tong tong fair discussion

Leila S. Chudori speaking with historian Martijn Eickhoff, left, and Aboeprijadi Santoso of the International People’s Tribunal 1965, in The Hague. (Photo courtesy of Tong Tong Foundation)

The music and happy chatter next door seem to be a world away as Indonesian author and Tempo journalist Leila S. Chudori speaks about her novel “Pulang” (“Going Home”). In front of a hushed audience, Leila recalls that she had only heard that there was such a thing as Indonesian political exiles when she visited Paris in the 1980s.

“There are thousands of Indonesian exiles in Europe, many in the Netherlands. And that’s not even counting their families,” Leila said. “That’s why I felt I should write about those exiled abroad and the political prisoners in Indonesia. They are closely related to one another.”

Her bestseller Pulang tells the story of Dimas, who was stranded in Paris and unable to return to Indonesia after the failed coup of September 1965, blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). In the months following the coup attempt, hundreds of thousands of people — some say over a million — accused of being communists were brutally tortured and killed, while many others were jailed without trial.  

Dimas’ character, Leila said, was based on real exiles in Paris who could not obtain Indonesian passports until after the fall of Suharto’s New Order regime, more than three decades later. 

Cisca Pattipilohy, 89, who was in the audience that afternoon, was emotional when she said that the 1965 events “have wounded our whole nation, not just those directly victimized.” Cisca, a former journalist, had to leave Indonesia with her four young children after her husband, also a journalist, was arrested following the failed coup. He died in jail without ever seeing his family again.

‘1965’ at the Tong Tong Fair

Literature, history and social issues have always been an integral part of the Tong Tong Fair, says programmer Leslie Boon. “While the Fair is a celebration, it should also be a venue where heavier subjects can be discussed,” says Boon, who is also the granddaughter of Tong Tong founder Jan Boon, better known under his pseudonym Tjalie Robinson. 

This year’s main themes include ‘1945’ and ‘1965,’ to commemorate the 70th and 50th anniversaries of key events in Indonesian history.

The fair is held from May 27 till June 7 this year.

“Each country has dark pages in its history,” Boon says. “For the Netherlands, 1945 marked not only the end of World War II but also the imminent loss of its biggest colony, and the wars it fought there. For Indonesia, meanwhile, it was 1965.”

The issue of 1965 is presented at the Fair through different perspectives, as Boon explains: “From the literary side we have Leila, and from the activists’ side we have IPT 1965 [International People’s Tribunal]. We also have an academic from NIOD [the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies].”

Boon tried to get US filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer to speak, “but unfortunately he already had an engagement in Japan.” Oppenheimer’s controversial documentaries “The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence” show how, decades after 1965, the perpetrators of the killings still walk free while many of the victims live in anger and fear. 

Decades of silence

Leila, who took part in three discussions during the 12-day festival, spoke of how effectively the New Order regime presented its version of what happened in 1965 as the only truth. “My father [Muhammad Buchori] was a journalist, but even I grew up largely uninformed about 1965,” she said. “Traveling and studying abroad has given me new glasses to look at my country.”

Even after the fall of Suharto in 1998, the silence about 1965 has been far from broken. In 2005, Leila recalls, Tempo magazine founder Goenawan Mohamad urged the weekly to do a special edition to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. “At first I thought: why do this old story? But then I started interviewing the families of the victims, and was stunned at all the untold stories that came out. Since then, we’ve decided to do a special edition on the subject every year.”

People’s Tribunal 

Leiden University lecturer Ratna Saptari also shared the Tong Tong podium as part of the Holland-based IPT 1965, which was formed in 2012 by a group of human rights activists, artists, intellectuals and academics in Europe and Indonesia. “It is so important that 1965 is discussed in a platform with a general audience like the Tong Tong,” she said.

IPT 1965 plans to organize a people’s tribunal in The Hague later this year for the atrocities of 1965, based on similar tribunals held in countries like Japan or the former Yugoslavia. The charges prepared for the tribunal range from torture and deportation to mass murder. While the court’s outcome would not be legally binding, Saptari explains, the tribunal would be able to hear witnesses and examine evidence. “We have been gathering evidence, and we have collected data from some 13 provinces in Indonesia.”

Breaking the silence

NIOD historian Martijn Eickhoff, who has done research in Indonesia, is optimistic that the frozen subject is slowly thawing. “I have seen changes in the past few years. The younger generation, especially university students, are getting curious about their past, and are starting to look more critically at the state’s official version of the country’s history.”

Eickhoff spoke of the so-called Oppenheimer effect: that the documentaries have sparked many Indonesians, including those who did not grow up under Suharto’s rule, to seriously question what really happened in 1965. “And books likePulang also contribute to this. Maybe we can now also mention the Chudori effect.”

But the author — whose book has been translated into English, French, German and Dutch — remains somewhat pessimistic about the future.

“Take the novel Bumi Manusia [The Earth of Mankind],” she said, referring to the classic work of literature by writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who was jailed for 14 years following the failed coup. “For years, Indonesian filmmakers have been trying to adapt this novel to the screen. But every time the investors hear the name of the author, they back out. Even now.”

About the Tong Tong Fair:

During the colonial rule in Indonesia, many Dutch civil servants and merchants ended up living in the archipelago, marrying locals and raising families. After Indonesia became independent, hundreds of thousands of Indos – those of mixed Indonesian and Dutch heritage — migrated to the Netherlands.

In the 1950s, Indo writer and intellectual Tjalie Robinson set up a group to organize events to celebrate Indo culture and make it wider known in the Netherlands.

In order to raise money, they organized the first Pasar Malam. It was held in The Hague’s city zoo for three days and attracted some 3,000 visitors.

Since then the Pasar Malam — renamed the Tong Tong Fair in 2009 — has grown into a two-week event with over 100,000 visitors. The festival is one of the largest annual fairs in the Netherlands, and features cultural events such as music, dance, theater and literary discussions. And, very importantly for most visitors: an abundance of Indonesian and Asian food.

source: Jakarta Globe June 07, 2015