Subject: JP: Timor Leste: An outpost of RI culture?

Timor Leste: An outpost of RI culture?

World News - May 10, 2007

Abdul Khalik, the Jakarta Post, Dili

The crowd that gathered to support Jose Ramos-Horta at his last campaign event on Sunday was getting down and grooving, but they weren't bopping to American hits like Britney Spears' "Baby...One More Time" or even Kylie Minogue, a native of nearby Australia.

It was Indonesia's Rhoma Irama, singing "Terajana", that had the crowd up and dancing.

"We love dangdut and other Indonesian songs. All my friends know Peter Pan's songs," said Lucia Lopes, 19, referring to a popular Indonesian band.

"Yes, we like Dewa, Slank, Ratu and many others," Lucia's friend Armendo Sanches said, and continued dancing.

When visitors take cabs or dine in restaurants anywhere in Dili, the fondness for Indonesian music becomes apparent. The taxi drivers are listening to old or new Indonesian songs, while restaurant owners will play you pirated CDs and DVDs of singers.

But music is just one sign of Indonesia's lingering influence in Timor Leste.

The roofs of Dili bristle with parabola antennas, needed to catch TV broadcasts from Australia and Indonesia.

"We don't have a choice. We don't really understand English so we don't like watching Australian programs. So, Indonesian TV programs are the ones we turn to," said Manuel Riberi, a university student.

And their favorite sort of program? Indonesia's famously over-the-top soap operas, sinetron.

"We love them!" Manuel said.

Timor Leste currently only has one TV station, the state-owned RTTL (Timor Leste Radio and Television). It broadcasts news and some local variety shows in Tetum, the native language, along with Portuguese programs.

"We only watch the news in the morning on RTTL. After they change to the programs in Portuguese, which change the channel to Indonesian stations like RCTI, SCTV or Metro TB. I love Jaka Tingkir and other martial-arts sinetron, but my wife and daughters will watch Indonesian dramas all day," said Agostinho Fernandes on Tuesday while he watched the news on Metro TV.

After 24 years of Indonesian rule, the language and infrastructure of the occupiers is still in place. Most of the buildings and road networks were the work of Indonesia.

But it's the Indonesian language that made the largest mark -- around 90 percent of the country can speak Bahasa Indonesia, making its cultural products popular.

While the Timor Leste government is attempting to play down the role of Indonesian in people's lives and has made Tetum and Portuguese the official languages, Dili-based Timor Leste expert Nugroho Katjasungkana said that Indonesian would be used in the country for a long time to come.

"Because of the Indonesian sinetron, the people here are still in close contact with the latest language developments, such as slank language or Bahasa Gaul used by actors on TV. Even small children use that language because they watch TV too. It's too bad that the Indonesian government doesn't do something to maintain the use of the language here," he said.

Indonesia has been unwilling to get involved in Timor Leste out of fears it will be seen by the international community as an effort to bring the new country back under its rule.

"Getting involved in politics and the military might be foolish but the development of culture and language programs would do Indonesia no harm. It would be a waste of an opportunity if we let the Indonesian language be replaced by Portuguese or English, for example," Nugroho said.

The country also heavily depends on Indonesia for imports.

Almost every daily need is imported from Surabaya, Kupang, Bali or Jakarta. Be it soap, cooking oil, sugar, bottled water, gasoline, stores all over the country sell Indonesian products.

"We have no choice but to import all the products from Indonesia because Indonesia is our closest neighbor and its products are much cheaper than products from Australia or Malaysia. We don't know what will happen if Indonesia stops its exports to this country," said a shop owner who preferred to remain anonymous.

With Portugal and Australia both playing active roles in rebuilding the country, many observers here and in Indonesia have said that the longer Indonesia goes without a specific policy on Timor Leste, the greater the chances it will lose its influence on it, particularly when it becomes a member of ASEAN.

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