The Jakarta Post
The 12th Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) in Bali officially concluded on Sunday evening with a call for writers and the public to continue their fight against government censorship, which had led to the cancellation of some of the event's key programs.
This year's festival, which brought together more than 165 of the world's leading authors, thinkers, artists and performers from about 30 countries, was put under a media spotlight after its organizer was forced to drop all sessions that were to look at the massacre of communists in Indonesia in the 1960s, following pressure from local authorities.
Three panel discussions, a book launch and an art exhibition, as well as a screening of Joshua Oppenheimer's film The Look of Silence, had been scrapped from this year's festival, which takes place in an internationally renowned artists' district in Gianyar regency, even before the event began.
Apart from the sessions related to the massacres, the organizer was also forced to cancel a session dedicated to discuss the controversial Benoa Bay reclamation in Bali upon request from local authorities, which argued that the festival was only eligible to run artistic, cultural and tourism events, not political ones.
However, despite the censorship, the festival still tried to engage its audience in sessions dedicated to exploring Indonesia's past and present, including ones discussing the recovery of the tsunami-devastated region of Aceh and environmental and political degradation in Papua.
There was also one session dedicated to evaluating the performance of President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo after his first year in office.
Discussions of the 1965 massacre were also eventually slipped into several sessions. For example, in a session entitled 'Persistence of Memory', Singapore-based writer and journalist Michael Vatikiotis shared how he carried out research on the tragedy for his novel.
However, Balinese Ngurah Termana, a member of Komunitas Taman 65, which has been campaigning for an investigation of the massacre, refused to accept an invitation to speak in the session in a show of solidarity to other members of the group whose sessions in the festival had been cancelled.
'We respect his decision to not attend the discussion,' said the festival's national program manager, Wayan Juniartha.
Australian lecturer Thor Kerr, who was set to talk in the canceled Benoa Bay reclamation discussion, also expressed his disappointment.
'If you cannot discuss something like that in the writers' festival, where else can you discuss it?' asked Kerr, whose latest book, To the Beach, examines the dynamics of an effective social movement against coastal reclamation projects undertaken for property development.
Despite all the challenges faced by the event's organizer, UWRF founder and director Janet DeNeefe considered this year's festival to be a success, referring to the number of audience members, which had grown by 10 percent compared to last year.
'I think the festival has ended up being one of the most extraordinary gatherings,' she said.
The festival, the brainchild of Australian-born DeNeefe, began in 2004 to help the famous tourist island recover from the impact of deadly terrorist attacks two years earlier.
The annual event has expanded over the years, gaining international recognition.
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