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Pram rues his bleak house prospects

South China Morning Post - January 12, 1999

Vaudine England, Jakarta – The nation's greatest living writer, imprisoned by former president Suharto, is trying to reclaim the house taken from him 33 years ago. So far, he is having little luck.

"It feels like just more spite and revenge against me," said Pramoedya Ananta Toer from the house in which he has spent years under house arrest.

When Pramoedya was arrested following an alleged communist coup attempt in 1965, the military at the time simply annexed the home where he and his wife had lived for six years. Throughout Pramoedya's harsh 14-year imprisonment on remote Buru Island, his wife Maemunah Ananta Toer moved her home from relative to relative. Stubbornly, she kept her house ownership papers safe.

Years passed, during which the much-acclaimed novels now known as the Buru Quartet were published abroad and talk began about when the writer would win the Nobel Prize for Literature. His writing is impassioned, on themes of nationhood, colonialism and repression – enough to be branded a communist by the Suharto regime.

Pramoedya was also a member of a leftist cultural group in the mid-1960s called Lekra, and some other writers still resent the power he wielded then. The Suharto government that had him imprisoned also banned all of his major works and forbade him any public life. Unsurprisingly, it also refused to receive Pramoedya's claim to his former home.

But following the fall of Mr Suharto last May, Pramoedya and his legal adviser hoped a more positive verdict could be reached. President Bacharuddin Habibie had promised openness and the call on the streets was for "reformasi". However, the Pramoedya case was last month again rejected – apparently on procedural grounds.

The court suggested the claim for Pramoedya's house should be directed towards the retired military figure who first occupied the house, the Ministry of Defence and the Jakarta military commander.

"So far," lawyer Rustam Arozal lamented, "the actual problem of the house itself has not been examined". The writer's case was not unique, he said. Several other past activists had also yet to reclaim their properties.