As Ubud festival is forced to drop discussions and film screenings, sixty authors join PEN International campaign against ‘deeply shocking’ move on 50th anniversary of tragedy
MORE than 60 writers from all over the world have joined PEN International in condemning the Indonesian authorities for forcing a local literary festival to cancel a series of events covering the 1965 massacre of hundreds of thousands of alleged communists.
The travel writer Colin Thubron, novelists Lionel Shriver, Mohsin Hamid, Michael Chabon, and writer and photographer Teju Cole are among those who have protested after the cancellation of three panel discussions at the Ubud writers and readers festival, which starts tomorrow. The panels were related to the 50th anniversary of the genocide, during which up to 500,000 people were killed, but the festival says it was forced to drop them following pressure from authorities.
It also cancelled the screening of Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Look of Silence, which investigates the fallout from the massacre and a photography exhibition, The Act of Living, in order to keep its operating permit.
Pen International called on Indonesian authorities to overturn their “deeply shocking” decision to interfere with the festival’s programme.
PEN International, he added, “condemns the authorities’ decision”.
“Festivals are forums where difficult conversations are meant to take place, and by preventing these conversations, local authorities have undermined freedom of expression and kept old wounds buried,” said the free speech organisation, adding that the move “also weakens the central premise of the Ubud festival”. The event was set up by Janet DeNeefe as a “healing project” following the first Bali bombing.
Writer Salil Tripathi, chair of PEN International’s Writers-in-Prison Committee, said that “by clamping down on the Ubud festival and refusing permission for 1965 to be memorialised or discussed, Indonesian authorities have tightened the lid on the country’s past and taken a huge step backward”.
“The Indonesian massacres of 1965 were exceptional in their scale and have had a lasting impact on ethnic relations within Indonesia,” said Tripathi. “During the 32-year rule of General Suharto, it was impossible for many conversations to take place, and 1965 was one of them. It was only after his removal from power that the film, The Year of Living Dangerously, could be shown, and political prisoners were released. Oppenheimer’s films, The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, are major contributions to our understanding of 1965.”
DeNeefe has said that the festival chose to cover 1965 in its programme because it is “an event that has and continues to influence many Indonesians”, so organisers hoped to “enrich … our understanding about this, through themes of reconciliation and remembrance”.
“We hoped that these panel sessions would enable conversations to take place that continue Indonesia on its journey of healing, particularly for those whose lives were so severely affected,” she said. “Unfortunately, while we pride ourselves in bringing topical issues to the forefront of national and international dialogue, we had to consider the festival’s programme in its entirety and the many other important issues which will be explored through it, including human rights, activism, and censorship.”