At this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, which runs from Oct. 18–23, Indonesia will showcase LitRI — a translation funding program for foreign publishers, intended to foster translation of Indonesian literature and other works into foreign languages. (Reuters Photo/Ralph Orlowski)

Indonesian Lawmakers Question Frankfurt Book Fair Budget, Presence of 'Certain Groups'


NOVEMBER 01, 2015

Jakarta. Indonesian lawmakers want to know how exactly the government spent 10 million euro ($11 million) in taxpayer money to be present at the Frankfurt Book Fair and why "certain groups" played such a prominent role at the event. 

Teguh Juwarno, a member of Commission X at the House of Representatives, said on Sunday that lawmakers would ask Education Minister Anies Baswedan for an explanation after recess.

He said his commission had received complaints from embassy staff and diplomats abroad about Indonesia's representation at the fair, where the country was guest of honor, and had been urged to question everybody involved.

The Frankfurt Book Fair, held Oct. 14-Oct. 18 this year, is the largest of its kind in the world.

The National Mandate Party (PAN) politician added that neither the budget for the project, nor who would be involved in it, had ever been discussed with Commission X.

Goenawan Mohamad, the head of the Indonesian delegation's organizing commission, told previously that the budget had already been approved by Anies' predecessor, Muhammad Nuh.

"There were complaints about the presence of certain groups," Teguh said, adding that these unspecified groups of people had managed to steer discussions at the book fair into a direction that the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry considered undesirable.

Presumably, Teguh was insinuating that there had been unease among Indonesian officials about the prominent role at the event of books dealing with the 1965 anti-communist purges -- such as Laksmi Pamuntjak's "The Question of Red" and Leila S. Chudori's "Going Home" -- while it was supposed to have been all about promoting Indonesia as "17,000 islands of imagination."

The massacres, which inaugurated Suharto's New Order regime, remain a highly sensitive topic at home, proven again in Bali in the past week, where organizers of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival were forced to cancel screenings and discussions related to '1965.'

The move was criticized by Amnesty International as a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Goenawan, a prominent Indonesian intellectual, is the founder and editor of Tempo magazine, which has written extensively on '1965' and its aftermath in recent years. The magazine was banned during the New Order.

Reporting by Markus Junianto Sihaloho