Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Goethe Institut in Indonesia has launched a collection of selected poems by the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Jakarta. A bilingual anthology, “Telah Berpilin Timur dan Barat” (“East and West United”) is said to showcase Goethe’s thoughts on the richness of the cultural relationship between the two countries and his admiration of Islam.
At the anniversary celebration, Goethe’s poetry was read at the institute by the editors of the book, Agus R. Sarjono and Berthold Damshauser. Artists and musicians from Indonesia and Germany including a gamelan group from Bandung, Kyai Fatahillah, also performed.
The Goethe Institut Indonesia was established in 1962 to provide information about Germany, promote student exchanges, as well as to encourage cultural exchange, said Franz Xaver Augustin, the director of the institute.
“Our goal is not so much to showcase Germany. We show films, present good musicians and also hold discussions. But what is important is the creative exchange between Indonesia and Germany, between artists and between intellectuals. That is more important than showing off what nice things we have,” Augustin said. “And we have around 4,000 to 5,000 students per year, and altogether since the 1960s, there are 30,000 to 35,000 Indonesian alumni of German universities and all of them studied the language in Goethe.”
Having been around for five decades, the Goethe Institut in Indonesia has managed to maintain its goal as a “censor-free room and space,” Augustin said, including during the period when President Suharto was in power.
“In the time of Suharto, during the dictatorship, Goethe Institut was very important. At that time it was a place where you could express yourself freely and where you could inform yourself without censorship, and that was our very particular purpose or task,” he said. “They respected Goethe Institut and the Suharto regime never wanted conflict with West Germany. And they knew if they started censoring programs at Goethe Institut they would have difficulties.”
But a program at the institute that took place in 2010 was interrupted when the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) held a protest outside the venue.
“We were one of the venues for the Q Film Festival and there was this big protest by FPI. Last year we did not have the Q film festival but we will this year. I can imagine there will be more protests but I will put up with it,” Augustin said. “I feel sorry for Indonesian society. Indonesia is such a rich and diverse country that it is a pity that its diversity has become the victim of the idea of some fanatic people who want to monopolize a belief or ideology. It is also our belief and duty to keep up with those in Indonesia who want democracy.
“We don’t want to provoke or criticize anybody. What we do is to support people to have more or less a democratic opinion.”
“Telah Berpilin Timur dan Barat” is available in selected bookstores.