Former President Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid was honored at the 2010 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival on Wednesday for his leadership in promoting pluralism in the country.
Greg Barton, a professor at Australia’s Monash University, said in a speech that Gus Dur was a unique figure with forward-thinking ideas.
The former president is a much-noted national figure, known for his pluralistic ideas and his leadership of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization with an estimated 40 million members.
“He deserved to be the living symbol of the national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” said Barton, who has written a biography on Gus Dur.
Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which means “unity in diversity,” was selected as the theme for this year’s Ubud festival.
Janet de Neefe, the festival director, said the theme was meant to emphasize the never-ending process of searching for harmony in diversity.
“We hope the process can take place in dialogues with the spirit of peace,” she said.
Commenting on the recognition given to Gus Dur, the former president’s youngest daughter, Inayah Wahid, said her father’s pluralistic philosophy was influenced by his teachers.
“I hope there will be more teachers like my father’s teachers, so more Indonesians can learn and be as wise as Gus Dur,” she said.
Gus Dur was born in Jombang, East Java. He was Indonesia’s fourth president and was the first elected head of state after the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998.
Educated in Indonesia, Egypt, Iraq and Canada, Gus Dur had a reputation for religious tolerance and moderate politics.
There have been calls in the country to declare him a national hero. The East Java provincial administration has lodged a formal appeal with the national government to approve its request to name him a hero ahead of National Heroes Day, which falls on Nov. 10.
Wednesday’s dedication night in Ubud also featured dance performances, poetry recitals and musical entertainment by a number of artistsm, including Cok Sawitri and Ayu Laksmi.
The first writers’ festival was held shortly after the 2002 terrorist bombings on the resort island, and was seen as a way to help revitalize tourism in Bali.
Now in its fifth year, the festival attracts hundreds of writers from countries such as Australia, Ireland, Spain, Singapore, the United States and Indonesia