A scene in Istirahatlah Kata-kata (Photo: Brilio.net)

Nineteen years have passed by and he remains a symbol of how expensive the price of democracy is.

Retno Wulandari   01 February 2017 11:10

Around nineteen years ago, between 1997 and 1998, Indonesia saw massive riots against the regime of Suharto in various parts of the country, as well as the abduction of pro-democracy activists ahead of the 1997 General Elections and 1998 General Assembly of the Peoples Consultative Assembly.

Some of those activists were finally returned home to reunite with their families, but some are still missing until today.

They became a constant reminder of how expensive the price of democracy is.

Among those whose whereabouts still a mystery is Wiji Thukul.

Wiji Thukul (born Wiji Widodo), a poet from Solo, Central Java, was allegedly abducted on July 27, 1998. He wasn’t just another poet; he was brave, intelligent, and outspoken. When the freedom of speech was strictly suppressed by the government, Wiji courageously wrote poems that criticized the ruling regime. He moved labors and peasants to fight for their fate and became a driving force in various organizations, including the government opposing People's Democratic Party (PRD).

In no time, Wiji rose to popularity as a poet and human right activist, with couplets of his poems taken to the street and screamed by fellow activists: “There’s only one word: FIGHT!”

When the event of July 27, 1996 (later known as the “Black Saturday”) broke out, several pro-democracy activists were killed and the several others were arrested by the New Orders' troops.

Activists from PRD were accused of being the ringleader of the unrest and all who managed to escape ended up being a fugitive. The situation forced Wiji to flee from Jakarta and moved from town to town to save himself, while his wife Siti Dyah Sujirah and his children were repeatedly visited and questioned by police officers and soldiers.

From the hideout the man still wrote various poems —a string of words etched with a wooden pencil on sheets of paper, and one of them goes  “I’m still intact, and the words don’t die!”.

After being on a run for a while, Wiji briefly came home to see his family. Then, he went to Jakarta.

Nobody ever heard from him ever since.

Though we dont know whether Wiji is dead or alive, his legacy lives on.

He gave the people courage to speak out even though the government tried to silence any dissenting voice. His words gave the people the courage to get up and fight for their rights.

Istirahatlah Kata-Kata

Nineteen years after his dissapearance, we can have a peek at a piece of Wiji Thukul’s life story through Istirahatlah Kata-Kata (translation: Rest, Words) movie.

“Wiji Thukul was jus an ordinary man doing extraordinary things,” said producer Yulia Evina Bhara. “He was so honest in protesting against the inequality and injustice committed by authoritarian rulers. There were many people contributed to the opening of the taps of democracy in Indonesia, and Thukul is one of them.”

Through the story of Thukul, according to Yulia, they want to inspire the younger generation to not only remember but also share to their peers that democracy we are enjoying today is an outcome of a long and painful struggle and sacrifice.

“Thukul didn’t come from a well-educated family. However, his words and poems, which were bold yet simple, were able to move people to fight injustice, inequality, and lack of rights,” she said.

Yulia Evina Bhara, producer of Istirahatlah Kata-kata (Photo: doc. Yulia)

The film is now being screened in theaters across Indonesia from January 19, after featured to several countries in various film festivals, including Festival del Film Locarno in Swiss, Filmfest Hamburg in Germany, and International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherland. Produced by Yosep Anggi Noen and Yulia Evina, Istirahatlah Kata-kata has recently granted the best movie in Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival (JAFF) 2016.

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