Vol. 5, No. 1
|Movements Growing in East Timor
by Michael Beer
I traveled to Indonesia and East Timor in the final months of 1998. Given my background as a peace activist, one of my primary goals was to share experience in nonviolence training. I met with a number of activists working for East Timorese self-determination, and learned much from them.
Dramatic changes in East Timors political climate since the resignation of Suharto have led to a growth in "above-ground" organizing by student, women, human rights and church groups and even the CNRT [Resistance umbrella group the National Council of Timorese Resistance], which opened an office in Dili. Recent demonstrations in Dili and open organizing by Dili-based groups has established a safety zone for East Timorese activists. Sustained organizing across Indonesia against the military dictatorship has strengthened the hand of civil society at the expense of the military elite; an embattled military and governing structure has opened up some additional space for East Timorese organizers in East Timor and in Indonesia.
The Forum Komunikasi Perempuan Lora Sae (the Forum for Communication for East Timorese Women) has opened an office next door to the human rights group Yayasan Hak in Dili. It is an independant organization which seeks equality for women, and is effectively educating and advocating for ET women on domestic violence, rape (mostly by Indonesian soldiers), and other forms of patriarchy.
Dewan Solidaritas is an organization of students that has sprung up since June 1998. It has held "dialogues" with 4,000-8,000 participants in 12 regions of East Timor to discuss a referendum, an overwhelmingly popular option among East Timorese [see John Roosas article in the Summer 1998 Estafeta]. Dewan Solidaritas is seeking to organize student groups around East Timor and is continuing its town meeting program, albeit in smaller venues.
From my observations of liberation movements throughout the world, its clear that nonviolent struggle has a variety of strategic advantages, including the capacity to take effective offensive action. Nonviolent strategies can promote the struggle abroad, gather allies and go to the opponents home. The East Timorese have done this brilliantly in Java, and in their contacts with the international solidarity movement.
The "Human Rights ideology" is important but has a weakness in focusing exclusively on victims. Human Rights advocates need to stress survivors and heroic stories to avoid despair and compassion fatigue, and here too the East Timorese have succeeded in the high visibility and international respect accorded their resilient leader Xanana Gusamo.
The overall situation in both Indonesia and East Timor remains unstable. Habibie and Indonesian elites may resume crackdowns and crush civil dissent. Civil society in rural East Timor is just beginning to emerge and is vulnerable to attacks by the authorities. Now more than ever the East Timorese need our solidarity.