Tan Malaka: Protecting freedom of expression

This article was published in thejakartapost.com with the title “Tan Malaka: Protecting
freedom of expression”.


“Saya mencium darah revolusi yang begitu harum, revolusi yang akan menyongsong
kematian, dengan penuh harga diri…”


“I smell the sweet aroma of the blood of revolution that will bring death, and honour.”
Thus is a sentence taken from the Tan Malaka monologue performed – finally – by the
experienced actor Joind Bayuwinanda in Bandung at the Indonesian French Institute (IFI) in
Bandung on March 24. The monologue was produced by Mainteater Bandung, with a script
by poet and essayist Ahda Imran and directed by Wawan Sofwan. About 500 people, mainly
youth, watched the performance over two sessions.


A day before the performance a group calling itself the Anti-Communist Society (M.A.K)
demanding that the performance being cancelled because it contained communist or left
ideas. They forced their way into the IFI shouting “Crush the Communists!”. An argument
broke out between the M.A.K. people and the producers. However because of the threats of
from M.A.K. and concerned about the safety of the audience and others if they went ahead,
the producers and the IFI announced the cancellation of the performances. The production
was able to go ahead because of the intervention of the Bandung Mayor, Ridwan Kamil
Although later taking dispute with the term that he had “guaranteed” the performance,
Kamil had assured extra police protection for the performance. He also told the media he
had summonsed the M.A.K. and advised them they should communicate their feelings in a
better way. Initially it was reported that Kamil would also attend the performance,
It was a challenging performance where the audience had to patiently digest the complex
thoughts of Tan Malaka presented over 90 minutes in soliloquies. There was his constant
restlessness over the revolution and his disappointment with the national leaders for what
he saw as their compromise and distance from the masses. There was his own internal
restlessness and his experiences of repeated imprisonment, his constant need for disguise
and his change of name as he shifted from country to country while being accused of
betraying the revolution. While he himself felt he had given all to the revolution, submerged
himself in it but then was left behind by history.


The stage was minimalist with three benches used as chairs and table, on e glass and an old
beaten suitcase. Join was able somewhat to bring the written thoughts of Tan to life for the
audience which in fact were located a long way from the consciousness of the audience.

Those who had read Tan Malaka might have found listening to the monologue dry, weak in
imagination and interpretation. Yet for those not so familiar with Tan’s thoughts, though
requiring patience and resilience, could enjoy and appreciate these while feeling the
presence of a Tan they had never met before at school or in official histories.
And obviously there was no grounds at all for wanting to ban this play. That it was based on
a controversial figure seen as a communist, well that is a part of the reality that formed
Indonesia. Soekarno declared Tan Malaka an official national hero back in 1963.
Why be afraid of history. Indonesia is creating now a new reality. There is no need to be
afraid of the past that formed us; indeed we need to know that history in order to learn
from it.


When Ridwan Kamil “saved” the performance it was not some heroic act. It was the
necessary act expected of any official whose task was to serve the citizens and protect their
constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. This gesture did enable the play to go
ahead and indicates how the recent spate of harassments of protest, intellectual and artistic
activity could easily be stopped if other officials also actually carried out their
responsibilities.


These harassments have been increasing. There was the harassment of a meeting of victims
of the 1965 violence in Bukittinggi in February, 2015 and then in Salataiga in August, 2015;
of several discussions on Yogyakarta campuses; the deportation of 1965 exile Tom Ilyas in
December, 2015; the forced cancellation of sessions on 1965 at the Ubud Writers Festival in
October, 2015 and the banning of theatre readings on 1965 in Taman Ismail Jakarta (T.I.M.)
in December 1965. In 2016 there has been the harassment of the PWAG documentary team
in Padang Pariaman.


Most recently there was refusal of T.I.M., after pressure from the police, to provide a venue
for the Belok Kiri Festival and then the pressure on Goethe Institute to withdraw the venue
for the screening of the new film by Rahung Nasution “Buru, Tanah Air Beta”, a film about a
Buru Island political prisoner.
There also has been the harassment and official encouragement of discrimination against
minorities such as LGBT people (Lesbian, Gay, Biseksual and Transgender) and religious
minorities.


If these bannings and harassment continue it can only result in our civilisation going
backwards. What Indonesians have struggled for through the 1945 revolution, the 1998
reformasi and the openness and freedom people had hoped for with an elected civilian
president will all come to nothing. The nation’s ability to think critically and to be creative
will be stymied if the citizen’s rights to think and produce, and express themselves, cannot
be guaranteed. Elected officials should fulfil their responsibilities in this realm and ensure
that freedom.

Faiza Mardzoeki is a playwright, a theater producer and the Director of Institut
Ungu.