Indonesia to Be 2015 Guest of Honor at Frankfurt Book Fair

The world’s biggest book fair that takes place each year in Frankfurt, Germany, ended on Sunday with the handover ceremony that saw Finland giving its official guest of honor role to Indonesia.

From Oct. 7 to 12, different players of the book industry from all over the world came together in Frankfurt for networking, licensing and trading, while book lovers and enthusiasts had the chance to meet authors and publishers and witness a myriad of literature-related events.

Throngs of visitors pushed forward from hall to hall, learning everything there is to know about the latest trends in the publishing industry, making new contacts and acquaintances and, most of all, having a good time.

The collective Indonesian stand, located in a hall together with other international publishers, attracted quite a few visitors as everybody wanted to see what 2015’s guest of honor country has in store for next year. With a number of events, ranging from discussions and readings to performances and live cooking demonstrations, Indonesia took the first step towards its new role next year.

It will be an extraordinary chance to introduce the country’s literature and culture on a global stage, as the fair attracts huge media attention and visitors not only from Germany, but internationally as well.

The guest of honor country will have it’s own large pavilion at the fair, as Finland has done this year with the straightforward yet catchy slogan “Finland. Cool,” while Indonesia has already chosen “17,000 Islands of Imagination.”

“I knew relatively little about Indonesia when we decided it should be the guest of honor country in 2015,” said Juergen Boos, director of the Frankfurt Book Fair. “Now, more than two years later, I realized that this country is quite incredible. More than 240 million people live in Indonesia, speaking more than 100 languages and dialects.”

Everything Boos knew about Indonesia beforehand, he added, he knew from newspapers, due to the country’s political past, that includes colonization, a military dictatorship and the transformation to democracy.

“It’s a relatively young country, which has developed and grown so much over the last 15 years that we can’t even begin to grasp, how big and important it is going to be,” he said.

When it comes to literature, Boos said, Indonesia still remains a blank spot — in book stores, one would perhaps be able to find travel guides about Bali and Jakarta, but searching for novels or other books by Indonesian authors might present somewhat of a challenge; so far, only a few Indonesian authors have been translated into German, among others Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Mochtar Lubis, Rendra, but also contemporary literature like Andrea Hirata and Ayu Utami.

“It is quite difficult to find qualified translators, but the translations are in process,” Boos explained. “I am really looking forward to welcoming Indonesia as guest of honor next year.”

Indonesian Deputy Education and Culture Minister Wiendu Nuryanti said Indonesia was honored to be invited.

“We understand that Frankfurt Book Fair is the largest, the oldest and most influential event of its kind in the world. Therefore, it provides a unique platform to showcase Indonesia’s rich literary and cultural traditions in a global community,” she said.

“When most people think of Indonesia, I suspect, they think of Java and Bali. While they are two fascinating islands, there are still 16,998 more islands to discover,” she added.

Husni Syawie, general secretary of the Indonesian Publishers Association, or Ikapi, said that are ready to open the country’s literary treasures to a wider audience.

“We hope Germany can be a bridge to other European countries and Western markets, where we until now have little representation,” he said.

Several Indonesian authors attended this year’s fair, including bestselling author Dewi Lestari, poet and performance artist Afrizal Malna, essayist, poet and writer Goenawan Mohamad, poet and women right’s activist Toeti Heraty, and children’s book author Murti Bunanta.

Three renowned Indonesian chefs, William Wongso, Petty Elliott and Sandra Djohan, enchanted the audience with their culinary creations at the Gourmet Gallery, one of the most popular stands at the fair. 

Ayu Laksmi and Endah Laras, two prolific performers and singers, mesmerized visitors with lyrical recitations.

Next year, Indonesia as guest of honor country, will present a comprehensive supporting program, which will reflect its diverse culture. 

In addition to Indonesian authors, who will have the opportunity to introduce their works at literary festivals, readings and discussions, artists from other fields will also step into the spotlight: some museums in Frankfurt are going to organize exhibitions with Indonesia-related themes, while Indonesian composers and choreographers are also preparing performances. Another project already in the pipeline is a film week showcasing independent movies from the archipelago.

Ainun Naim, secretary general of the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture, said Indonesia’s current political situation with the upcoming change of government presented another challenge during the preparations for the guest of honor role at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

“What happens when the government is changing? But we have assurance, since we now know the direction of our new president, and within this framework I strongly believe that we can still organize the event and be the guest of honor next year,” he explained.

Despite the challenges that still lie ahead, especially where the translation process from Indonesian into German and English is concerned, Wiendu is optimistic that Indonesia will be able live up to the high expectations that go hand in hand with being the guest of honor country of the book fair.

“It is more than a book fair — we see it as a program for cultural diplomacy, for a new and dynamic Indonesia in the years to come,” she said.