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Eka Kurniawan turns down award from Education and Culture Ministry


THE JAKARTA POSTJakarta  /  Thu, October 10, 2019  /  04:38 pm

Renowned Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan revealed that he had turned down an award from the Education and Culture Ministry.

Established in 2012, the Cultural Awards and Traditional Art Maestro Awards will be given to 59 recipients from eight categories this year. Among the recipients are late comedian Djudjuk Srimulat, composer Purwa Tjaraka, singer Rose Pandanwangi and artist Amrus Nastalsya.  

Eka wrote in a Facebook post: “I was contacted around two months ago by a staff member from the Education and Culture Ministry and was informed that I would be receiving the 2019 Cultural Award for the Creator, Pioneer and Innovator category.” 

When he asked what would it entail, the answer was a pin and Rp 50 million (US$3,533) after taxes, among other requirements.

“I automatically responded, ‘It’s like night and day with athletes who won gold medals in the 2018 Asian Games’,” he wrote, adding that gold-winning athletes received Rp 1.5 billion while bronze-winning athletes received Rp 250 million.  

He further wrote that though the disparities might seem trivial, he found them infuriating. It led him to question the country’s stance in literature and culture. But as annoyed as he was, Eka reasoned with himself that he could use the money for years of health insurance or tax duties.

But later on, he found that he was still asking the same question: How serious is the country in recognizing its people’s achievements in literature, art and culture in general?

Eka then made a list of what he saw as sins of the state against its own culture, ranging from raids on small bookstores to piracy that threatens small publishers and writers. He discovered that the country lacked in protecting the book industry and it had no commitment to safeguarding the most fundamental right of its artists and writers: their lives.

“The current president has promised to solve human rights abuse cases from the past, including that of an important poet [Wiji Thukul] who had vanished. The realization? Zero. These fundamental things made me question the country’s commitment to culture.”

In a letter to the cultural diplomacy and heritage director of the Education and Culture Ministry, Eka stated that he would not come to the award ceremony on Thursday and that he declined the award.  

“I refuse to receive the award, as it might seem that I am complying with this country’s policies, which have been repressive to the cultural scene. My voice might be not as loud, but I hope it is crystal clear,” he said.

Speaking to on Thursday, Eka said the book industry had long stated its grievances and yet things have stayed the same.

He said the government’s commitment to developing its human resources must go side by side with providing freedom of speech and expression.

Eka is a celebrated writer with four novels and five collections of short stories under his belt. The 43-year-old is the first Indonesian author to be nominated for a Man Booker International Prize in 2016 for Lelaki Harimau (Man Tiger). His works have been translated into more than 24 languages and his novel Cantik Itu Luka (Beauty is a Wound) was included in the 100 notable books list by The New York Times in 2015.

In December 2018, Eka received the prestigious Prince Claus Award, which honors outstanding achievements in the field of culture and development. (wng)

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