Indonesia: next time, in time.
The nomination of Indonesia as the guest country of the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair is regarded as a major shift in in the history of worldwide publishing. For the first time, a country from Southeast Asia is under the headlights of the world stage – nevertheless, this nomination does raise several problems about the notion of global culture and its reception in Europe. Although many people may not know it, Indonesia is the world’s fourth-most-populous country on the globe and the historical and cultural center of maritime Southeast Asia. Moreover, Indonesia is regarded as one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse states in Asia with approximately 700 indigenous languages in use. Despite the fact that Malay is the Indonesian official language, many books are still written in vernacular languages, a disposition that requires translation from the vernacular.
This inner diversity, which constitutes the very wealth of Indonesia, is not the only issue deriving from the invitation to the Frankfurt Book Fair. Through the years, book fairs around Europe have always invited countries culturally similar or sharing a specific bound – historical or linguistic – with its host; the arrival of Indonesia, representing a far distant cultural era, directly questions our relationships to other spheres of civilization and the relevance of such an invitation.
After the nomination of Indonesia as the guest country of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2012, the local government intended to translate at least 200 books in German or English within three years. The Lontar Foundation, the most important organization devoted to the publication of translated Indonesian literature, claimed that those terms were too short to achieve such a goal and one of its members, John Mc Glynn, even questioned the relevance of that program. According to him, the Indonesian market was not prepared for this invitation and the lack of translated texts was a major hurdle to this event.
In a more general way, can we ask if certain cultural spheres are ready to enter the European market and if the gap between those two spheres is not too big to allow for this form of reconciliation?
In our overly globalized world, language remains the most important tool to discover and comprehend another culture. Despite its historical bound with central Europe, Indonesia remains a very unique country that does not share many similarities with our European system of values; that distance may be considered as a huge obstacle for its reception or integration into the European book market.
Beyond those cultural differences, which in time will probably fade, the main problem of this invitation is the time granted to Indonesia in order to take part in the Frankfurt Book Fair. Three years are a very short time to get a market prepared for exports and moreover, and for publishing, an even shorter time to translate a consequent number of books to present the exceptional diversity of Indonesian literature.