ZNet Book Interview with Andre Vltchek
ZNet Book Interview with Andre Vltchek
Can you tell ZNet, please, what your book -- Exile: Pramoedya Ananta Toer in Conversation with Andre Vltchek and Rossie Indira -- is about? What is it trying to communicate?
Exile is the final testimony of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, arguably the greatest Southeast Asian novelist, author of several novels including Buru Quartet and Girl from the Coast. Essentially, both Rossie and I engaged Pram (as he was known in Indonesia) in complex political and historical dialogue. There are several important issues like religion, oppressive family structure, Javanese colonialism, which he always wanted to discuss and describe. We offered him an opportunity do so. But, above all, it is a book about lost dreams and destroyed country; about Indonesia which he fought for and about Indonesia which can be witnessed now: increasingly confused, religious, immoral, corrupt nation ruled by cynical economical elites, the military, religious leaders and multi-national companies. In this country -- present day Indonesia -- Pram lived like in internal exile.
Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?
To write and to edit this book took tremendous effort: several months of intense conversations with Pram, complex editing, checking the facts. At the time Exile was written, Pram was almost 80 years old, suffering from several ailments. He couldn't hear well, and his mind was often wondering from place to place. Remembering the past and describing evens in Indonesia made him very emotional. Recalling insults he received during Suharto's dictatorship (burning of his books, imprisonment in Buru concentration camp) were often too painful to bear. We had to be both very sensitive and very persistent. Some topics -- including religion -- were clearly frightening him.
What are your hopes for the book? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?
Unlike Argentina and Chile (two other countries which experienced brutal fascist dictatorships sponsored by the west), Indonesia is still refusing to face its past. After the military coup in 1965, between 500 thousand and 3 million people died, and there is still no coordinated and determined effort to rehabilitate the victims and their families, no desire to face the truth. Past is overflowing to the present and unless the truth is unveiled, Indonesia will remain a failed state: ruled by corrupt and socially unacceptable system which has no mercy, no compassion and no solidarity with the great majority of the people who are dirt poor, uneducated and exploited. There are no easy solutions to the problems faced by Indonesian nation. Pram called for the revolution. In our book and it the documentary film "Terlena -- Breaking of a Nation" which we produced. But revolution is not easy to achieve in the nation with no social conscience, where even words like "class" were banned as subversive, where education is synonymous to indoctrination and where 99% of the population -- at lest on the paper -- are forced to follow religion. In this oppressive and intellectually stale climate, Exile can bring to the reading public in both Indonesia and the world the voice of one of the greatest Asian thinkers. It offers alternatives to the state propaganda. And for the rest of the world: it can explain the tragedy of 1965, put Indonesia to the perspective, connecting its past and present to that of our other client states, countries where we helped to rape justice and democracy, following our selfish geo-political interests. If Exile can generate some interest in Indonesian past and the present, we would consider it to be a success. We felt very proud and privileged that Pram had chosen us as his counterparts in this important and final dialogue of his life. We had never any doubts: it was well worth all the time and effort!