Subject: Music Draws E. Timorese Closer to Indonesians

The Jakarta Post

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Music Draws E. Timorese Closer to Indonesians

Kanis Dursin, Dili, East Timor

"I don't understand what I'm feeling, a feeling of longing that has never been so strong, I love you more than you know, although you will never know" go some of the lyrics of popular Indonesian band Dewa's song Pupus or Vanish.

Perhaps it was that feeling of longing that drove tens of thousands of Dili residents to the Municipal Stadium to watch Dewa play on May 15.

Dewa became the first Indonesian band to hold a live concert in the new country, since East Timor voted to break away from Indonesia in a United Nations-sponsored referendum in 1999.

Bracing themselves against the searing heat of East Timor's capital, residents of the coastal town arrived in droves as early as 2 p.m. Young and old, women and men, even East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and his cabinet, came along to join the fun.

When Dewa came on stage at around 5.30 p.m., the audience, whose number had swollen to 100,000 by some counts, all stood on tiptoe, trying to catch a glimpse of the band.

"We are very happy to be invited to the second anniversary celebration of East Timor's independence. Long live East Timor," Dewa lead singer Once said just before he sang the band's first song, to which the crowd shouted: "Dewa, Dewa, Dewa."

To the surprise of the group, the crowd, especially the teenagers, knew most of the band's set. Dancing and raising their hands into the air, they sang along with virtually all of the songs, including the recently released Puspus crooner.

"Please, take our picture," some dancing teenage girls shouted at an Indonesian journalist covering the concert.

Some audience members yelled out the names of their favorite tunes, like Arjuna, and the band did not disappoint them.

For just under 90 minutes the band entertained the crowd, which Dewa said behaved extremely well. The band was so impressed, it had a group picture taken in the middle of the concert in front of thousands of appreciative concertgoers.

"This is the most disciplined audience we've ever had," said Once, adding scuffles and violence frequently broke out in similar-sized Indonesian crowds.

The concert was guarded by only a few UN and East Timor police, who most of the time were busy enjoying the show.

University student Florindo Fretes, 21, said the concert would help strengthen relations between the two countries. "For people like me, activities like this are very valuable to boosting ties with Indonesians," said Fretes, who studied for 18 months in Yogyakarta before he decided to return to East Timor after the referendum in 1999.

Rui da Costa Hornai, a student of the National University in Dili, said it was time to bury the hatchet and look forward to better relations with Indonesians.

According to Fauzi Bustami, head of the Representative Office of the Republic of Indonesia in Dili, activities like concerts by the Dewa Band would help eliminate anti-Indonesian sentiment among East Timorese.

"Anti-Indonesian sentiments are slowly melting now and the way I see it, what Dewa is doing is extraordinary," Fauzi said.

East Timor was Indonesia's 27th province for almost 24 years before it voted to become independent in 1999.

The referendum was marred by a deadly rampage throughout the province by pro-Indonesia militias.

About 1,400 mostly pro-independence East Timor citizens, were killed in the mayhem, which also saw about 80 percent of the infrastructure in the tiny country laid to waste after the vote for independence was passed.

The chaos drove more than 200,000 East Timor citizens into Atambua and other areas along the border in West Timor.

The violence stopped when an international peace-keeping force arrived in East Timor in mid-September 1999.

While most of the refugees have since decided to return to East Timor, about 25,000 are still living in squalid refugee camps in West Timor.

Fauzi said while anti-Indonesian sentiment had remained strong from 1999 to 2002, it was slowly subsiding.

"There is a growing realization among East Timor citizens that they depend on Indonesia very much," said Fauzi, adding that almost 75 percent of the basic commodities in East Timor were imported from Indonesia.

"They have to be pragmatic and realistic. They are still watching Indonesian television programs and have to take (Indonesian airline) Merpati (aircraft) and pass through Indonesia if they go overseas," he said.

In a spirit of cooperation, Indonesian government-owned companies Merpati Nusantara Airlines and Bank Mandiri helped organize and sponsor the concert celebrating East Timor's anniversary.

Merpati has continued to serve the Denpasar-Dili-Denpasar route since East Timor gained independence.

The airline flies a Boeing 737 to East Timor daily, which is 80 percent full on average. Bank Mandiri, meanwhile, is now the biggest of three banks operating in the country. The other two are Australasia's ANZ and Portugal's BPU.

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao, who was scheduled to open Dewa's concert, canceled at the last minute to meet President Megawati Soekarnoputri in Bali.

He later thanked Dewa for coming to East Timor and participating in the country's second independence celebrations.


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