Fri, 30 Nov 2001

'Basis' still strong, fifty years on

Asip A. Hasani, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta

The inaugural edition of Yogyakarta-based cultural magazine Basis was officially launched in October 1951. Fifty years later, it remains in existence even though others have vanished. Basis is still there giving its readers cultural discourses, intellectual thoughts and reflective analysis in its 48 to 100 page bimonthly editions.

"It's amazing that Basis can survive in a country where people lack passion for cultural discourse," Basis's chief editor, Sindhunata, a Catholic Jesuit priest said.

Only a few of the socio-cultural magazines and scientific journals that have been published in the country have been able to remain in business. Jakarta-based scientific journal Prisma ceased publication several years ago, while cultural magazines Horison and Kalam still survive but appear only on an irregular basis.

Such magazines fail to survive because more people are wanting access to instant information on economics and politics rather than reflective discourses focusing on culture, the arts, theology and philosophy. They simply come to an end when their main source of funds runs out.

"The issues covered by cultural magazines are always peripheral issues for newspapers or magazines, which prefer economic and political issues," Sindhunata said.

Basis has always made a profit, even if the amount has been small, from both sales and advertising since it was founded by Jesuit priests J. Bakker, A. Djajasepoetra, J. Dijkstra, R. Soekarto, the late G. Vriens and P. Zoetmulder, despite its limited financial capital. In 1955, for example, more than 3,000 copies of each edition were sold. Over the last few years, it has printed 5,000 copies of each edition and been sold at Rp 7,500 (US 72 cents) per copy, with readers in Java remaining the largest in number.

"We don't want any permanent sponsors. Let Basis earn money based on the market's framework," said Sindhunata.

Basis always tries to find the best way to attract new readers. At the same time, Sindhunata must retain Basis's spirit within the magazine's articles amid the rapid changes in modern culture.

He, along with noted philosopher Franz Magnis Suseno, senior journalist Raymond Toruan, P. Swantoro, priest Kuntara Wiryamartana, J.B. Banawiratama, and Andy Siswanto, who are members of Basis's board of editors, made drastic changes to the magazine's design soon after he was appointed as chief editor in 1996. It was made larger and thicker, giving it a similar look to other popular magazines.

"The spirit and soul we inherited from our predecessors always colors Basis's content. That is humanism and more than that, it is patience and honesty in working for this magazine," Sindhunata said.

During its 50 years of existence, Basis has received various responses from the public. Some praise the magazine and others criticize it. Sometimes, its management has also been intimidated by those who have accused Basis of disseminating communist teachings.

"People should read Basis's history. When the magazine became one of those in the Cultural Manifest (Manikebu) fighting against communist publications affiliated to the outlawed communist party's People's Cultural Association (LEKRA) in the era of first president Sukarno," Raymond Toruan said, adding that Basis's Dick Hartoko was one of Manikebu's founders.

Journalism's influence in Basis articles is clearly seen, a consequence of Sindhunata's experience as a journalist and book writer. Most of them are written by Sindhunata in a popular style.

Compared to his predecessor, Dick Hartoko, whose concept was purely influenced by Western thought, Sindhunata always offers a perspective combining Western theory and local cultural idioms and traditions.

In its latest edition, in which 10 articles and stories are written by Sindhunata to commemorate its 50th anniversary, Basis takes a Javanese idiom Melik Nggendhong Lali (Greed for Wealth Makes People Unaware) as its cover story.

Basis covers educational issues once a year. In its July- August edition, it discussed Paulo Fraire's thinking. In its two earlier editions, Basis highlighted philosophers Anthony Giddens and Nietzsche's works.

"Giddens' thinking is important to remind Indonesia that we don't have to argue on the basis of two conflicting ideologies, capitalism and socialism, as Giddens offers an alternative way popularly known as The Third Way," Sindhunata explained.

"If we agree that religions can be prone to political rulers' manipulation for the sake of their power, then Nietzsche, whom many consider an atheist and whose thought sharply criticizes the existence of religious institutions, is crucial as a reminder to this nation."

Basis has tried to disseminate cultural, religious and other reflective and scientific thoughts to the nation as part of efforts to guide people to find their identity as a nation.

"Basis is only a poor institution which is too small to challenge the complicated problems of this nation. We, of course, expect the other elements of this nation to work hand in hand with us," Sindhunata said.

He believes the complicated problems of this nation are rooted deep in the nation's heart. "It is suffering from a cultural crisis rather than an economic and political crisis."