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Wiji Thukul: A film alone won't be enough

Okky Madasari
Okky Madasari

Indonesian novelist

Jakarta  /  Tue, January 31, 2017  /  01:33 pm
Wiji Thukul: A film alone won't be enough

Indonesian poet Wiji Thukul (Gunawan Maryanto) in one of the scenes of 'Istirahatlah Kata-Kata'. (Courtesy of Okky Madasari/File)

Now after Istirahatlah Kata-Kata (Solo, Solitude) has been watched by more than 43,000 people – a very good number for a film that only received very limited screenings in cinemas, after massive publications, after being listed as a trending topic on Twitter, after all of the conversations and debates – the question is: What’s next? So what?

Wiji Thukul is a never-ending idea, spirit and story. A film about Wiji, Istirahatlah Kata-Kata, is only one of many ways to know Wiji and his works, to keep Wiji and his ideas alive within us. 

The film itself is part of a series of works that started three years ago. It’s a concerted effort to bring Wiji closer to Indonesia’s younger generation, to keep him relevant in today’s Indonesia, to remind us that we have a great poet who is still missing and forgotten. And of course, we want to push the government to solve the case of Wiji Thukul’s disappearance, and those of other activists.

(Read also: Young voices amplify demand for justice for past violence)

In the last of three years, we have been using many kinds of media to put Wiji in our conversations, in our very daily life, in the middle of unstoppable political news and sensational stories. From fun run events to painting murals on the walls in many different cities, from publishing his poetry to producing a movie, from daily campaigns on social media to bring him and his works to the international literary stage through our ASEAN Literary Festival.

We can be proud of the number of publications and conversations, the participants at all the events, audience figures for the movie and readers of his book of poetry. We can also be overwhelmed to see how Wiji Thukul has become popular within our younger generation, the millennial generation, who didn’t know who he was before the movie, before the movement. But we know all of this will never be enough.

First, of course, because we realize that our government cares little for this issue, if at all. We will never forget how, in 2014, Jokowi, the president candidate back then, promised to solve the case of Wiji Thukul and the other activists. Jokowi said firmly, “Wiji Thukul should be found. Alive or dead.”

(Read also: 'Istirahatlah Kata-Kata': A rebel poet demystified)

Now, three years later, our President seems to have forgotten that he ever made the promise. All of the campaign activities, the hype for Wiji Thukul and public enthusiasm to watch Istirahatlah Kata-Kata in cinemas have failed to get the President’s attention or to raise his courage to solve cases of human rights violence.

While the past regime made Wiji Thukul and his voice disappear, today’s regime chooses to ignore Wiji and all of the voices that celebrate Wiji’s ideas and spirit.

For this, we believe that the efforts to keep Wiji in our daily conversations can’t end, even though the movie will no longer be screened in cinemas.

Second, because we know that we are not only making Wiji Thukul disappear as a person, but also erasing him from the history of our nation, especially the history of Indonesian literature. All of the movements, conversations, debates and the film itself have not been successful enough to make Wiji Thukul appear in our mainstream historical narrative yet.

Undoubtedly, Wiji is one of the greatest poets Indonesia has ever produced. Wiji and his brilliant works should have a place in Indonesia’s historical narrative, up there with Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, Chairil Anwar, Pramoedya Ananta Toer and WS. Rendra and other giants of Indonesia. Wiji’s works, like other great literary works, are milestones of our civilization journey. They should be read, should be learned, should be taught in every classroom.

While some people say that Wiji Thukul’s human rights violence case is about our nation’s past, I say firmly that putting Wiji in our mainstream history narrative is about our future; the future of our nation, the future of our next generations.

For these two reasons, we know that we still have a very long journey ahead – or rather a never-ending journey. Because like I said at the beginning, Wiji Thukul is a never-ending idea, spirit and story for this nation.



Okky Madasari is the executive producer of Istirahatlah Kata-Kata and the founder of Muara Foundation, which has initiated a series of campaigns about Wiji Thukul since 2013.

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