef Isaak.
During the New Order government, the four books became a reference and a kind of “bible” for progressive students and victims of injustice.
Pram, whose works have been translated into 20 languages, won the 1995 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts. He rose to prominence after he was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Jakarta Post
Friday, February 11, 2005
Pramoedya Now Lives Peaceful, Venerable Life
By M. Taufiqurrahman, Jakarta
In a party held to celebrate his 80th birthday at the Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) building Indonesia’s most credible candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, displayed a trait that was
in sharp contrast with his customary nature.
“I have done all that I wanted to do and I am already in possession of all that I always wanted to have. I want to spend my old age in peace,” the normally defiant Pramoedya told hundreds of his admirers who packed one of TIM’s galleries.
Such a sense of complacency would be out of place if put alongside Pramoedya’s usual habit of voicing his displeasure of the socio-political conditions around him. As he has grown older, Pramoedya has never lost his appetite for criticizing each ruling regime and the feebleness of every generation that faces the powers that be.
The birthday statement, however, seemed justified considering all that he has gone through during his life.
Silenced by almost every regime for his work, which often detailed the plights of marginalized subjects such as petty criminals, sex workers or street vendors, Pramoedya has experienced the worst kind of oppression, from being banished to a prison island where he lived under a gulag-like conditions, to receiving corporal punishment that has left an everlasting impact on his health.
“I am amazed how I have been given such a long life, considering the fact that I was born premature and have always had a variety of health problems,” he said with a chuckle.
Pram, as he is often called, then spoke at length about the panacea for all his health problems, the onion, and advised the audience about the condiment’s use.
And by his 80th birthday, his longing for a peaceful old age, it could be said, has been fulfilled.
In a sharp contrast with his earlier hardships, the revered Pram now lives the quiet life in a house on the outskirts of Jakarta with the company of his wife Maemunah Thamrin, the niece of national hero M.H. Thamrin, with occasional visits from his 16 grandchildren.
His 34 books and essays, a continuing inspiration to the country’s youth, have now been translated into 37 languages including English, French, Dutch and even Catalan.
Pram now barely writes, apart from signing his pay receipts from the growing sale of books he penned during his productive years, and he says his only current literary activity is collecting information for an encyclopedia on Indonesian geography.
“Youth these days don’t know much about their own land. This is why such an encyclopedia is of great importance,” he said, before launching into an extended commentary about the failure of younger generations to produce a leader of the caliber of the country’s first president, Soekarno.
Pram was born in Feb. 6, 1925 in Blora, a barren and destitute small town in the northern part of Central Java as the eldest son of M. Toer, the headmaster of the nationalist school, Instituut Boedi Oetomo (IBO). His father was also an activist with the Nationalist Indonesian Party (PNI), a political group that worked for Indonesia’s independence, which was founded by Soekarno in the late 1920s.
It was his father who gave him a perspective on political affairs, in the same way as his mother tutored him about life principles. “It is my mother who always taught me to count on myself and not ask for God’s help in my daily affairs. Praying to God only displays our frailty as human beings,” Pram said.
This self-reliance made Pram an individualist — and a great writer.
Pram wrote the 1962 Gadis Pantai (A Girl from the Beach) to pay homage to his mother.
Taking 10 years to complete the seven-year elementary school course at the IBO, graduating in 1939, Pram for the next year did not go to school because his father did not approve the study.
With the money he collected from trading rice with his mother in 1940 he went to Surabaya to continue his schooling and graduated from the Radiovakschool (Radio Vocational School) at the end of 1941. Thereafter, he was conscripted into the radio telegraph section of the Stadswacht (City Civil Defense).
For the first four months of the Japanese occupation, together with a younger sibling, he looked after his family until his mother’s death, whereupon they moved to Jakarta.
It was during the Japanese occupation, he joined Pemuda paramilitary organization, and then entered an army unit of the Indonesian Military’s Siliwangi Division’s Regiment 6, which operated in East Jakarta.
While Pramoedya was a second lieutenant in the division, he was first imprisoned in Bukit Duri jail from 1948 to 1949 by the Dutch for his anti-colonial beliefs. It was there that he wrote the short story collection Percikan Revolusi (the Spark of Revolution) and the novel Perburuan (the Hunting), which won First Prize from state publishing house Balai Pustaka.
In 1953, Pram moved to the Netherlands along with his family at the invitation of the Dutch-Indonesian Institute for Cultural Cooperation, Sticusa. There he wrote Korupsi (Corruption) and Midah si Manis Bergigi Emas (Midah, Sweetheart with Gold Teeth).
Upon his return to the country in 1958, he gained the membership of Lembaga Kesenian Rakyat (People’s Art Agency) or Lekra, an organization affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).
From 1962 to 1965, he served as editor for Lentera, the cultural supplement of the PKI’s Bintang Timur daily newspaper.
Pram’s involvement with communist groups meant he was imprisoned again in the anticommunist purge by the militaristic Suharto regime when the general took over from Soekarno.
After being transferred from prison to prison in Java, he was finally locked away on the remote island of Buru, offshore of Maluku. There, Pram produced the works considered to be his masterpiece, the Buru Quartet, consisting of the Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps, and House of Glass.
The works only reached the public after they were smuggled out of the prison.
Pram has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize for Literature on the merit of the quartet alone.
Asked whether he thought the quartet represented the pinnacle of his efforts Pram said: “All my works are equal in quality. I can’t say that one is better than the others.”
Indonesian Writer: Tsunami Could Re-Chart Aceh’s Future
Jakarta, Feb. 22 (AP) — Indonesia’s top intellectual and a longtime contender for the Nobel Literature prize believes that the influx of foreigners and aid money into tsunami-devastated Aceh could bring significant change to the war-torn province.
Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an outspoken champion of democracy who was imprisoned for 14 years by the U.S.-backed dictatorship of former president Suharto, said recovery, and ultimately peace, will depend on the Acehnese.
“They are the country’s bravest, most fiercely independent ethnic group and they cannot be conquered,” Pramoedya told The Associated Press in an interview at his home outside Jakarta. “With everybody coming in from around the world, that could bring real change for the Acehnese.”
Peace has eluded the Acehnese for decades, and their prosperity has long depended on handouts from Jakarta, despite the province’s enormous natural resources.
Since the Dec. 26 tragedy, thousands of foreign aid workers have rushed to Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, where at least 122,000 people were killed and tens of thousands are missing. Countries and individuals have pledged more than US$4.5 billion for tsunami recovery in the dozen countries hit.
The international attention on Aceh inc
reased pressure on Jakarta and the region’s separatists to resolve their war, and two sides are in peace talks this week in Finland. The rebels on Tuesday dropped their independence demand to focus on self-government arrangements.
But change won’t come easily as long as Indonesia’s military keeps its tight grip on Aceh, Pramoedya said. The military, accused of endemic corruption, is unlikely to cede control of the lucrative rebuilding process.
“In Indonesia, wherever the money is, the military is, and in Aceh, it will be business as usual,” Pramoedya said, rubbing rail-thin fingers over a three-day-old white stubble.
The oil- and gas-rich province had been virtually off limits to foreigners since 1989. When peace talks failed in 2003, former President Megawati Sukarnoputri imposed martial law to combat the growing rebel insurgency.
Pramoedya, whose 34 books and essays have been translated into 37 languages, opposes independence for Aceh, but he criticizes newly elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for perpetuating Megawati’s brutal crackdown on the rebels and innocent villagers.
The author, imprisoned for denouncing Suharto, has long championed Indonesia’s downtrodden. His “Tales from Jakarta” depicts the misery of the capital’s poor, tracking their transformation from hopeful citizens to crazed animals fighting for survival.
The lot of the street vendors, prostitutes and housemaids he portrayed more than 50 years ago has changed little, Pramoedya said. He blames Indonesia’s leaders for plundering the nation’s resources and lacking the political will to address its problems.
He has accused Megawati of war crimes in Aceh, where rights groups allege that the army is behind executions, disappearances, torture and rape. They say most of the 2,500 victims since 2003 have been unarmed villagers.
Although Pramoedya has been nominated seven times for the Nobel literature prize, his books are little known among today’s youth, a legacy of the ban on his writings under Suharto’s dictatorship.
His masterpiece, the “Buru Quartet,” novels about Indonesia’s struggle for independence, evolved from stories he told fellow prisoners at a penal colony on remote Buru island. The stories were later jotted down on scraps of paper he smuggled out of his cell.
Pramoedya was born on Feb. 6, 1925 in Blora, a small, barren town in central Java, the son of a school headmaster. He wrote his first story while in elementary school. “For me writing is giving evidence and proof of reality,” he said. “It’s not entertainment. It’s a national duty.”
These days Pram, as he is known, isn’t writing at all. He suffers from diabetes, and is nearly deaf and blind. He can no longer use a pen, cannot see the computer screen and refuses to dictate to a secretary.
“Writing is something you do alone,” he said. “I do not feel frustration because fortunately, I Ihave written everything I had to say. I have everything I ever wanted. I am at peace.”
The Washington Post
Sunday, August 11, 1996
Review by Alan Ryan
HOUSE OF GLASS
By Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Translated from the Indonesian By Max Lane
William Morrow. 365pp. $26
If Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer wins the Nobel Prize — which he richly deserves — it will bring glory to him and further shame to his country. Pramoedya was born in 1925 in Java. In 1965, he was imprisoned, without trial, for political activities. He was released in 1979 and placed under city arrest in Jakarta. He is still under city arrest, all his books are banned in his own country, and people, including an Indonesian publisher, have been imprisoned for violating the ban. Nevertheless, his books circulate widely and secretly in Indonesia in manuscript form.
This will be no surprise to anyone who has read his books. The inexorable forward movement of history is the subject at the heart of Pramoedya’s greatest work, The Buru Tetralogy.
House of Glass concludes the tetralogy in English, and its appearance completes one of the most distinguished American publishing projects of recent years. The opening volume, This Earth of Mankind, was first published in English in Australia in 1982 and, in a revised translation, appeared here in 1991. Child of All Nations followed in the same year, and the third, Footsteps, appeared in 1995. Coinciding with the hardcover publication of House of Glass, Penguin has brought out handsome matching editions of the first three volumes in trade paperback.
You’ll want them all because you have to start at the beginning.
The story begins near the end of the 19th century, in what was then the Dutch East Indies. At the center is a brilliant young Javanese student named Minke.
His intelligence, his education, his language ability (he masters the Dutch of the colonial authorities), and his questioning mind bring him in contact with all the various factions and levels of society. When he falls in love with an Indo-European girl, his need to identify his own loyalties comes to dominate his life.
Struggling to find his own voice, he takes up a career as a writer, while his political views are shaped, on the one hand, by a cruelly oppressive colonial regime and, on the other, by a native population that has yet to realize it is a powerful political force. With the start of the 20th century, Minke enters medical school, partly in an effort to leave behind the contradictions and frustrations of his political world. But history presses in on him from every side. He becomes publisher of a dissident newspaper. And at the end of the third volume, the newspaper is banned and he is arrested.
House of Glass begins at that point. Up until now, Minke has narrated the tale, but this volume is narrated by Pangemanann, the police commissioner who arrested him. Ironically, his situation is similar to Minke’s. He is a native, educated at the Sorbonne, who has made his life and his career within the structures of the colonial authorities. And, in fact, shortly after Minke’s arrest, Pangemanann is promoted from his local position to a national one in which his prime responsibility is to become an expert on dissident leaders and groups.
His anguish is all the worse because he has, for years, admired Minke and considered him his “teacher.” Minke’s successors and rivals flare on the landscape, and Pangemanann must use his understanding of them to help keep them down. His position is increasingly intolerable, and he grows progressively more physically ill as his moral and psychological struggle becomes more painful and hopeless. “I was neither sun, nor moon, nor star,” he tells us. “I was just a man alone, Pangemanann, who could find no way out.”
House of Glass is necessarily darker and denser than its predecessors, less filled with color and characters and incidents, because its action is internal. And yet its scope is broader than that of the earlier novels, because its narrator’s mind ranges over history and his own contemporary world, in which, slowly in some cases, violently in others, oppressed peoples are beginning to sense their own strength.
The Buru Tetralogy is one of the 20th century’s great artistic creations, a work of the richest variety, color, size and import, founded on a profound belief in mankind’s potential for greatness and shaped
by a huge compassion for mankind’s weakness. The tetralogy has already been translated into 20 languages; translator Max Lane has devoted nearly two decades to this English version. (A member of Australia’s diplomatic corps, he was recalled from Indonesia when his first translations of Pramoedya’s writing caused a political stir.
His work has been worth the time and effort. If there were a Nobel Prize for translations, he would deserve it.
Alan Ryan writes frequently about international fiction. He won a Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award for his latest book, “The Reader’s Companion to Mexico.”
The Washington Post
Sunday, June 7, 1998
A Plea for Indonesia’s ‘Silent Millions’
Indonesia’s greatest living writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, 72, is often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for literature. His four-part epic, “The Buru Quartet,” was named after the infamous island in the Moluccas Sea where he served 14 years in prison for his opposition to the coup that brought former president Suharto to power in 1966. Pramoedya’s 30 novels have been translated into 24 languages. Yet in Indonesia, his books have been banned for more than three decades.
Since his release in 1979, Pramoedya has lived in Jakarta under police surveillance. His autobiography, “The Mute’s Soliloquy,” will soon be published by Hyperion.
Idanna Pucci, a scholar of Indonesian literature and mythology who lives in New York, interviewed Pramoedya by telephone.
Q. Please describe exactly what you felt when you heard that Suharto had resigned.
A. I was not at all surprised. Suharto was no longer a force for determining the process of change. He was like a small stone that could be kicked around by the feet of the students. I hope that the dramatization of his resignation will not make them step back from their struggle. The rise of the young generation doesn’t automatically mean that in the long term Indonesia is going to change and become a democracy.
Q. Please explain the connection between the Javanese shadow play called wayang and Indonesian politics.
A. Wayang is our most popular form of traditional theater. The wayang stories are essentially mythical battles involving gods and kings, good and evil, engaged in constant intrigue and conflict, while the common people stand aside in powerless awe. The stories are performed to the masses in open-air theaters, broadcast on the radio and aired on television. The driving force behind each performance is the dalang, the puppet master. He is the ultimate mover of the plot and has control over the destinies of all the characters.
The majority of Indonesian politicians are from Javanese ethnic origins and, therefore, are influenced by the wayang stories from early childhood. However, our independence movement in 1945 set forth an ideal of a democratic and modern Indonesia, where the world of the wayang has no place. Unfortunately, that ideal of democracy never materialized. That’s why references to the wayang are still made to explain what’s going on politically and also at times to manipulate people.
Q. Are we witnessing the peak moment in a wayang performance?
A. In my view, the current situation is more like an internal family feud. There are two or three military leaders who are competing for supremacy. But these leaders are all the same type. They are characters who belong to Suharto’s 30-year-old military regime known as the “New Order.”
Q. What role does the new president, Habibie, play?
A. There isn’t a “Habibie” type in the wayang repertoire of characters, simply because there isn’t a “German-educated” type or one, who like Habibie, is thirsty for admiration and flattery…. Suharto needed Habibie as a token intellectual — the precious stone on his ring — because Suharto and his family were never educated. Suharto never believed in the power of intellect. From his youth, he always believed in the power of weapons, especially against those who were unarmed.
Habibie has been elevated to a lofty role in which he has become his own victim. He has no weight of his own. In the face of such rapid change, without Suharto to anchor him, Habibie will be like a kite without a string. The only reason why he has the support of the military, for the moment, is because the military needs time to understand the new situation.
Q. Now that the population has begun to demand the return of all the assets in the hands of the Suhartos, do you forecast breaks in the military over this issue?
A. With the resignation of Suharto, obviously there is a rising wave of popular demand that his family’s wealth be investigated. This is the logical result of the increasing political awareness that people have a right to justice. I am not a fortuneteller, but if there is a split in the military over this issue, it will be a generational conflict, the kind which has happened again and again in contemporary Indonesian history.
Q. Do you think the students will continue to demonstrate for political change?
A. If the young are satisfied with the resignation of Suharto and their own brief appearance on the political stage, then they are fooling themselves. The objective of the reform movement, I hope, is not simply to reshuffle members of Suharto’s “New Order,” but it is to replace the “New Order” itself. If reforms simply mean that the military leaders will use the wealthy tycoons as their lackeys, then the substance of the “New Order” system of power will not have changed one iota.
Q. With Habibie as president, do you forecast any change of attitude toward you? Will your great works of literature continue to be banned in Indonesia?
A. If the military wills it, any president can be replaced, including Habibie. My works will gain their own freedom by themselves. I have no need to ask for freedom from the government.
Q. Why do you think President Clinton has kept so silent regarding the corruption of the Indonesian government, and the abuses of human rights?
A. It all has to do with America’s vast economic investments in Indonesia, and Washington’s strong support of Suharto’s “New Order” regime over the last three decades. I understand why all American leaders have preferred to keep silent.
Q. How long can the Indonesian people continue to survive under these crippling economic pressures and hardship?
A. This will depend on the ability of the young people to understand that the population cannot bear this appalling economic burden indefinitely. If the population places their trust in the students, as their voice, they will have the motivation to endure the hardships. The students’ organizations will have to find a way to provide relief, food distribution and shelter.
Q. If you had a magic wand, who would like to see ruling your country?
A. It’s too early to mention any name. You must understand that, in the last 30 years, Suharto systematically silenced all the strong voices of opposition. The few names mentioned by the press have been so unthreatening to the regime that Suharto anointed them as “token opposition” figures. These are people who have never suffered or paid the price for opposing the government. It is ironic that, with a population of over 200 million, Indonesia should now be facing a true leadership vacuum.
A qualified president of Indonesia must have an understanding of this vast country, with all its ethnic and religious diversity. Also, he must
listen to the silent millions who have been exploited over the years….
Q. Can real change happen peacefully from now on, or do you expect more violence?
A. The majority of Javanese have been brainwashed by wayang stories where violence is a constant. If the young start by giving an example of nonviolence, and the result is positive, then political change can happen peacefully. But if factions in the military decide to hire “students” for staged demonstrations, as has happened in the past, then we may enter into a cycle of violence.
Q. What does the word “justice” mean to the average Indonesian?
A. The word adil, or “justice,” came to Indonesia with the spread of Islam in the 14th century, but to this day, the word is not a reality for the common man. It is just a concept, even though it is mentioned daily in relation to hukum, or law. Both justice and law are still a hope that has been promised but never delivered in our history, not in our ancient kingdoms, not under the centuries of Dutch colonial occupation and not under Suharto’s regime.
Q. Why do you think Americans have such a hard time understanding Indonesia?
A. Americans look at Indonesia in economic terms. This is why the focus over the last months was only on economic reforms for the IMF. Until Suharto’s resignation, there was almost a complete silence about the need for political change in our society. Americans tend to make a separation between economic information and cultural values. Rarely do they see that the two are interconnected and inseparable. To understand a country as complex as Indonesia, it helps to examine both.
Q. What makes you proud to be Indonesian?
A. I am proud to be Indonesian because I know what it means to have experienced and suffered the consequences of being a true Indonesian citizen. My family did not cooperate with the Dutch colonialists. From childhood to old age, I’ve been a “non-cooperator.” I have lived most of my life under repression but I have not been broken. I still resist, even if it is just me.
The Los Angeles Times
Sunday, June 6, 1999
The LA Times Interview: Pramoedya Toer
Escaping Indonesia’s Iron Fist in Fiction, But not in Life
By Steve Proffitt
On Monday, June 7, Indonesians go to the polls to select a new government in what some see as the first truly free election in that nation’s history as an independent state. Last year, Indonesia’s President Suharto resigned under pressure after 32 years of iron rule. Though many Suharto supporters remain in positions of power, there are indications that voters may back opposition parties determined to reform a government that is, by almost any standard, exceedingly corrupt and oppressive.
Indonesia, long a Dutch colony, won independence shortly after World War II. Its first leader, President Sukarno, was a fiery nationalist who was overthrown in a murky coup in 1965. The coup was followed by a purge of leftists and violent outbursts resulting in the deaths or imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians. Suharto, who took power from Sukarno, established what he called a “new order” for Indonesia, a Western-friendly policy that emphasized economic development. Supported by funds from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Suharto was able to transform Indonesia into an economic tiger, while lining his own pockets and those of his supporters and brutally suppressing opposition voices. This came crashing down last year, when the Asian financial collapse emboldened Indonesian students and other reformers who succeeded in their demands for Suharto’s resignation.
Many in Indonesia suffered under the autocratic rule of the Suharto regime, but few more than that country’s leading novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. He was imprisoned without charges or trial for 14 years and has been held under town arrest in Jakarta since 1979. Pramoedya’s books are banned in Indonesia to this day, even under the reform government of the current president, B.J. Habibie. Still, Pramoedya’s works, including four novels he wrote in prison that are collectively titled “The Buru Quartet,” are circulated and prized by many in Indonesia.
Now 74, Pramoedya recently completed a tour of the United States, his first visit to this country and his first trip outside Indonesia since 1959. His memoir of his years in prison, “The Mute’s Soliloquy,” was recently published here in an English translation. The book includes letters he wrote to his wife, Maimoenah Thamrin, and eight children, three of whom are from an earlier marriage. A native of Java, Pramoedya sees his work as a writer as part of the process of building a sense of nationhood in Indonesia, a land of some 13,000 islands and 350 languages. In a conversation during the author’s visit to Los Angeles late last month, translated by expatriate Indonesian Aya Ratih, Pramoedya talked about the plight of the Indonesian
people who suffered first at the hands of the colonial Dutch and then at the hands of their own leaders, about the interplay between art and politics and of his concerns for the future of his nation.
Question: What should the role of politics be in literature, and can you imagine writing if you were not so intensely interested in politics?
Answer: Politics is about power, and everyone is affected by those in power. There are some who say literature should be free of politics. The irony here is that by taking that position, one is, in fact, making a political statement. When we accept, or reject, citizenship in a nation, that is a political act. Paying taxes is a political act, because it is an acknowledgment of political power. It is impossible to separate politics from literature or any other part of human life, because everyone is touched by political power.
Q: In Indonesia, power is concentrated in Jakarta, on the island of Java. How has Javanese culture affected the development of Indonesia as a country?
A: Java and its culture have been very influential in Indonesia. One reason for this is geographical. Java has many rivers, and these rivers were the main routes for travel, commerce and communication. Java has also traditionally been the largest supplier of rice in the region. These are two reasons why Java has been the most densely populated island in the area since before the colonial era. This, too, is why the Javanese culture is the most developed in Indonesia. Javanese Indonesians have been the most influential members of the military structure in Indonesia. The Portuguese, and later the Dutch colonists, established their headquarters on Java. The Dutch colonized the area by operating with the rulers of Java and actually exported local rulers from Java to rule the entire archipelago. Thus, under the Dutch, all power became centralized in Java, with the capital, Jakarta, as its center.
This Java-centric policy continues to exist in Indonesia today. The power structure in Java has extracted resources from the rest of the country for the benefit of those living in Java.
Q: Given that Indonesia has a long history of strong, centralized rule, how will the country survive in the post-“new order” Suhart
o era? Indonesia is so diverse and scattered across so much ocean–what will make it a nation without a totalitarian ruler at the helm?
A: Politically, this diversity was actually, at first, a unifying force. Under Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia, we had a motto–“Unity in Diversity.” But in the longer term, this idea has its shortcomings because it doesn’t provide for a unique, overall Indonesian perspective. For instance, Indonesia is a land of islands, connected by the sea, and as such is a maritime country. But from the days of the Dutch until the present day, it has been ruled by an army, not a navy. Under the rule of an army, the ocean becomes a separator, rather than the connector that it should be. Were we a maritime country, the ocean would be a bridge rather than a barrier. And time and time again, it has been proven that an army cannot defend the archipelago. This was proven when the Dutch were overwhelmed by British forces in 1812, and again when the Japanese quickly overran the islands in 1942.
In spite of repeated failures in the past, the power in Indonesia is still concentrated in a land-based army. The lesson is clear. If Indonesia doesn’t want to experience this kind of defeat again, it must be managed as a maritime country. It must also move away from the Java-centric policies of the past.
In fact, at one time, President Sukarno suggested the capital of Indonesia be moved to the island of Borneo, geographically in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago. This might have created a more diverse government that was less controlled by the interests of Java. This idea died with the Sukarno government and the arrival of Suharto, whose government went on to loot the rain forests of Borneo for [its] personal gain.
Q: But what unites all these people from all these various island cultures? What makes them all feel Indonesian?
A: What unifies us as Indonesians is our shared experience under the colonial power of the Dutch. There is a uniformity in the systems of government which came from the colonial days. This uniformity exists in the military, the police and the education system, and it all came from the Dutch colonizers. One sees this in almost every facet of life, including sports–Indonesians are great soccer fanatics, for instance.
Q: How do you see the country evolving that base of shared colonial experience to create its own political culture?
A: I have said again and again that this is a test for the young generation of Indonesians. How they deal with this question is key to the future of the nation. The older generation, under the new order, has failed.
Q: How important was the political turmoil in your country in inspiring you to become a writer?
A: Indonesia is a very young nation, and we are still in the nation-building period. For me, writing is both my personal task and my national task. I believe that my books, such as the Buru Quartet, are part of the process of nation-building. Here in the United States, you are not concerned with this. You are well-established as a nation. Perhaps Indonesia today, in terms of nationhood, can be compared to the United States 40 years after the American Revolution. The making of a nation is a long, complex project.
Q: You’ve expressed disappointment in your fellow Indonesian writers and artists for being less than vocal against the government’s excesses. Has the intelligentsia been too economically comfortable to protest, or does its relative silence stem from something else, something cultural?
A: When a government is very oppressive, people have to be hypocritical to survive. This is almost universal.
Q: But in so many countries, intellectuals were a key force in bringing about social change. Do you see Indonesia’s intellectuals as part of the failed generation you referred to?
A: Yes, and they have been part of the problem. Indonesian intellectuals cowered under Suharto’s feet. They are supposed to be the pioneers in the resistance against oppression. Why didn’t they speak out? Perhaps because of the long tradition of colonial paternalism. Indonesia is a country of yes men. Whatever those in power ask, Indonesians find it too easy to simply be hypocritical and say yes.
Q: About the coming election, do you believe it will be a free and fair contest, and are you worried about violence or other problems as a result of the voting?
A: I don’t think the elections will result in substantial change. There are still too many elements of Suharto’s new order in power. The major political forces, the military and bureaucracy are all still supporters of Suharto. So I have little hope for a free and fair election, and I was disappointed that former President [Jimmy] Carter is lending legitimacy to the process by agreeing to help monitor the voting. First of all, this election is only about choosing a president. And second, I believe when the government says “x,” the truth is actually “minus x.” So when they say the election will be free and fair, I say it will, in fact, have a predetermined outcome.
The government says it has changed, but I say it has not. My books are still banned. The government seized my home and will not return it. They are using it as a camp for soldiers who return from the war in East Timor. So I don’t really believe in the sincerity of this regime when they say they stand for freedom.
Q: I assume you had opportunities to flee Indonesia, and yet you stayed, though you have been imprisoned and held under house arrest for three decades. Why?
A: I take my citizenship very seriously. I didn’t get it for free, I fought for it. It would be unthinkable for me to walk away from that responsibility and just give up. If I had left, and had tried to live and work as an exile, I would have not been able to send any message to Indonesians. There are so many protests directed at the Indonesian government from outside Indonesia that they don’t even bother to pay attention. So I would have been very ineffective as an exile.
Q: How has this, your first visit to the United States, changed your opinion about this country?
A: Whatever impressions I have are, of course, immediate, and I have not had a great deal of time to fully digest all that I have seen. What I knew about the United States I learned from books. This history of your country is filled with oppression. But when I arrived here, I saw how the different peoples and different races live together, peacefully. I saw this, and it made me cry, because I want this for Indonesia.
I have to reevaluate my thinking about the United States. I just read that the crime rate here has fallen 7%. I also read about the plight of Native Americans, whose land and culture was expropriated. And I have read the shocking news of these shootings by high-school students. All this makes me wonder what’s going on in the United States. I think that it is not so easy to understand this country.
I would like to say a few other things about your country. First, I would like to ask that the U.S. stop sending weapons to Indonesia. These weapons are used to oppress the Indonesian people. I would like to see a new, more humane era in relations between Indonesia and the United States. Secondly, I ask that people in this country lend their support to the struggle of the young generation of Indonesians who are trying to make sure the reform process continues. American support is important to these young people.
Q: Why do you think the Ind
onesian government allowed you to leave the country after keeping you under house arrest for all these years?
A: I believe that, because the request came from the U.S. government, the Indonesian regime could not say no. Perhaps it is a small victory for the student movement. It is certainly a personal victory for me.
Q: Even those of us who live fairly comfortable lives sometimes find ourselves in despair. You have been able to find hope under some of the worst circumstances imaginable. How did you continue to live and look forward to a new day?
A: For me, it was a sense of injustice. That gave me the spirit to fight against it, to live so that I could resist. I continue to have hope because I believe that the young generation of Indonesians will be more critical than the previous generation, because they are more educated. Of course, throughout our history, there have always been external factors which influence developments within Indonesia. I believe now that young people in Indonesia are being influenced by the new generation from all over the world in their desire for responsible government. During my visit here, I have seen that many young Americans support the student movement in Indonesia. So that, too, gives me hope.*
Steve Proffitt, a Contributing Editor to Opinion, Is Director of the Jsm+ New Media Lab
The Canberra Times
January 13, 2001
Grim beauty in portrait of the oppressed spirit
Pramoedya Ananta Toer is the voice of the Indonesia that Australians could and should feel kinship with. His is the voice of universal humanism, from the vast island archipelago to our north, which crosses over the boundaries between ideologies, nationalisms, religions and cultures.
For more than half a century, his writings have reflected on the social and political history of Indonesia with a luminous and humane freedom from the demands of coercive authority. He has, consequently, been imprisoned by the Dutch (in 1947), by Sukarno (in 1960-61) and by Suharto, from 1965 until 1979.
It is as if Charles Dickens had been imprisoned in Victorian England, or Emile Zola in the France of the Third Republic.
Actually, what Pramoedya experienced in the tropical gulag of the New Order recalls Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Soviet experiences in the 1940s, or those of Nobel Prize-winning Chinese novelist and playwright Gao Xingjian, in the 1970s and 1980s.
For all these reasons, Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s memoir, The Mute’s Soliloquy, should be required reading in Australian schools. We need such voices all around the world. We need to ensure that they are not silenced.
Theirs is the voice of common humanity, all too often brutally suppressed by arbitrary authority and all too inadequately defended internationally. As we enter the 21st century, we need to be mindful of the enormous abuses of the 20th, the staggering numbers of people repressed for political or ideological reasons.
We are regularly reminded of the colossal atrocities of the Nazis and the extraordinary crimes and abuses of the communist regimes, especially under Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. We have not, however, sufficiently come to grips with the repression perpetrated in many countries in the name of anti-communism.
In few countries has such repression been greater than in the Indonesia of Suharto. A modern history of Indonesia doing full justice to this dark aspect of the New Order regime has yet to be written, but the memoir of Pramoedya Ananta Toer offers a glimpse of it.
On October 13, 1965, as a vast anti-communist pogrom gathered momentum, a crowd gathered outside Pramoedya’s house in Jakarta. They threw stones, breaking windows and battering doors. Soldiers came and told him they would escort him to safety, instead, they led him outside, tied his hands, put a noose around his neck and smashed his face in with a rifle butt. They made a bonfire of his library and papers in the backyard of his home. He was imprisoned without charge or trial.
In 1969 he was sent, with 12,000 other political prisoners, to Buru Island and left there in a penal colony for the next 10 years.
The Buru Island prisoners were a small proportion of the estimated 1 million people arrested in 1965-67, while up to one million were killed out of hand in the great bloodbath that destroyed the Indonesian Communist Party. Buru Island penal colony became a tropical version of what the Kolyma was for very much larger numbers of Soviet political prisoners under Stalin, or Qinghai prison farms for political prisoners in China right up to the present day. Pramoedya’s account of it is very much like Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
The grim awareness that he belonged with a universal humanist contingent in the struggle against political and ideological repression runs throughout Pramoedya’s memoir. As he was being shipped off to Buru, in 1969, he reflected, ‘I had been detained a number of times before and had once visited the Nazi concentration camps of Ravensbruck and Buchenwald. I had seen with my own eyes Japanese detainees; I had read Anna Segher’s writings on Auschwitz and Dostoyevsky’s The House of the Dead; I had toured Siberia; and now I, too, was going into exile, entering yet another barbed-wired dominion.’ He is alluding here to a history and a literature which should be to the citizens of the 21st century world what the books of the Old Testament have been for more than 2000 to Jews and Christians: the memory of enslavement and repression, the poetics of exodus, passover and return out of Babylon.
Keeping and reading such things will no more save us from future repressions than the God of the Old Testament saved the Jews from the legions of Titus, but it will give us a memory and a rhetoric with which to cling to hope and sanity, as it did for Pramoedya. His memoir testifies to this and is grimly beautiful for that reason. It is, therefore, a part of the soliloquy of the human spirit, transcending Pramoedya and his oppressors, reflecting on the long millennia of struggle for enlightenment and justice on this Earth of mankind.
Pramoedya Ananta Toer Keliling Swiss
Oleh: Kang Bondet
Atas undangan dua organisasi sosial SOLIFONDS dan HEKS di Swiss, Pramoedya Ananta Toer keliling Swiss pada tanggal 3-6 Juni 2002 ke empat kota besar: Zürich, Bern, Basel dan Jenewa. Dari Indonesia Pramoedya ditemani oleh putrinya Astuti dan Johny Simanjuntak seorang pengacara dari ATMA (Advokasi Transformasi Masyarakat) di Solo. Dalam membacakan karyanya Pramoedya didampingi Brigitte Schneebeli, penerjemah karya-karya Pramoedya kedalam bahasa Jerman.
Bertempat di gedung Literaturhaus, Limatqui 62, kota Zürich sore itu 3 Juni 2002 sudah banyak hadirin yang datang, meski ada hujan rintik-rintik. Di pintu masuk, seorang kawan Indonesia memberi tahu, kalau dirinya tak dapat tempat duduk. Hadirin yang datang tanpa reservasi terpaksa harus ditampung dalam “waiting list”. Menjelang pembacaan karya Pramoedya jam 20.00 waktu setempat, hadirin yang masih waiting list, dipersilakan masuk, walau harus berdiri dan ada yang duduk di lantai. Diperkirakan semua yang hadir ada 70-an orang, baik orang Swiss sendiri maupun warga Indonesia yang bermukim di Swiss.
Pramoedya masih tampak tegar mengenakan baju bati
k warna biru dan jaket kuning krem duduk di meja bersama Brigitte. Acara dibuka dengan sambutan singkat dari pihak sponsor dan panitia. Sebelum Pram memulai bicara, dia membuka topi warna krem yang dikenakannya. Pram berusia 77 tahun, tapi ternyata suaranya masih keras dan tegas, identik dengan kepribadiannya yang kokoh, walau pendengarannya sudah berkurang dan rambutnya sudah beruban semua.
Sambutan pembukaan Pram: “Ini malam atau sore? (Penulis: Banyak hadirin yang tertawa, menjelang musim panas ini, meski sudah jam 20.00 namun langit masih tampak terang). Selamat malam para hadirin. Suatu kali datang Johny Simanjuntak mengundang untuk datang ke Swiss, karena ada undangan dari SOLIFONDS dan HEKS. Waktu itu saya sedang sakit, saya minta waktu 2 bulan. Dalam proses kesembuhan itu, Johny Simanjuntak datang lagi, dan dia tanyakan apakah menerima undangan itu? Saya berpikir, saya sama sekali tidak mengenal Swiss, sebab di SD, Swiss tidak pernah diajarkan, yang diajarkan: Belanda, Prancis dan Inggris, tapi Swiss tidak disebut-sebut. Oleh karena itu saya tidak pernah baca sastrawan Swiss. Undangan saya terima, walau tak tahu apa-apa.
Pada waktu saya datang, saya geleng-geleng kepala, semuanya hijau, air-air bersih tanpa sampah, jalan-jalan dengan lalu lintas yang rapi. Semua saya rasakan menyenangkan di Swiss. Untuk itu, saya hormat pada yang membuat suasana seperti itu, tidak pernah di impian, lihat negeri seperti ini. Terima kasih atas undangan dan seluruh rakyat Swiss.
Tepuk tangan bergemuruh, saat Pram selesai memberi sambutan. Dilanjutkan Brigitte memperkenalkan diri dan membacakan biografi Pram secara singkat. Pram membacakan karyanya tentang sebuah surat yang dikirim untuk anaknya, namun tak pernah sampai. Suara Pram yang keras dan tegas itu memukau hadirin dan tenggelam dalam lautan keheningan. Setiap paragraf Pram berhenti membaca dan diteruskan dengan terjemahan bahasa Jerman oleh Brigitte.
Surat permenungan itu merupakan rangkaian ucapan selamat untuk pernikahan anak perempuan Pram yang paling besar yang didalamnya juga berisi cerita sekitar perjalanannya bersama 800 orang tahanan politik (TAPOL) yang diangkut dengan kapal laut menuju “Happy Land” pulau Buru, pulau yang lebih besar dari pulau Bali terletak di Maluku. Di kapal yang mengangkut para TAPOL itu ada radio yang sering mendendangkan lagu-lagu keroncong, fatwa orang gereja, juga wejangan pejabat yang memberi selamat bagi para TAPOL yang akan memulai hidup baru di pulau Buru. Ombak bergulung-gulung membuat banyak orang mabuk, karena kebanyakan para TAPOL itu belum pernah melihat laut, walaupun katanya nenek moyang mereka adalah bangsa maritim. Mereka sakit, mereka kelaparan, mereka tersiksa.
Sebelum membacakan paragraf berikutnya, Pram sempat bertanya: Apa hadirin sudah bosan?
Hadirin tertawa dan tepuk tangan sambil menjawab serempak, belum.
Pram mengakhiri bacaan suratnya: pulau Buru bagian selatan, pagar ganas, ladang bocel-bocel bertopi ilalang, mendarat dikawal Divisi Patimura dengan senapan dan tinju, ayahmu menuruni kapal.
Pembacaan surat untuk anaknya itu berlangsung hingga sekitar 40 menit kemudian dilanjutkan dengan acara diskusi. Pertanyaan pertama datang dari orang Swiss. Kemudian penanya saling bergantian antara orang Swiss dan orang Indonesia.
Tanya: Apakah surat itu sudah pernah di terima anaknya?
(Catatan: T: Tanya, P: Pram )
T: Bapak masuk penjara pada usia muda, apa boleh membaca?
P: Saat menjadi tahanan Belanda, tidak hanya boleh baca, tapi juga menulis. Dalam tahanan Orde Baru, ada seorang yang baca potongan koran, ditangkap, kedua tangannya diikat dan esoknya sudah ngambang di sungai. Dalam tahanan Orde Baru, hanya agama yang boleh dibaca, syukurlah ada misi Katolik yang mengedarkan buku-buku bacaan lain secara sembunyi-sembunyi dan dibaca para tahanan secara bergantian.
T: Ada masalah di Indonesia sekarang antara konflik Kristen-Islam, bagaimana bapak melihatnya?
P: Apa yang terjadi baik konflik horisontal maupun vertikal, tampaknya keadaan ini diperlukan, agar korupsi selamat, untuk itu bentrokan dimana-mana tanpa bisa dihentikan. Jawaban saya, bentrokan seperti diatur. Di Indonesia ada penganggur 15 juta. Kerja apa saja, bila dapat uang.
T: Bagaimana bisa punya tenaga untuk menulis terus?
P: Tenaganya adalah perlawanan.
T: Apakah keluarga anda juga ikut menanggung kesulitan?
P: Tentu saja, 2 minggu setelah peristiwa G30S, rumah beserta isinya disita, istri, anak tak bisa masuk rumah sendiri, tanpa punya baju, numpang sana-sini dan apa yang dirampas hingga kini belum di kembalikan.
T: Bapak kenal dengan Romo Mangun, bagaimana kesannya?
P: Saya hanya sekali bertemu Romo Mangun di pulau Buru dan dia bilang saya akan menulis seperti Pak Pram dan ternyata dia lakukan itu, karena dia menulis mulai usia sekitar 40-an.
T: Apakah ada impian-impian bapak di penjara yang sudah terealisasikan pada pemerintah sekarang?
P: Perubahan dasar belum ada, karena masih banyak orang Orba.
T: Apakah bapak tidak mengalami kesulitan mengumpulkan daftar orang-orang yang meninggal dan tidak ada kabar beritanya, padahal masih dalam penjara?
P: Tidak, karena saya tanya pada bagian kesehatan, termasuk menjajagi wanita-wanita Jawa yang dijadikan pelayan sex, yang katanya akan dibawa ke Tokyo dan Singapura untuk melanjutkan sekolah, ternyata sebagai obyek sex tentara Jepang. Oleh penduduk setempat wanita-wanita itu diburu seperti binatang dan ditangkap untuk dimiliki, bisa disewakan atau dijual.
T: Tentang wanita Jawa yang dijadikan pelacur orang Jepang, apakah susah naskah itu di terbitkan?
P: O, semua naskah saya selundupkan, dibawa tukang motor boat ke pelabuhan pada bagian logistik, yang menerima seorang pastor orang Jerman bekas tentara Nazi Jerman. Perlu diketahui, pada saat keluar dari tahanan, semua kertas saya dirampas, jadi gereja Katolik yang menyelamatkan.
T: Saya pernah membaca artikel, bahwa pak Pram bersahabat dengan Günther Grass, bahkan pernah mengunjungi Grass di Hamburg beberapa tahun lalu. Pada tahun 1999 Grass mendapat hadiah Nobel sastra, dan Pak Pram ikut pidato menyambut Grass di Goethe Institut di Jakarta, juga Pak Pram pernah mendapat sebuah lukisan dari Grass yang dititipkan Arief Budiman. Pertanyaan saya, karena Pak Pram sudah lama menjadi kandidat peraih nobel sastra, namun hingga kini tak kunjung datang, bagaimana perasaan pak Pram?
P: Saya tak pernah mengharapkan dari luar.
T: Keadaan Indonesia yang tidak menentu ini, bagaimana menurut pandangan Pak Pram?
P: Persoalan Indonesia, saya malu bicara tentang Indonesia. Di koran, Indonesia digambarkan sebagai orang “Sakit” di Asia Tenggara. Tidak ada “Karakter”. Untuk itu Soekarno benar, yang perlu diupayakan itu “Nation and Character Building”. Elit Indonesia tak punya karakter. Sebagai contoh, waktu Orde Baru lahir, membunuh 2 juta manusia, seluruh intelektual tiarap, itu tidak adanya karakter. Kalau ada perlawanan dari intelektual, itu yang dari luar negeri. Tapi dari dalam negeri praktis tidak ada.
Sekitar jam 22.00 acara diskusi selesai, Pram memberikan tanda tangan pada hadirin yang membeli bukunya. Beberapa buku Pram dalam bahasa Jerman banyak dibeli oleh hadirin. Seorang perempuan bule menyodorkan rokok kretek cap Gudang Garam pada Pram, namun Pram menolak dan merogoh dari sakunya sendiri rokok kretek cap Djarum. Disela-sela acara santai itu, Sigit Susanto, pegiat sastra yang bermukim di Swiss dari komunitas sastra Bumi Manusia memberikan buku Antologi pada Pram. Sigit menerangkan, bahwa ada komunitas sastra di Internet dengan nama Bumi Manusia, karena kami pengagum novelnya Pak Pram. Komunitas sastra itu sudah menerbitkan buk
u Antologi dari berbagai penulis baru. Setelah Pram memperhatikan sejenak buku tersebut, dia mengulurkan tangannya sambil mengucapkan terima kasih.
Sehari sebelum acara pembacaan karya Pram, TV Swiss menayangkan singkat kehadiran Pram di Swiss. Disebutkan Pram sebagai kandidat peraih nobel sastra dari Indonesia. Dalam tayangan tersebut Pram berbaju batik coklat berdiri di teras rumah, kemudian Pram naik Tram di kota Zürich didampingi putrinya Astuti. Pram mengatakan, “Di dunia ini semua punya makna, ketidak-adilan juga punya makna, apa maknanya? Maknanya yaitu harus dilawan”.
Pada kesempatan yang berbeda, PPI-Swiss dengan diwakili beberapa anggotanya juga mendatangi Restoran Indonesia di kota Zürich, dimana Pram makan malam. Disitu mereka mendaulat Pram.
Koran terbesar di Swiss NZZ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung) edisi 3 Juni 2002 menurunkan wawancara khusus dengan Pram. Wawancara tersebut sebagai berikut:
T: Novel anda pertama berjudul “Perburuan” (Spiel mit dem Leben) itu, anda tulis pada usia 20 tahun di dalam penjara Belanda. Saat itulah anda menulis tentang perlawanan?
P: Ya, tapi bukan pertama kalinya menulis di penjara. Sejak masih bocah, saya sudah mulai menulis dan temanya sebuah perlawanan terhadap ayah saya. Meski dia seorang guru, kepala guru, penyair dan pemain musik, karena saya tak mampu lagi menahan untuk direndahkan terus. Saya mulai melawan yang akhirnya memupuk kepribadian hidup, memperkuat perasaan percaya diri saya.
T: Di bawah rezim Soeharto, anda dipenjara seumur hidup di pulau Buru juga dengan kerja paksa.
P: Bagaimanapun itu adalah pelecehan manusia. Tapi kalau ada yang tak terbunuh, justru akan memperkuat yang lainnya. Saya sudah bersumpah dahulu, agar bisa hidup di rezim Orba, dan saya berhasil. Itu merupakan rasa puas saya. Pada saat itu, tanpa dakwaan, tanpa proses, yang menyusahkan saya. Begitu menyedihkan, saya harus mengalami pada tingkatan yang terendah bangsa dan politik negeri saya. Perpustakaan saya di rusak tahun 1965, padahal banyak dokumen lama abad ke 19 dan 20, terbakar musnah. Beberapa dari buku-buku itu pinjaman dari perpustakaan nasional. Bisa dibayangkan dokumen lenyap tanpa tanggung jawab apapun.
T: Disamping anda sebagai pelawan, adakah dasar-dasar gerakan lain untuk menulis?
P: Tentu. Mudah saja dasarnya: kebenaran, keadilan dan berpihak pada yang lemah. Saya mencoba untuk menerangkan pendidikan politik bangsa saya sendiri. Di Eropa sini tampaknya kurang mengena dan menggelikan. Tapi Indonesia tak punya tradisi demokrasi, seperti di negara-negara Eropa. Bila para politikus tak mau mengurus kebenaran rakyatnya, sastrawan harus lakukan.
T: Sejauh mana situasi Indonesia sekarang ini dibanding jaman kolonial dahulu?
P: Banyak orang masih suka bicara tentang masa kolonial. Mereka membicarakan masa penghisapan dan ketertekanan. Disamping itu, nenek moyang kita adalah pelaut dan Belanda telah mengisolasi negeri kami dan memotong dari dunia luar. Dengan demikian dalam perkembangannya menjadi bersatu. Tipu muslihat pemerintah kolonial, sudah saya tulis dengan terinci dalam roman sejarah “Bumi Manusia” (Garten der Menschheit), “Anak Semua Bangsa” (Kind aller Nation), “Jejak Langkah” (Spur der Schritte) dan “Rumah- Rumah Kaca” (Das Glashaus). Ketertekanan dan penghisapan oleh para penguasa kolonial pada satu sisi, dan oleh para penguasa feodal pribumi pada sisi yang lain. Orang harus berpikir dan oleh karenanya saya gambarkan dalam Tetralogi saya. Mentalitas perampok elit kita sekarang adalah bekas warisan utama feodalisme. Dan oleh karenanya menimbulkan suatu yang tidak kita harapkan. Lambat laun makin parah dan mengkhawatirkan di bandingkan dari apa yang para penguasa kolonial lakukan.
T: Menyinggung tokoh utama dalam roman Tetralogi anda, awalnya pengaguman pada budaya barat, namun lambat laun menuju perlawanan anti-kolonial. Tokoh utamanya dalam proses itu adalah seorang perempuan, adakah alasannya?
P: Ya, saya suka dan menghargai perempuan yang sangat tegar. Untuk memperjuangkan keadilan bukan semata-mata tugas laki-laki saja. Perempuan berkemampuan sama baiknya, juga bisa mempertahankan. Saya melihat tak ada bedanya antara laki-laki dan perempuan. Dan saya melihat tanpa alasan, perempuan-perempuan harus ditekan laki-laki. Juga itu sebuah tema dalam buku saya “Gadis Pantai” (Die Braut des Bendoro). Yang jadi contoh saya dalam hal ini adalah ibu saya, dia adalah rohnya seluruh karya saya.
T: Bagaimana pendapat anda tentang tema Globalisasi? Bagaimana anda melihat perang antara USA dan Terorisme?
P: Globalisasi bisa saja menjadi hal yang baik, bila tak hanya masalah modal, melainkan kegunaan secara global. Yang utama harusnya idealisme sebagai pendorong bukan uang. Di negara-negara demokrasi, dimana hal-hal kecil punya kemungkinan-kemungkinan untuk mengembangkan kepribadian-kepribadian yang mandiri. Hal ini berbeda dengan menerapkan globalisasi di negara-negara berkembang, dimana manusianya dalam proses ini tak punya keberanian melawan. Dan inilah apa yang dinamai perang melawan terorisme sejauh saya tahu. Mengertikah anda, dengan pengertian itu saya kesulitan pada interpretasi sepihak kebebasan Amerika. Bagi saya USA memanfaatkan masa baiknya untuk menaruh pangkalan-pangkalan militer. Lihatlah Filipina, di situ militer Amerika sudah bersiaga dan tak menutup kemungkinan akan datang ke Indonesia, sebab katanya ada cabang Al Qaeda. Apakah itu benar, saya tak bisa membuktikan. USA sekarang ini satu-satunya kekuatan dunia dan dirinya merasa kuat. Tapi setiap bentuk kekuatan akan menemukan musuhnya. Dan Amerika mungkin dalam hal ini mendapatkan musuhnya sendiri, mereka melawan dirinya sendiri.
What They Did With Their Lives
Source: Time Asia – Heroes
Grandmother SATIMA and mother SAIDAH, according to Pramoedya Ananta Toer, made him who he is.
Two women gave me life. Two women of one flesh and blood, but sundered by fate. Two women who then defied that fate. Two women who taught me that the individual matters, above anyone or anything else. Two women who are my heroes.
I don’t know when my grandmother Satima was born-back then, during the 1890s, they didn’t keep records-but it was in a fishing village in central Java, near the town of Rembang. By all accounts she was a pretty girl. Pretty enough to catch the eye of the powerful head of local religious affairs, a Javanese man working for the colonial Dutch administration. She was taken by this man in marriage and became what was known as a “practice wife,” a woman who fulfilled a man’s personal and sexual needs until he decided to marry a woman of his own class. She slept with him and helped take care of his Rembang residence, a sprawling complex of houses, pavilions, stables and even a mosque. The “marriage” bestowed prestige on my grandmother back at her fishing village because she was seen to have ascended to a higher class. But it did not take long for her to fall to earth. The Javanese man owned her, and he could discard her-which he did after she had given birth to a baby girl, my mother Saidah. My grandmother was just 14.
So young, yet my grandmother was already a nobody. No husband, no home, no child (my mother was taken away from her to remain at Rembang), no job. Too ashamed to return to her village, she instead made her way south to the town of Blora
. There, she met and married an itinerant worker. But everything this new husband tried-farming, selling soup, hawking spare parts-he failed at; he was a loser and when he drifted away, she decided she was better off without him. The accumulated heartbreak over the years would have been enough to shatter anyone, but not my grandmother. She resolved to no longer depend on others, on men, just on herself.
It was my grandmother I wrote about in my novel “Girl from the Coast”: “Her skin was golden, her body small and slender. Each day she carried a large basket tied to her back by a length of cloth. She went to the houses of the nobles. She bought old clothing, empty bottles, even broken things, then sold them in the marketplace. She lived in a hut on the edge of town. The walls were of woven bamboo, the holes plastered over with cow dung. Anything she couldn’t sell, she stored under the wooden platform on which she slept.” My grandmother was poor, but she had regained her dignity. No matter how hard life was, she walked with her head high. Her example taught me that no one is ever too down to never come up again. During my harsh years of incarceration on Buru Island, my memory of her enabled me to keep going.
My mother Saidah, meanwhile, was living a very different life – at least for a while. Though she was a girl – and merely the daughter of a concubine – she was privileged, even if she did not quite possess the status granted children of her father’s “main” wife from his own social class. She didn’t have to lift her finger for anything; she was even forbidden from entering the kitchen. The plentiful servants took care of all that. My mother also received a good education. The Dutch encouraged schooling for women, and Javanese aristocrats followed suit, if only so their women could converse intelligently with their Dutch counterparts.
My mother met my father Toer at home. The Dutch rented rooms in the huge Rembang house for their staff, and Toer lived there because he was a government teacher. The stepmother encouraged their relationship-she had children of her own to raise and wanted my mother out of the house. After they married, my parents left for Blora, where my father got a job at a school promoting nationalist teachings. Saidah helped run the school, raised funds to pay the salaries of teachers (they never got any money from the central administration), printed a school newsletter, opened a kindergarten for poor children, planted crops on our small parcel of land and brought up eight children, of whom I was the eldest. She read all the time-in English, Dutch, Javanese, Arabic-and she read to me.
Saidah grew to believe fervently in the nationalist cause. Independence – for herself and her nation – became her rallying cry. She insisted that just as a people have to be in charge of their own destiny, so must an individual be in control of her life. She pushed me to excel at school (urging me to persist when I wanted to quit after failing sixth grade), to complete my studies and to enroll in a vocational institute in Surabaya where I learned to be a radio operator. She taught me to love to work, that it didn’t matter what I did, so long as I did not do it for the colonial government – because that would be tantamount to participating in the colonization of our own people. Never beg, my mother stressed, never ask for something you don’t deserve. Even if it’s just a school notebook, obtain it yourself rather than have it given to you. I bought into the idea of self-sufficiency. With the money we made selling produce at the market, I bought some hens. With the money selling eggs, I bought some goats, and so on. I have been independent ever since.
Now the story takes what would be a fictional turn – if it weren’t astonishingly true. One day, a woman showed up at our home seeking our old and unused household items to resell. My mother asked her to come in and sit down. They started talking. The first question we Indonesians habitually ask strangers is where they are from. The visitor replied Rembang. Me too, my mother said. In a big house on the square. And so, mother and daughter rediscovered each other – after nearly 20 years. They displayed little emotion. They had hardly ever known each other, and they were too different: one illiterate, the other educated, one poor, the other relatively well-off. My mother invited her mother to stay with us; she refused. She never said why, but I figured it was because she did not want to be beholden to anyone, not even her daughter, her only child. What the two women had in common – stubborn individualism – is what prevented them from growing closer.
I visited my grandmother often in her shack. But the time she really needed me, I was not there. My mother had died from tuberculosis and post-labor complications. To support the family, I worked in Jakarta as a typist for a Japanese news agency. I am not sure what exactly happened, but this is what my siblings later told me. Grandmother Satima was at our place in Blora when she complained of stomach pain and said she wanted to return to her shack. My family tried to persuade her to stay, but she refused-she did not want to trouble anyone. She left to walk home, and died by the roadside, quietly, alone.
Neither my grandmother nor my mother are forgotten. The literal meaning of the Indonesian word for hero, pahlawan, is a person – not someone necessarily great, just a regular person – whose life benefits others. My grandmother and mother benefited me. They are my role models. They live in all the many strong women characters who people my writings. And they live in all the people who have ever had to fight to be themselves.
Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia’s most celebrated writer, is the author of The Buru Quartet, among other books
20 May 2003
Dashed hopes in Indonesia
By our correspondent Edwin Mooibroek
On May 21, 1998, Indonesian president Suharto announced his resignation, ending 32 years of dictatorial rule. It raised hopes that Indonesia would develop into a democratic country. But five years and three presidents later, the road to democracy looks just as long.
One of the Suharto regime’s best-known victims is Indonesia’s leading author, Pramoedya Ananta Toer. In 1965, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison for suspected communist membership. Following his release, Pramoedya’s freedom of movement was restricted for another 20 years. Until recently, his writings were banned in Indonesia. The author says he now feels free:
“I feel free, but freedom is determined by the person himself, not by your surroundings or situation.”
Pramoedya is pessimistic about the current situation in Indonesia. “There is no progress at all. Indonesia is the marketplace of the world; we’re rich in raw materials. The only thing the people have to show for it is unemployment.”
Students played an important part in Suharto’s resignation. For months they took to the streets to protest against the dictatorship. In 1998, 26-year-old Mixil joined Forum Kota, one of the student organisations.
“From a very early age, I was confronted with the injustices the population suffered under Suharto. In the village where I lived many people ran in to serious problems because of his agricultural reforms. My father was sacked. When I became a student, I felt called upon to join the fight against the dictator.”
According to Mixil, the reformasi, as the democratisation process is called in Indonesia, has still achieved next to nothing:
“Golkar, the party which always supported Suharto, should be banned. They were guilty of corruption in seven elections. The army killed people in Aceh and East Timor, they shot dead students. Despite this, they have political power. They have access to domestic and foreign development funds. That money is misused on the pretext of stability.”
It’s hard to find someone who is positive about today’s Indonesia. Leading human rights activist Munir says the situation under President Megawati is now worse than the short periods under the previous presidents Habibie and Wahid.
“The military has gained more power. The judicial system has deteriorated. Civil groups cannot accomplish much, because the government is trying to control them. We’re now waiting for a suitable occasion to push through more radical changes than we have so far.”
Mr Munir says many investigations into human rights violations and corruption have more or less ground to a halt. Despite this, Tommy Suharto was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison. Almost no one believed the former dictator’s son would ever be convicted.
The parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung was also jailed for corruption. However, pending his appeal hearings, he is free and still in office. Nevertheless, these convictions can be seen as a ray of light. According to Mr Munir, these cases are not typical of the Indonesian justice system.
“The government will only deal with prominent figures when it’s suits them politically. The threat of probes into human rights violations and corruption are grinding to a halt, imprisonment is used as a negotiating tactic. But it only works when there’s sufficiently pressure from the population.”
The author Pramoedya is similarly unimpressed by the recent convictions of a handful of prominent politicians. “Suharto has ordered the killing of hundreds of thousands of people but he is still at large.”
A forgiving people
You may wonder why the people tolerate all these changes for the worse, why they don’t take to the streets again. Student Mixil says it’s a cultural thing.
“Indonesians are quick to forgive and forget easily. They forget that the promises made during the elections are not being honoured. Politicians take advantage of this trait. The leaders promise them pie in the sky. The population just accepts its fate. But there are still active student associations that haven’t forgotten and are working for democracy.”
Mixil can imagine that some people are disappointed with the students. “The students have failed. Together we made a start,” he says, “but we couldn’t finish it.”
The student organisations have lost much of their momentum in recent years. A number have become playthings of political parties in exchange for funding for their demonstrations. Mixil admits this too. With an eye to the elections next year, the organisations are now trying to restore their unity.
April 11, 2004
Acclaimed Indonesian Author Disenchanted With Reforms
Jakarta (AP) — Leaning back in his chair, Indonesia’s most acclaimed author looked achingly frail – until he started talking about the country’s reform movement and upcoming presidential elections.
Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a champion of democracy jailed under successive regimes, lamented the state of the country’s politics. His eyes were afire as he denounced contenders for Indonesia’s first direct presidential election on July 5, including President Megawati Sukarnoputri, as a bunch of buffoons.
“We have no leaders and the reform movement has died. That’s a tragedy,” the ailing Pramoedya, 79, told The Associated Press during an interview at his home on the outskirts of Jakarta.
“Our current president is no leader,” he said. “She is a clown. In fact, all of the presidential candidates are clownlike.”
Pramoedya’s works – and his life – tell the history of Indonesia over more than half a century. Today, he is still the angry leftist intellectual. But his works are little known by the country’s young, a legacy from the days when his works were banned during the dictatorship Suharto – and he spent 14 years in prison.
His career was kept alive then because his 34 books and essays have been translated into 37 languages including English, German, French, Dutch and Italian. He has several times been nominated for a Nobel Prize.
His best-known works – the “Buru Quartet” novels about Indonesia’s independence struggle against the Dutch – were written on scraps of paper and surreptitiously smuggled out while he was imprisoned on the remote island of Buru.
Pramoedya was first jailed in 1947 by Dutch troops for being “anti-colonialist.” He was imprisoned again during the rule of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, and in 1953 he fled to the Netherlands, where he moved politically to the left.
This landed him in jail after his return when Suharto’s right-wing military junta took over in 1965. The long years of incarceration without trial almost ended the career of Indonesia’s most influential and prolific writer, who had also popularized American author John Steinbeck by translating “Mice and Men,” and Russian writers Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorki.
Now, he’s free to speak his mind – under the government of Megawati, whom he reviles. Yet the nearly blind and deaf Pramoedya has been largely forgotten in the country’s chaotic transition to democracy.
“I am sad. The younger generation were not allowed to read his books and now many of them do not know his ideas,” said university student leader Ukay, who like many Indonesians uses a single name.
Pramoedya’s ideas – once a major factor fueling the pro-democracy groundswell that toppled Suharto – have been largely cast aside as the country struggles to revive its economy, put down separatist rebellions and defeat terrorists responsible for a string of deadly bomb attacks.
Pramoedya advocated rejecting bureaucrats and politicians “tainted” by Suharto-era abuses, but many of Suharto’s cronies remain in office. He wanted an inclusive government that welcomed people from areas beyond Indonesia’s main island of Java, but the Javanese still hold the reins of power.
Pramoedya hasn’t let his health problems or his declining influence silence him, however.
“I am half blind and almost totally deaf. But I won’t stop being angry because not many people are outraged enough at the state of Indonesia,” he said.
These days Pramoedya mostly stays at home, where he’s been trying to compile an encyclopedia on Indonesia. Recently, he suffered a bout of typhoid fever, and he’s been too weak even to walk up to his third-floor study crammed with neatly bound but dog-eared books, magazines and newspaper clippings.
Only a few old friends stop by to discuss politics. One of his favorite topics remains the 82-year old Suharto, whom he criticizes for “forbidding Indonesians to think and be critical” and for jailing thousands like himself simply because they were linked to the country’s Communist Party.
Pramoedya said Megawati pales in comparison to her father Sukarno – Indonesia’s founding father – and added she lacks the intellectual heft and political will to address the country’s problems.
Many Indonesians seem to agree
: Megawati’s corruption-tainted party fared poorly in Monday’s parliamentary elections, loosing more than a third of the 34 percent votes it won in the 1999 ballot that followed Suharto’s overthrow.
The result has thrown into doubt her plans to seek re-election in the presidential contest on July 5, and emboldened her principal rivals – Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a four-star general who served as Megawati’s security minister, and Akbar Tandjung, chairman of Suharto’s former Golkar Party.
Some Indonesians say Pramoedya serves as a reminder of the terrible price a nation pays when it silences its brightest minds.
“His plight shows us that we should never again be shackled or restricted in politics,” said Thamrin Amal Tamagola, a political observer at the University of Indonesia.
When he seized power from Sukarno, Suharto imposed a crackdown on communists that killed an estimated half million people within a decade. Pramoedya was active in the cultural and literary wing of the Communist Party.
That party is still banned in Indonesia but in February the country’s Supreme Court ruled that former “communists” could stand for election starting in 2009.
Pramoedya expressed satisfaction with the court ruling but said it meant little in a country where corruption is rampant and where efforts to reform the judiciary have largely stalled.
“The courts are nothing but theater plays. Judges allow powerful Suharto cronies to walk free. We may as well allow the nation to break up,” he said.
Defiant as ever, the aging author refuses to disappear into the night.
His yellow, nicotine-stained fingers tap a right ear filled with cotton; it was badly damaged when prison wardens beat his head with rifle butts.
“I am a fighter. I like to fight,” said Pramoedya, his wrinkled face revealing an impish smile. “But who will fight me now? Are there any fighters left in Indonesia?”
The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
A Great Writer Underappreciated In His Own Country
By Michael J. Ybarra
Bojong Gede, Indonesia
The dusty, manual typewriter sits on the desk, paper curling out, showing two paragraphs, the words falling off in mid-sentence. It’s been a while, Pramoedya Ananta Toer admits, since he’s finished a new book. Six years, actually.
Yet it’s hard to accuse Mr. Toer — who at 79 is Indonesia’s best-known author — of slacking off. The shelves in his study are lined with the 30 books he has written, which have been translated into 37 languages, most recently Catalan. That’s not counting the several manuscripts destroyed by the Indonesian authorities, who imprisoned Mr. Toer for 14 years without charges and continued to ban his books for two decades after he was released in 1979.
Mr. Toer’s novels — largely autobiographical fiction set amid Indonesia’s tumultuous struggle for national identity and independence — are taught in schools from Malaysia to Pakistan. But not, he notes, in his homeland. “Indonesia has little respect for my work,” he says. “Most of the honors shown me have come from abroad.”
The Norwegian Authors Union, for example, in June gave Mr. Toer its Freedom of Expression Prize, which includes a $13,000 cash award. “A key representation and symbol for the struggle of freedom of expression and tolerance,” the citation calls him.
“That’s what life is,” says a character in Mr. Toer’s “The Girl From the Coast,” “the struggle to keep standing on your own two feet.”
Seldom has a major writer’s bibliography been so overwhelmed by his biography. Mr. Toer turned to fiction to explain his nation’s torment but wound up finding his own life an example of that unending saga. The resulting oeuvre is full of people bowled over by distant forces as relentless as a tropical storm: child brides divorced by their husbands and turned into outcasts, fathers consumed by noble causes and personal failings, families torn apart (literally as in the case of a girl who finds only her father’s charred leg) by politics, war, revolution.
His own life has been no less dramatic. The oldest of nine children, Mr. Toer was born in 1925. He grew up in the town of Blora, in East Java, where most of his early short stories took place, a collection of which was recently published in the U.S. as “All That Is Gone” (Hyperion).
Mr. Toer’s father was a left-wing nationalist who opposed the Dutch colonial government and was rarely home. His mother was a devout Muslim, whose faith didn’t rub off on her son but who furnished a role model for the many strong, self-reliant women who populate Mr. Toer’s fiction. He started writing, Mr. Toer explains, as a way to deal with his stern father.
“It took me 10 years to finish a seven-year course in Dutch,” he recalls. “My father was embarrassed to have such a stupid son. I was doubly embarrassed. My father was so frustrated he said, ‘Go back to grade school,’ when I said that I wanted to go to junior high school. I became a writer to show him. I didn’t open my mouth. I put my thoughts down on paper. I found pure pleasure from writing. I had no thought of publishing.”
In 1947 the Dutch jailed Mr. Toer for two years for possessing revolutionary propaganda. In prison he wrote his first book, “The Fugitive,” about an Indonesian guerrilla on the run from the Japanese. After independence in 1949, Mr. Toer became an eminent author and, as editor of a Communist-affiliated literary magazine, a harsh critic of writers who didn’t live up to his ideal of socially engaged fiction — a dispute that divides Indonesian letters to this day.
A slight man with a thin fringe of white hair crowning his smooth, brown face, Mr. Toer chain smokes clove cigarettes, cups his hand to his good ear to hear a question, and squints his eyes as he concentrates on an answer.
Mr. Toer says that he was never a member of the Communist Party; his writing upset Indonesia’s left-leaning, mercurial President Sukarno enough to briefly jail the author. “I’ve always been an individualist,” Mr. Toer says. “I always wanted to go my own way. I have no regrets for being outspoken. I felt I was giving my support to my president. We’ve never had a good leader since.”
Sukarno was pushed aside by Gen. Suharto in 1965, and Mr. Toer was swept up in the vast, bloody purge of Indonesian society that followed. Soldiers beat Mr. Toer so severely that he lost the hearing in one ear while the other was badly damaged. His library and years of research materials were thrown into a bonfire; the military still occupies his house in Jakarta.
Mr. Toer spent years in a labor camp on the remote island of Buru. He was forbidden to write but nevertheless orally composed a quartet of novels dealing with Indonesian history, the best-known of which is “This Earth Mankind,” the story of a young Javanese intellectual named Minke and his journey into Indonesian nationalism.
“I had already planned on writing these books,” Mr. Toer says. “Fortunately for me it was all in my head.”
Eventually he was allowed to write to his eight children — though not to mail the letters — which formed the basis of his acclaimed memoir “The Mute’s Soliloquy.”
Mr. Toer’s books didn’t begin appearing in the U.S. until 1989, but in recent years foreign publishing royalties have given him a measure of comfort. In 1999 he was permitted to leave the country for the first time since his release and went on an extensive speaking tour of the U.S. and Europe. Four years ago Mr. Toer moved into a spacious new house behind a high wall south of Jakarta, along with his second wife, whom he married in 1955, and two daughters. The liv
ing room is filled with awards and posters of Mr. Toer, who is known as Pak (Father) Pram in Indonesia. Mango and jackfruit trees line the large yard where a swimming pool sparkles.
“If there is something I have to say in life I’ve probably said it,” Mr. Toer observes. “I was so productive because I had so many mouths to feed. Now I’m a farmer of sorts. I rake the lawn every day. I pick up trash. I never thought writing would cause me problems, but I never wanted to change professions.”
Mr. Ybarra’s book, “Washington Gone Crazy,” will be published in September.
The Jakarta Post
Thursday, August 19, 2004
RI people must be productive to thrive: Pramoedya
Amid festivities to mark the country’s 59th Independence Day, internationally renowned author Pramoedya Ananta Toer talked with The Jakarta Post’s Kornelius Purba on Saturday about the country’s problems in facing its future. The following is an excerpt of the interview.
Question: With the current civilian administration, don’t you agree that people have more freedom now, compared to life under the administrations of Soeharto and Sukarno?
Answer: When you are talking about formal freedom, you are right. But you have to see the real problems confronting Indonesia. Indonesians have a consumptive mentality. The consumptive frame of mind is very strong, which causes our nation to be left behind by other productive nations. We swallow everything, including the name of Indonesia. Geographically, actually the name of our country is nusantara or dipantara. But we use the name of Indonesia? Why? Because we are consumptive. Until now, even for simple terms, we much prefer to use English words. If we continue to have such a mentality, wherever Indonesian workers are sent abroad they can only become servants.
How does that happen?
Because we are not productive. Only productive people can have a strong character. We do not have a character, because character is developed by a productive working habit. It is strange that productive people — farmers — are even oppressed. This is ridiculous. They are sucked (dry). During harvest time, the government imports agricultural products and smuggling is rampant. Prices then fall. Once — which lasted until a few decades after our independence in 1945 — Indonesia was the largest exporter of rice and sugar. Cuba then assumed our position in producing sugar. Now we have become an importer of the products, and what’s worse, many of them are smuggled in. Practically, we do not have an agricultural policy.
Can you see any reason for optimism?
I can only see the development from a distance, because I don’t feel I am involved. We are left behind in all aspects of life. If you travel from Jakarta to Bogor (not through the toll road), you will see beggars along the streets. Our children are trained to be beggars. In the rural areas, small children are educated in production activities.
People in urban areas are consumptive. Beggars have an extraordinary method. They put drums in the middle of the streets. It is amazing that officials in charge of traffic regulation do not take any action to stop them. Roads are used by vendors. The high number of traders shows that our production system does not work. When our production is abundant, trading will be better organized. When you travel from here to Surabaya, you will see warung (small shops or food stalls) along the way. It proves how unproductive we are.
Can you envision the revival of the people’s economy?
Of course, it is possible. When you look at our history, since the start of the last century, big changes were always initiated by youth forces, and the peak was during the Youth Pledge in 1928. Our national independence revolution and the toppling of Soeharto in 1998 was carried out by youths. Sukarno was toppled (in 1967) by the military and they just used youths as their tools.
The problem is that our young generation does not produce new leaders after doing so many things for the nation. There is a vacuum of young generation leadership. We suffer big problems because of this difficulty.
Our nation often prides itself on being a religious nation. Why is this not reflected in daily life?
Religion is about relations between human beings and God — and not with the world. Don’t forget, many people commit corruption, and some of it (the money) is donated to build worship buildings. Beggars are deployed to the streets. How to control it? As long as Indonesian families do not educate their members to be productive, our situation will remain the same. Here, officials who have been declared guilty by the court are still free to keep their positions.
How about the condition of our education system?
Entering elementary school, junior high school and senior high school people have to face corruption and extortion. Coercion is not acceptable — but no one feels they have been coerced. It is regarded as a normal practice. This is unbelievable.
How do you perceive the current attitude of the Indonesian Military (TNI)?
Now they are rather under control and can be put under control. Before this they were so wild, with no limit. I suffered much from the military. I myself was a former military member during the independence revolution, from a low ranking soldier I became a second lieutenant. The military used to be uncontrollable, because they thought they had mightier power than ordinary citizens. Now they are controlled by the House of Representatives/People’s Consultative Assembly and other institutions. There is control, even people and the press are rising up to resist military power. It is strange that Indonesia, as an archipelago, is dominated by the Army.
Do you think that military power will reemerge?
No way, because day by day people’s democratic consciousness is further developing. Do not forget that groups in society will not hesitate to demonstrate against the military. It is very encouraging and pleasing.
How about democracy here, because we have adopted direct elections?
We are on the right track in the process of democracy, but do not forget that our bureaucracy has become a nest of corruption.
Did you vote in the legislative election and presidential election?
No, because I do not know anything about the achievements of the candidates. What are their national and international accomplishments? What can I rely on when they have not accomplished anything. Sorry, I do not mean to belittle current developments, but we also have to make judgments based on reality.
How about gender issues?
All the problems we are facing are caused by the failure of men to educate their family members. And it is women who must bear the (cost of that) failure. I think women should lead the family now. It is true that now our President is a woman. But our social structure is still different. Our society is dominated by men. When women dominate the society, perhaps it will be difficult for women to find their… (bursts into laughter)
What about international perceptions of us?
We are regarded as a sick nation in Southeast Asia. The motherland is very rich but its people are impoverished. It is a maritime state but the power is dominated by land. Thefts at sea by international vessels are
rampant. Nearly 2,000 islands are still unnamed. We need a leader who understand our geographic nature. There is no leader who pays attention to geography. When Anak (child) Krakatau volcano appeared, which was then followed by the cucu (grandchild) Krakatau, no attention was given, whereas the eruption of Krakatau two
centuries ago really was shocking.