Subject: E.Timor: Portuguese Return To Heal Old Wounds

SCMP: Portuguese return to heal old wounds - 
SCMP: Divided by an uncommon language

South China Morning Post May 19, 2002

Portuguese return to heal old wounds

By Peter Kammerer is the Post's Foreign Editor peter.kammerer@scmp.com

LISBON AND DILI are half a world away by distance, and a world removed economically - yet both capitals will erupt in euphoria at midnight as East Timor achieves independence.

For Timorese, there will be tears as well as cheers. Their struggle for self -determination from the colonial master, Portugal, and then the brutal invader, Indonesia, has been pockmarked with violence and misery.

Indonesia's occupation cannot be easily forgotten, being so fresh in the minds of so many people who lost relatives to massacres and neglect. It will be some time before relations are restored.

For older generations, Portugal's rule is bathed in a golden glow, despite 450 years of indifferent stewardship marked by high taxes and forced labour. Some Timorese and Portuguese genuinely seem to want to relive the "old days".

East Timor's leaders have even adopted Portuguese, along with their mother tongue Tetum, as the official language. They have welcomed hundreds of advisers and hundreds of millions of dollars of aid.

Portugal, it seems, is trying to make amends for its neglect. Some Timorese, though, see the decisions being made 12,000km away in Lisbon as a form of recolonisation, and they're angry.

Among them is Eduardo Soares, a 31-year-old consultant for non-governmental organisations.

"They've brought teachers and Portuguese books and a new style of colonialism," he said. "They're forcing us to use their language . . . I appreciate their help, but they also destroyed our culture. I've lost my respect for them."

But that is not the feeling among Portuguese, who are closely watching events in the far-flung former colony. There is a sense there that a kind of rebirth is taking place and the clocks of history have been turned back to a proud past.

"East Timor's civil war ended 27 years ago and there is no hostility towards the Timorese," said Maria Antonia Espadinha, head of the Portuguese department at the University of Macau who returned last week from a conference in Lisbon. "There is great sympathy and everybody is happy because East Timor is going to be a free country now."

Professor Espadinha said the feeling on the streets of Lisbon towards East Timor was euphoric. "We don't have the feeling that they are taking anything away from us," she said. "We are happy to be able to contribute."

This was not the case in 1975, when Portugal quietly abandoned the territory it had held since the early 1500s.

The colonists gave little to East Timor. They stripped its sandalwood forests and introduced coffee, but forced Timorese to work the plantations and remitted the revenues to Lisbon. When they left, just five per cent of the population was literate and development beyond Dili was minimal.

Colonialism meant hardship and high taxes and by the 1970s, there was violent resentment and then rebellion. The toppling of Portugal's fascist government in a military coup on April 25, 1974, shifted foreign policy towards decolonisation.

In East Timor, as civil war broke out and fighting raged between pro -Indonesian forces and pro-independence fighters, Portugal's officials slipped away and within weeks, East Timor had been invaded.

Until 1999, when Indonesia relinquished its iron grip, Portugal was able to do nothing. But following an independence vote, it has provided 20 per cent of international aid to East Timor. Only Japan has given more.

Up to the end of last year, it had given about US$ 117 million (HK$ 912.6 million) and another US$ 50 million has been budgeted for this year. A further US$ 50 million has been given to the World Bank-administered Trust Fund for East Timor.

A total of 1,180 Portuguese are in East Timor and they are by far the biggest foreign contingent: 770 are with the armed forces, 150 are training police and another 260 - including 150 language teachers - are working in schools, training civil servants and helping with projects.

Portugal is involved in the recruitment and training of the armed forces and has given two patrol boats to the fledgling navy. Its experts are also providing management and training at Dili's international airport and have helped train firefighters and set up the postal service.

Several cities in Portugal also have bilateral ties with Timorese villages. Projects include the reconstruction of schools and public buildings.

Ironically, agricultural experts are also helping villagers replant and cultivate coffee, the crop that caused so much misery during colonial rule.

Portugal's head of mission in East Timor, Pedro Almeida, said Lisbon's intention was to help build a "free and democratic society and a sustainable economy". The level of support would be maintained for the next three to five years, when it was hoped revenue from oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea would start trickling into East Timor's economy.

"They came from a very special situation where their country was absolutely destroyed," Mr Almeida said. "There was no infrastructure or human resources to rebuild the country, so we thought it was our duty - and we are very pleased to be able - to help East Timor to start to rebuild from its foundations."

Mr Almeida said Portugal was also providing assistance to other former colonies, such as Angola and Mozambique, but their larger size made assistance on the scale being provided to East Timor difficult.

East Timor's leaders, trying to build a country that is among the world's poorest, have gladly accepted the support. But their adoption of Portuguese as an official language has been much criticised.

It is an odd move, observers say, given that it is spoken by just 10 per cent of the population, among them East Timor leaders, such as President-elect Xanana Gusmao. More than 80 per cent of Timorese speak Indonesian, the language they were forced to learn after Portuguese was banned by Indonesia in 1981. Most people speak Tetum, which uses some Portuguese words. Indonesian and English have been adopted as "working languages".

The reasons for the move are unclear, although some people allege an "aid for language" deal was struck between East Timor's leaders and Portugal. Experts warn that the decision could cause a political split.

Legislator Francisco Lay, a member in the new Parliament of the ruling Fretilin party, says the decision was political. He says he speaks Portuguese "not so well", but that many legislators do not speak it at all.

"I can understand why the younger generation is not happy," Mr Lay, 40, said. "It's very hard for them to learn the Portuguese language and they also don't have any understanding of the Portuguese culture."

Some observers, such as Peter Carey, a modern history lecturer at Oxford University's Trinity College, say Portugal is, in effect, being allowed to culturally recolonise the territory and people it so recently turned its back on.

Dr Carey surmised that Portuguese might have been seen as a lesser evil than English, the international language of business. Australia is just 700km to the south of East Timor and there was a perception that linguistic reliance on English might also mean economic and cultural reliance on Australia.

"There's a fear among East Timor's elite that if they went for English, which is the most practical alternative as the main foreign language, Timor would very rapidly become not only an economic pensioner of Australia, but also a cultural pensioner," he said.

Dr Carey said Portugal now felt shamed by its actions in 1975 and was trying to make amends. There was also a remembrance of a lost colonial heritage.

"'The quid pro quo for that is essentially recapturing East Timor for a Lusophone-Portuguese inheritance that's part of the first colonial empire of Portugal," he said. "That's why it has a certain domestic resonance."

Although independence is being welcomed by Timorese, the older generations have fond memories of colonial rule. They see it in stark contrast to the brutality of the Indonesians.

But Catholic priest Father Jovito Araugo, 38, the vice-chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, does not share their views.

"When the Portuguese Government ruled this land, it was pure colonialism," he said. "The most important thing I remember is that they never allowed us to know about our neighbours in Asia, even Indonesia. It was a very exclusive community. They kept us from our own culture and history."

Father Jovito believes an apology from Portugal would be more appropriate than aid and teachers. Dignity, he says, cannot be bought with money.

Portugal must recognise that what happened in East Timor was the result of its decolonisation.

"This is only compensation by the Portuguese people." he said. "But this is not a good opportunity to fulfil their failed task in the past. It will not bring back all those who died and soothe the broken-hearted. Portugal can do all it wants, but it can never save the failed situation of the past."


South China Morning Post May 19, 2002

Divided by an uncommon language

By Peter Kammerer Foreign Editor

East Timor's generation gap is threatening unity in Asia's newest nation.

The debate between young and old is about the Portuguese language, which has been enshrined in the constitution beside the mother tongue, Tetum, as a "must have".

When Indonesia invaded East Timor after Portugal abandoned its long-time colony in 1975, the Portuguese language was outlawed. Virtually overnight, Bahasa Indonesian became the language of currency and was taught in all schools and at university in the same way Portuguese had been before the invasion.

The result is that 80 per cent of Timorese speak Indonesian, while only those who grew up under Portugal's rule know Portuguese.

East Timor's leaders, who grew up under the Portuguese flag, opted for Portuguese as a national language when they drew up the constitution in an effort to preserve the territory's heritage and culture. They made Indonesian and English "working languages".

Legislator Mario Carrascalao, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, said the decision was sensible, but acknowledges friction among younger people. "Portuguese will give us an identity," he said. "It is part of our cultural background. We were colonised by Portugal for 450 years."

Mr Carrascalao said Tetum could not be the only national language because, although widely spoken, it was not well developed and had too small a vocabulary. An institute will be set up to develop Tetum, with the aim of one day making it the sole national language.

Mr Carrascalao, 55, who speaks fluent Portuguese, Indonesian, Tetum and English, said younger people were reluctant to learn another language because of the inconvenience.

"We cannot go only to what is convenient," he said. "We should look to the national interest of East Timor. That will give us our own identity."

Few people below the age of 35 spoken to by the Sunday Morning Post said they could speak Portuguese, although some said they could understand it.

Journalist Hugo Fernandes, 31, chief editor of the weekly news magazine Talitatum, said he and his friends had refused offers to take lessons.

"It is very difficult for us to look at our future if we are forced to use Portuguese because of a political decision," he said. "We don't see it as a priority."

Academics agree. They say Indonesia will play a crucial role in East Timor's future and relegating the Indonesian language in importance is a mistake. English, as the international language of business, was also far more important than Portuguese, which, outside Portugal, is spoken only in Brazil and other former possessions in Africa and Asia.

The United Nations Development Programme, in a recent report stressing the importance of education, said only five per cent of 3,100 teachers passed a Portuguese-proficiency examination. Portugal had provided 144 language teachers, but the resources were clearly insufficient.

James Fox, the director of the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University, did not believe the population could be effectively taught Portuguese because of the amount of commitment involved.

He said Indonesian or English were better choices and would not produce such a backlash.


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