Kuala Lumpur: interview with Pustaka Semesta infoshop

Interview with Arip, who runs, with four other people, the Pustaka Semesta infoshop (Pustaka Semesta means something like « universal library »), in Rumah Api (means « lighthouse » and « uprising house »), Ampang, KL.

Interview made in Kuala-Lumpur on March 28th, 2012, sent to Disaccords by a traveller.

What is Rumah Api ? Besides the infoshop, what activities can we find here ?

Rumah Api is a rented two-story building, it’s a shop-lot. Upstairs we have the infoshop, and on the ground floor we have two rooms, one for concerts, gigs and everything (screenings, discussions, etc.), and one for kitchen used by Food Not Bombs.

Some people do live here as well, right ?

Yes, five people live here, upstairs. And most of the time, other people are visiting, and on week-ends we sometimes have twenty people staying here, always lot of people on week-ends.

Since when do exist Rumah Api ?

Rumah Api exists since December 2010. Before, the same space was named Gudang Noisy and was mainly used for punk gigs, it started around five years ago.

When a friend of mine and myself went to Singapour, we visited the Black Hole punk/autonomous space, and when we came back in KL we heard that the people in Gudang Noisy didn’t want to continue, so we made the proposal to participate to Gudang Noisy, and when the last Gudang Noisy’s person left the project, he wanted to take the name with him because he registered the name on the government files, so we changed the name to Rumah Api, but we didn’t register the name with the government…

Before Rumah Api and Pustaka Semesta infoshop, there was a political collective called Kudeta, they were producing zines and newsletters, especially active at the time of G8 in Japan, in July 2008, but there was no anarchist place in KL… Oh, and in 2010 we went to an anarchist gathering in Medan  (Sumatra, Indonesia), and there we met people who run infoshops in Japan and Germany, so we thought we should do something like that, that’s also something that inspired us.

Lots of people from Germany came here in KL, and in Germany there are many anarchist infoshops… But at the time there no place like that in KL, so we thought it was important to create one here, to try to mobilize people and make the people know about anarchist ideas (because here not many people know about that), to have a space for anarchist litterature and zines, for having discussions, etc.

Before, there was also an infoshop called A-Mince, in Terengganu, on the east coast, but it doesn’t exist anymore.

When is Pustaka Semesta open, and how do you make it known that it’s open?

First, we had an opening party in September 2010, and now, as we live here, we’re open almost everyday, people can come at anytime they want, even if it’s better if they don’t come in the morning because we sleep in the morning time.

Some of us are really busy with work, but still we can open the place almost everyday, we never close.

To make it known, we use Internet : we have a blog and a page on Facebook, so most of the people know it by Internet.

We didn’t put any posters in the streets because we don’t really want everybody to know that we run the infoshop… We also learnt a lot from the past, that some movements (most notably during the Communist Party of Malaysia’s uprising) have been cracked down by inflitrators and informers. As most of the stuff here is anarchist, against the State, that could be enough for the State to arrest us under Sedition Act or Internal Security Act (almost the same like Patriot Act or Terrorist Act), just because we spread anarchist or communist ideas. It would be quite dangerous for us to go openly to the public.

Ok, so you think it’s dangerous for you to put posters in the streets and talk openly in public to the people, but not necessarily to spread the word by Internet with a blog and a Facebook page ?

Well, yes… We think there’s no problem to talk about that on the Internet at the moment as we don’t say loudly what’s on our shelf, but when we go outside, we just tell the people by word of mouth.

Or if we participate at some event somewhere, then we say we come from Pustaka Semesta and then if they ask we can explain what it is.

About the space, we have to be careful if the police come. They already showed up, then we had to lock the door to prevent them to go upstairs and know too much about the space. They nornally came because they were suspicious with the punk or metal shows downstairs so, at the time, we have been succesful on protecting the infoshop. We know this house would be evicted if they know about the infoshop.

Can you tell us a bit what kind of people run/visit/use the infoshop, because it seems like KL is mixing many different people, with different backgrounds, socially but also « ethnically », with some tensions between comunities?

We, who are running the place, have anarchist ideas/views, but lots of people who visit/use the place, especially for gigs in Rumah Api, are punks who don’t really care about politics. They’re not anarchists, they’re just into music, so for Pustaka Semesta, we try to hang out with the people a few times and try to know if they have political perspectives before inviting them to the place. But most of the people who come to the infoshop are involved in the punk scene, they write/read punk zines and everything, lots of students come as well, as the student movement starts to rise, and people from the Socialist Party too, they come to read zines and/or buy books.

Concerning the ethnicity, there’s a mixture of people. Most of the punks are Malays, students are a mixture of Chinese/Malays/Indians, like in the rest of the society, it’s a real mixture of people coming here, but most of them are left-minded with different kind of ideas.

Except the people from the Socialist Party, no people from political parties come to Pustaka Semesta, they never show up.

The five of us who run the infoshop are Malays, but we don’t care about that, everybody’s welcome. And even though I’m saying we’re all Malays, most of us have mixed backgrounds, with also Chinese origins, etc.

I saw you’re distributing zines and brochures in Malay and in english, is it possible to find stuff in other languages as well ? What kind of stuff can we find here, politically ?

Well, most of the stuff we distribute is in english [[in Malaysia, lots of people speak english in their daily life]], some zines are in malay and in indonesian (indonesian can be easily understood by people who speak malay).

In the library, we also have a few books and brochures in german, chinese and french.

We distribute mainly anarchist zines, like Crimethinc. stuff or Slingshot, things like that, but we have some problems to be able to pay back the foreign zines… Anyway, we try to focus on anarchist/political stuff because on gigs or whatever, most of the people distribute punk zines or music zines. We try to be an autonomous centre where it’s easy to find anarchist litterature and zines.

In Malaysia, we find several punk zines, but no anarchist zine, that’s also a reason why we started to make our own, called Bidas. It’s the Pustaka Semesta’ zine, we write it in malay.

What kind of activities do you make with Pustaka Semesta ?

We did a few film-screenings followed by discussions, for example we showed 69 about Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen, followed by a discussion about the squat movements and the possibilities to squat here in Malaysia, same with the Fourth World War, afterwards we talked about relations between global struggle and local political situations.

We also had discussions about the question of violence in demonstrations in KL, because during a demonstration some demonstrators reacted badly against some people who threw rocks to the police and made a barricade with garbage boxes, etc. Some students and members of the Socialist Party came here to discuss these questions, we talked about what is violence, what can be considered as violence, is property damage violence ?

Also about sexuality, because in Malaysia, lots of people have religious views, many are homophobic, so we had discussions about these topics.

About the stuff we distribute, some are to sell, to pay back the cost of photocopies/mail, and some are distributed for free, but we also recommend donations to help to pay the rent.

Now, most of the stuff we get come from Indonesia, there are lots of anarchist stuff there…

Besides Rumah Api, are there other anarchist/autonomous spaces in Kuala Lumpur ? Other revolutionary tendencies ?

Yes, there is a space in Bangsar, called 50B, where they organize every week film-screenings and discussions, the guy who runs the place comes from the punk movement, he’s an anarchist who at the moment focuses and tries to mobilize the student movement. We also sometimes go there for the screenings and discussions. At 50B, they talk a lot about what happened in May 1968 in France, and about the SDS in the USA too, to find inspiration for next struggles.

Talking about the student movement, one of our biggest project is to try to mobilize people (especially students) for May Day. Last year, during all April 2011, we did spread flyers calling to May Day demonstration with anarchist perspectives, we made screenings and discussions every week in Rumah Api, and we’ll do the same this year, even if some of us are really busy with work and so on… May Day is the main moment for us to go in the streets.

Otherwise, the socialist people are often linked with workers’ struggle, especially in Northern Malaysia where there are lots of factories.

There are also some troubles because of gentrification processes, even in different Malaysian villages that are threatened of destruction to build newer buildings with higher rents, etc.

Some people/groups also fight to create a legal minimum wage for workers, because it doesn’t exist yet in Malaysia.

There’s also lots of problems of racism in Malaysia, lots of people don’t want to mix up together but there are different comunities (Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc.), the government organizes the segregation and people here are often openly racist, not like in Europe where people don’t dare to tell they’re racist…

As the main political parties are ethnically organized, there’s an opposition party that is an ethnically mixed party that tries to fight against racism… Unlike the ruling party.

These racial tensions also hide class struggle, focusing on racial stuff instead of work/boss oppression. People often focus on the ethnicity of their bosses instead of keeping in mind the problem is the boss role instead.

Ok, would you like to add something?

Well, yeah, actually Rumah Api could be threatened by eviction soon or later, because they want to build a new highway on this area, in Ampang, which means they will have to destroy many houses here.

They already move the police station further, but to make the highway, they will have to destroy lots of houses too. And as there are many poor people living here, lots of Chinese and Indonesian… You know, they also destroy Malay villages in the country-side, so here they will not have any problem to destroy these poor areas if there’s no resistance. Like everywhere, the State takes the land of poor people.

Do you organize for resistance?

It’s not really simple to organize with people from Rumah Api as many of them don’t really care about politics, but we (as Pustaka Semesta) try to talk with them, as with different people in the area. We plan to make some banners to put in the area, to spread flyers, stuff like that.

Ampang is a very old area where comunities are living since the 1820’s or something like that. Of course if they put a highway in the middle of it, it’s gonna destroy the whole area. And the idea, for us, is to say « it’s our home, it’s our land, and we’re living here for such a long time… ». There’s also the idea to say stuff against the society focused on the use of the car.

Actually some comunities already organized and put some banners, for example when the City decided to make a bigger Ampang train station… I think many people will protest against this highway project. They want to finish this new highway in 2017, but let’s start the fight now.

About Rumah Api, we did put a lot of efforts to run the space. We already had some problems with the cops or with nazi people, so either it’s for a highway or for anything, we won’t give up the place.

I told you, here is an important space where we can speak freely, we can say we’re atheists, we’re muslims or whatever, we can talk about almost everything, we can drink alcohol, for lots of people this is a safe space, so we will not give it up.

Ok, thank you very much. Selamat tinggal !

Contact : bidas@riseup.net

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