Tuesday, February 22, 2005

In Praise of Joesoef Isak

Yesterday Norm posted on this on the Indonesian publishing house Hasta Mitra which has just issued a new translation of Karl Marx's Das Kapital. It's a small indication of the political opening that has occurred in the days since the fall of Suharto and even, I think, of a modest revival of the Indonesian Left. Lest it be forgotten Indonesia has one of the longest traditions of radical politics in Southeast Asia and in 1965, when Suharto seized power with the help of his friends in the CIA, the third largest Communist party in the world.

Norm's post prompted me to say something more about the remarkable Joesoef Isak who directs Hasta Mitra.
Before he was jailed in 1965 Joesoef was chief editor of the daily newspaper Merdeka (Independence) and secretary-general of the Asia-Africa Journalists Association, a direct product of the seminal Bandung Conference that heralded the eventual birth of the Non-Aligned Movement. Joesoef was never brought to trial or charged and was only released after ten years. One of his fellow prisoner was Pramoedya Ananta Toer, one of the great novelists of the twentieth century. The two have been close friends for the last five decades.

In April 1980, Joesoef launched Hasta Mitra along with Pramoedya and the newspaper publisher Hasjim Rahman. In classical Javanese Hasta Mitra means "Friendly Hand". Their first titles were Pramoedya's masterpiece of Indonesian nationalism, the Buru Quartet – This Earth Of Mankind, Child Of All Nations, Footsteps and House Of Glass – all of which were banned by Suharto.

For the next seventeen years, Hasta Mitra was widely recognised as
emblem of alternative Indonesian opinion to the New Order regime and the focal point of potential socio-political re-grouping. Since the fall of Suharto's regime in 1998, Hasta Mitra has made a huge effort to reclaim modern Indonesian history from the lies and evasions of the New Order. And behind all of this was the remarkable figure of Joesoef.

Happily, last year his efforts received due internatonal recognition with the award of the
Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award presented by the Association of American Publishers to a publisher "who has demonstrated courage and fortitude in the face of political persecution and restrictions on freedom of expression". There is no more deserving recipient.


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