Lily Yulianti Farid, founder and director of Makassar International Writers Festival, at a satellite event in Jakarta on Saturday (22/05). (JG Photo/Lisa Siregar)

Makassar Writers Fest Protests Book Raids, Highlights 18 Years of Reform


MAY 23, 2016

Jakarta. Writer Eka Kurniawan spoke up against recent book raids and highlights the importance of freedom of speech at the close of the Makassar International Writers Festival in Makassar, South Sulawesi, on Saturday (21/05).

Eka, a guest speaker at this year's event, said the festival is a celebration of freedom. Guests who came to the closing night on May 21, which also marked 18 years of the "Reformasi" (Reform) era in Indonesia, brought their favorite books to Chapel Fort Rotterdam as a symbol of protest to book raids, book burning and censorship that have been happening recently all across the country.

Speaking to the Jakarta Globe after a satellite event in Jakarta on Sunday, founder and director of the festival Lily Yulianti Farid said the festival is not only concerned about the threats to freedom in literature, but also about the younger generation and their lack of interests in books. One of the highlights from the festival is the moving libraries movement.

"I believe it is our task to build a generation who loves to read and wants literature to be part of their lifestyle," Lily said.

Held in Makassar, hundreds of miles away from the big cities of Java, Lily said the festival is looking to highlight voices from eastern Indonesia. This year, the festival invited writers from Manado, Saparua, Mataram and Banjarmasin as guest speakers.

Lily, who co-founded Makassar's Rumata' Artspace with acclaimed film director Riri Riza, said the festival is the antidote to other, more serious and exclusive literary events. In the festival, literature is enjoyed with music, coffee or tea and, of course, social media. This year marks their first partnership with Twitter Indonesia to boost promotion and engagement.

"This festival is not an exclusive literary event, it is a writers' festival. That's why we combine all sorts of genres, so we're not scaring people away with heavy discussions or a 'members only' exclusivity," she said. "I'm quite pleased to see people flocking to the chapel just to see other groups of people reading poems. It's something that I have never witnessed in Makassar."

This year, 61 writers from Indonesia and abroad were invited to 33 programs throughout the four-day event, all free of charge. The festival also opened up discussion on the literature of neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Japan.

"We are very conscious about our regional position because we are the only festival of its kind in the eastern part of Indonesia," Lily said.