The Jakarta Post
The renowned artist village of Ubud is in the global spotlight again this week. Five years ago we had Julia Roberts to thank for making the hill resort in Bali famous through Eat, Pray, Love, the hit movie that drew tourists to the island in search of love.
This time we have the Indonesian censors to thank, after they put pressure on the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival to cancel several programs related to the tragedy that happened in Indonesia in 1965.
The festival will go ahead from Thursday to Sunday, and still offer more than 200 events, allowing people to savor the best in Indonesian and international literature, and the opportunity for them to rub shoulders with their favorite authors as they move around Ubud from one event to another.
The Indonesian censors are back after a 17-year hiatus as the government appeared to become overly sensitive to any public discussion about the massacre of over half a million people during a backlash against communists in the country 50 years ago.
The festival organizers said they had to cancel all programs related to the tragedy or face the likelihood that the entire festival, already in its 11th year, would be shut down.
The decision caused national and international outrage, just as people had assumed that Indonesia was claiming its place as the third-largest democracy in the world.
The censors have given the festival additional international publicity. Not that Ubud really needs it. The festival is already a major item on the annual global literature agenda.
While we condemn the censors, we should also thank them, not only for reminding the world about the festival but most importantly for reminding us that there are evil forces out there who will never be content with people enjoying their freedom of expression. We should never take our freedom for granted.
If anyone should condemn the censors in the harshest terms, it should be President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, whose campaign promises included protection of freedom of expression. The widespread outrage at the censors broke out on the eve of his first US trip as president.
Jokowi, already under a lot of pressure for his failure to contain the horrendous air pollution from raging forest and peatland fires that is now regarded as the biggest environmental disaster of the 21st century, cut short his visit to the US after receiving reports of the situation deteriorating further.
He did not need another issue that would further embarrass him. News about Ubud dominated the headlines as he left Indonesia for Washington, DC, on the weekend.
The censors may have dented the festival a little, but the 1965 tragedy, and the return of censorship practices in Indonesia, will likely be one of the major issues discussed in Ubud.
They will not feature in the official program, but you cannot stop writers from writing, and you certainly cannot stop people from talking.
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