15 years of peace in Aceh: Act of ”la rêverie” for a blind justice

English version of the preface “Tindakan la rêverie untuk keadilan buta” published in Zubaidah Djohar (ed) Bisu yang Bersuara. Banda Aceh: RPuK.

Photo: Jenni-Justiina Niemi


Bisu Yang Bersuara (Silent gaining a voice), an important collection of herstories, will be launched colliding the 15th anniversary of the peace agreement, and Aceh peace process signed on the 15 August in 2005 in Helsinki, Finland.

And who would not recognise the famous handshake where the negotiating parties, the representatives of the Government of Indonesia, Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaludin on the left, and head of the GAM delegation, Malik Mahmud, on the right, shake the hands. This symbolic gesture is overseen by the mediator former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, witnessed by the representatives of the negotiation teams, and the team of mediator Ahtisaari, in front of the international press. The image has travelled since to symbolize both a successful peace mediation process and successful Finnish mediation skills.

As someone who has dedicated the past 15 years into understanding the gendered dynamics of the peace process, I have since been mesmerized by the photograph that went global on that day. But my focus has been in a portrait of a European woman, who sits on a chair holding flowers and staring the international media, and the cameras, with a serious face. Who is she? What story she has to tell? This 1863 painting by Erik Johan Löfgren entitled as La Rêverie – woman in a 18th century dress, depicts a portrait of an unknown woman in Paris. La rêverie translates into English as a daydream or daydreaming, a surprising activity for her in the midst of mediating an armed conflict, don’t you think?

Yet interestingly, the word la rêverie derives from a Middle French word that carries meanings of wild speech, delirium, and rever that means ”to roam, speak wildly”. Middle French word rever is also the source of the English word rave – that is used to refer to ”to speak or shout in a way that is out of control, usually because of anger or mental illness”, but also ”to express praise and admiration for someone or something enthusiastically”.

When I had a chance to invite professor Eka Srimulyani and Donna Swita for an interview and video recording ”MoU Helsinki – Reclaiming back history” our aim was to reflect upon the role of women in peace in Aceh, and how the negotiation process had missed such acts of “la rêverie”, or raving. Yet, women’s groups are globally known for their energy and thrive towards change. Sometimes through demonstrations and revolutions, but at times through grassroot-level action in their own communities. Perhaps lesser told are those stories how peer groups can support wellbeing and provide care for each other and for oneself, and which then allows it to be extended to communities and families.

In 2018, I had the privilege to support a creative writing workshop led by Zubaidah Djohar in Lhokseumawe in North Aceh, participated by survivors of violence, of whom many had become an active part of survivor network working to prevent violence, and support the victims of gender-based violence in Aceh. Taking the first difficult steps in voicing their experiences, this group of women had a dedication: make their experiences loud, visible, not just to gain outsider recognition, but also to form a community of survivors and space to express such experiences.

This book is also a testimony of their resilience and collective action. When my own research funding came to end and funding applications for a book project failed, and I was no longer able to guarantee financial support for the writing process, the participants were not stopped. A group of people came forward and dedicated their energy and effort, in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, to guarantee that these poems would be published. It is an example of the shortcomings and failures of outside supported initiatives, but it also beautifully illustrates where the locally owned initiative can reach, when the efforts are supported. The humble support provided to the initial writing workshop is a small raindrop in the bigger stream of volunteerism through which this book has become a reality.

I hope that this book, and the process that has allowed the emergence of this new generation of creative writers in Aceh provides both care, and wellbeing for those involved, but also those who will read this book. For higher education teachers and academic researchers, I hope that this process, and the collection can be an inspiration to think of engaged teaching, and engaged research, reciprocity, and creating space for mutual and collective learning, and sharing.

I want to congratulate you all who have made this book possible, and who, despite or regardless the lack of financial resources, strive for equality and justice fifteen years into the Aceh peace process.


Scraps of Hope in Banda Aceh: Gendered Urban Politics in the Aceh Peace Process will be published as a media embedded Open Access monograph in late 2020 in Pro et Contra Series of the Helsinki University Press.

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