Subject: Bulletin on line 2 articles: Longing for Indonesia etc

via Rob Wesley-Smith & Opinions 

Longing for Indonesia in Timor Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Against the backdrop of eight years of uncertainty and violence, some East Timorese are wondering whether life under Indonesian rule was really that bad, reports Paul Toohey.

Most young-to-middle-aged East Timorese don't just speak Indonesian. They think Indonesian. That's because for a long time there they were Indonesian. Given what has happened since 1999, the mess that is East Timor - a mess that is only getting worse - it's time to think dark thoughts and wonder if the people would have been better off never being liberated at all.

This might seem outrageous to outsiders who imagine nothing could be worse than being under the Indonesian jackboot. But it is something East Timorese wonder all the time.

Go to an East Timorese home on sunset. They're not watching ABC's into-Asia service. Nor are they watching Portuguese television - even though their leaders would prefer they did. In an absurdly bloody-minded decision, those who had exiled themselves during the Indonesian occupation and went to live in Portuguese-speaking places like Mozambique, Angola and Portugal, came home after 1999, took power and imposed Portuguese as the official language.

But everyone's still speaking Indonesian - and they're watching Indonesian TV. They pool their resources, buy $200 satellite dishes, hang leads off in every direction, and then small communities can make sure they never miss "Bawang Merah Bawang Putih", which roughly translates as "onion garlic". It's one of Indonesia's most popular soap operas and is a modern working over of an old Malay fable about a good sister and her evil twin.

It's strange how the life of two spunky Jakarta girls could mean so much to the East Timorese. But look what's happened since 1999, and even in recent weeks, as trouble simmers and sometimes explodes in Dili. Dozens of East Timorese have been arrested crossing the border into Indonesian-run West Timor. Why did they go to Indonesia? For safety.

When Dili-based people - expats or wealthier Timorese - need a break, or to do some shopping, they don't fly to Darwin. They go to Kupang, or Jakarta. The East Timorese feel perfectly at ease with Indonesians.

Some commentators have said that after the Australian-led Interfet liberation of 1999, Indonesian politicians are laughing hard at Australia for taking on such a basket case. Whether they are really rolling in the aisles slapping their thighs is doubtful. But Indonesia must be glad to have washed their hands of the joint, and are certainly watching unsurprised as Australia digs itself into a hole in Timor.

China, which has no troop commitment in East Timor, has plans to build the Timorese a great presidential palace in Dili central; the Portuguese have almost completed a spectacular presidential residence in the hills above Dili. While they scavenge for hearts and minds, and snuggle up close to the leaders of the tiny oil-rich country, Australia is left paying the security bills.

After 1999, it was common to hear East Timorese express a sentiment along these lines: "Even though we are poorer now, at least we don't live in fear of Indonesia." That's out the window. Now they live in fear of themselves.

Indonesia built the East Timorese road system (which has since fallen into chronic disrepair after 1999). East Timorese - as Indonesians - received free tertiary education and a stipend to live outside Timor and attend university. Deposed Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri once referred to the degree East Timorese got in Jakarta as "Super Mie degrees", in a disparaging reference to the instant noodle brand.

Maybe so, but East Timorese still want to - and those lucky enough do - attend universities in Indonesia. This might mean that upon return to East Timor, waving their Super Mie degree, they are denied jobs in the civil service, because they don't speak the required Portuguese. But the affection, the contact, the very nature of the people remains inextricably tied to Indonesia.

As their country stagnates and indolent youths turn on each other, East Timorese are now wondering whether they would have been better off going for autonomy, Aceh-style, rather than for the full independence they overwhelmingly voted for at the 1999 referendum. But at that time they were fully entitled to believe in the possibilities of independence. They were caught up in the idea of freedom, and freedom-loving peoples around the world cheered for them. It seemed such a great thing. Eight years on, freedom has given them nothing but trouble.

Sansao Gomes, 24, a law student whose studies have been put on hold by the inertia wracking his country, is typical of many East Timorese in that he had to flee to the hills during the Indonesian-backed militia rampages of 1999. You think he'd just hate Indonesians; but remember, those deadly militias he ran from were East Timorese people. Last year, his house was ransacked - not by Indonesians, but by East Timorese who were once his neighbours.

"Under Indonesian rule, most in civilian society had a free life," says Gomes. "We did not hate civilians from Indonesia, like Javanese and Balinese. At that time we only fought for independence because many people thought that when we have independence everything will be better for people's life. And at that time we only hate the [Indonesian] army invasions and those who made our Timorese brothers to become militias and fight against one another.

"Thousands of Timorese were educated under Indonesian education systems which was better than the only hundreds of Timorese who were educated under Portuguese rule [pre-1975]."

Gomes doesn't say life was all good under Indonesia. "The actions of the Indonesian military intimidated many Timorese who expressed their aim to have self-determination; the military formed many Timorese to become militia by giving them money and properties. And in government administration, in Indonesian times, there was much corruption.

"But on my experience and knowledge, it is not only young people who express that life was better under Indonesia but also many old people. The reason is that when we fought for independence we wished our country would have better life for its people, but the fact is it is not happened all.

"Many political interests have intervened and caused us hate one another. We understand our country is new country so many things go wrong, but to make everything run we have to have one objective - like when we fought for independence.

"Most of our political leaders are fools, because they run the country in the wrong way. We love our independence as a country, and we cannot go back to Indonesia. All we have to do is remind our people to think the same in one way."

Indonesia wouldn't have East Timor back even if it came begging. But as the price of electricity skyrockets in Dili, as mobile phones (there is no landline system) become too costly to use, as fuel hits $US1 per litre, and people remember how schooling was so cheap under the Indonesians, and how every village had a clinic, the 24 years of sometimes brutal Indonesian rule is being reassessed against this backdrop: was my country stable? Were my children educated? Did I have enough food? Did I see hope? The answer to these questions is yes.

Comment by poster: In last para the answer was not YES, but 'some', and 200,000 deaths and continuing oppression and increasing resistance does not suggest a stable country. The Indon occupation inculcated a resistance experience and mentality which must change to a progressive outlook for the future, the leaders must be smarter and more inclusive, the people grow their own food again and modernise their own health environment, stop excessive population increase, look after the countryside, make the justice system work by innovation, and yes modify the Portuguese language policy. How many East Timorese had other than low level public service jobs anyway? The Australian government took at least 5x the revenue from East Timor than it gave in the first 6 years when an economic dividend was needed for independence to have a chance. The Howard/Downer government prohibits payments to ngos that in any way criticise it - so much for developing independent thought and initiative! Last, the Australian media lost all interest in east Timor until things went horribly wrong again in May 2006. Its a bit rich to come back and criticise everything when you refuse to be part of the solution. How much East Timor media does Fairfax or Murdoch support? How much did they support East Timor say 1977-98?


Living memory: From Dili with damnation Tuesday, March 20, 2007

25 years ago: Seven years after the bloody Indonesian invasion, Gough Whitlam visited East Timor and declared it in safe hands.

By Hall Greenland.

Great men are anxious, even precious, about posterity and none more so than Australia's most controversial post-war prime minister Gough Whitlam - and especially on the issue of his role in Indonesia's 1975 invasion and long occupation of East Timor. In 1982, he broke his silence on the occupation in a special report for The Bulletin after spending four days on the troubled island. He'd gone in response to what he said were reports of famine circulated by Bishop Martinho da Costa Lopes, the Catholic apostolic administrator in Dili, the capital of East Timor.

Whitlam reported that there was no famine, no longer any security problem and that social development was proceeding as never before. Implying that the bishop had been a fascist collaborator in the past, Whitlam attributed the bishop's false report to his hankering after colonial times. "He and half his clergy resent and lament the departure of the Portuguese." Whitlam fired broadsides at "stringers in Lisbon, pamphleteers in London, propagandists in Australia", the ex-Portuguese colonies in the UN and, for good measure, the peak aid body in Australia, for their lack of realism and sympathy for the Indonesian takeover.

His apologia provoked "a hornet's nest", and the magazine printed the rebuttals of Shirley Shackleton, the widow of one of the five Australian journalists murdered by Indonesian forces during the invasion, and Labor MP Eric Fry. Shackleton accused Whitlam of "dismissing without murmur the hundreds of thousands of East Timorese who have died horribly. Having made a terrible mistake Gough Whitlam appears to be busy, busy, busy seeking to cover it up". Fry accused him of exaggerating the bishop's famine warning, of making a superficial inspection and suffering from "self-delusion".

In reply, Whitlam rounded on Fry for his support for Fretilin, which convincingly won East Timor's first free election in 2002. Whitlam said Fretilin had "long ago lost all significant support in East Timor". Beyond a demand that she name her sources, he stayed silent on Shackleton's more serious criticism.

Note: It was Ken Fry not Eric Fry, Ken was alp member for 'Fraser', the Canberra area and to the south coast, where he now lives in retirement, being the late 70's foremost elected member supporter of East Timor, and having increased his majority in each election despite Whitlam's ill-founded abuse. Whitlam should disclose his papers now on all things East Timor including Balibo business, and not wait in Coward's Castle until his death.

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