Subject: G. Aditjondro: East Timorese becoming guests in their own land

The Jakarta Post February 2, 2001

East Timorese becoming guests in their own land

The following are excerpts from an interview with sociologist George Junus Aditjondro with The Jakarta Post's Ati Nurbaiti, following his one-week visit to East Timor in early January. He lectures at Newcastle University in Australia and is a long-time researcher on East Timor and other areas with pro-independence movements.

Last year, one of his latest books in Indonesian was published, titled Welcoming the Rising Sun on Mount Ramelau: Impacts of the Occupation of Timor Lorosae and the Rise of a Pro-Timor Lorosae Movement in Indonesia.

Question: What are your current impressions of Timor?

Answer: I have visited Timor four times since the referendum (for self-determination in August 1999); the first was in November 1999 during the commemoration of the Santa Cruz massacre (of November 1991). There was euphoria; men, women, young girls could walk anytime in the streets, also at night, without fear of the Indonesian Military, or the thugs, the so called milisi; it was the first time that the Dili massacre could be commemorated openly, there were thousands of people in front of the Santa Cruz cemetery.

I was really impressed by the freedom of expression... but I was shocked at the speed of foreign investments pouring in; this certainly has a lot to do with the way Indonesia left East Timor; the way the military destroyed 75 percent of the infrastructure, and also "kidnapped" a quarter of the population with still more than 100,000 stranded in West Timor because they're afraid to return home for logical, psychological and security reasons.

This created the ideal bonanza for foreign investors especially Australians from (Australia's) Northern Territory.

I was shocked to see how quickly the Country Liberal Party, the ruling party in the Northern Territory for 25 years, changed its position towards (Timorese leader) Xanana Gusmao and the whole independence movement.

For 25 years they supported Indonesia's occupation but now Xanana has become the darling of the Northern Territory government; NT businesses which were or still are the main funders of the CLP were among the first to invest in East Timor.

But what struck me was the East Timorese who became their first partners in most joint ventures -- because the United Nations encourages all foreign business to have East Timorese partners -- were often from Australia or were those East Timorese who were not involved in the independence struggle, or were maybe on the other side supporting Indonesia, or just lying down in Australia, or having their small businesses.

This also struck the young Timorese who fought for independence in East Timor and in Indonesia; they soon became simply spectators; they were also shocked to see how the leaders they supported and glorified like Xanana and Jose Ramos-Horta very quickly started to form inner circles in which East Timorese from exile and from the diaspora including young Timorese who grew up in Australia or Portugal, became their most loyal staffers.

Couldn't this just be a temporary situation?

It will be temporary only if a coalition of progressive parties now marginally or not represented in the East Timor Transitional Administration (ETTA) can win the upcoming election.

If the people from the inner circle form new parties or use existing parties with all the leverage they have gained, and win the election, then we'll still see this continued "unholy trinity" between the UN administration, the Timorese leadership and foreign businesses...

Are those of the diaspora less critical of the transitional government?

They are the government, because they have mastered English and Portuguese; here is where the language issue has become the "nail in the coffin". Because Xanana's organization, the CNRT (National Council of Timorese Resistance, umbrella organization of competing pro-independence groups), has decided on Portuguese being the official language, this has further alienated young Timorese who grew up in either Indonesia or East Timor.

The languages of struggle have been Tetum and Indonesian, not English or Portuguese. They've become a kind of second class citizens...

Are East Timorese from the diaspora less understanding of the local situation?

They have a different conception of development. They believe in the neoliberal development path (involving) the role of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and much foreign investment; while many of the young growing up here and in East Timor have digested the original strategy or philosophy of the Fretilin which was more socialist, stressing self-reliance, agrarian reform. These young people are now politically, culturally and also economically alienated.

They would prefer the fazenda or large estates be reformed, coffee plantations returned to the coffee growers, not owned by rich families.

But, frankly speaking, after observing East Timor for more than a year now, I don't see the UN and the World Bank listening to these young people, but to the ruling elite ...

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has suggested the extension of the mandate of the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) to December of this year; are people ready now?

People have formed their political parties; the (pro independence) Fretilin and the UDT are preparing themselves for elections, maybe with some excesses -- Fretilin has gone to villages and to Dili neighborhoods to reregister former members; UDT doesn't seem to be doing much as they're well represented in ETTA: some UDT and Fretilin members have set up the Social Democratic Party (SDP) led by Marie Viegas Carrascalao; his brother Joao leads the UDT; if they win this is a return to the status quo.

If Fretilin and the UDT win there can be some change. So back to the question, are the people, the grass roots, ready?

Maybe the postponement by one semester (of formal transfer of authority from the UN) is good because it will give time to young activists -- those in the Sahe Institute for Liberation, the Impettu, Solidarity Council, Hak Foundation, to do political, civic education in villages and in Dili neighborhoods; because, until now, the Timorese, like Indonesians, have been more trained, or indoctrinated, to believe in "celebrities".

While people in Indonesia talk of Gus Dur, here it is Xanana, Ramos-Horta ... But people have not been thinking deeply about how the old leaders are trying to develop their country and what their rights are as a liberated people, not just a liberated country.

So a postponement of six months would give more time to the UDT-SDP coalition to prepare for victory ... but it would also give more time to young people in the above organizations to impart an understanding to the population about their rights, about the impact of foreign investment, the impact of depending on foreign aid, on how natural resources will or should be managed.

By resources I mean the community-based resources like coconut and sandalwood, and most of the coffee -- 90 percent is grown by farmers -- and also the onshore oil resources.

There are about 40 places where oil is simply bubbling to the surface and where simple refining methods could directly meet domestic resources. They are exploited only in some places like in Pualaka, where people have long used the oil, the deposits from the river bed.

Given that the World Bank and international donors look more to the interests of the ruling elite, and given the absence of regulations in business and the earlier dominance of Indonesian business and now other foreign businesses, how can "economic liberation" be realized?

I think in this situation it will be even harder, if the UDT and SDP coalition wins; then a new form of economic colonialism will simply be perpetuated. But I don't believe the Timorese, with a long history of resistance, will simply sit still; such a ruling coalition will certainly encourage parliamentary opposition including that of Fretilin; but also extra-parliamentary opposition among the young generation.

Here is where organizations in Australia and in Indonesia should do their best to be on their side, not that of the ruling elite.

The problem is that in the West and Australia, so many have fallen victim to the cult of Xanana and Ramos-Horta that they feel uneasy criticizing Xanana, Marie Carrascalao ...

I've also been reprimanded by a friend for "meddling in East Timor's domestic affairs." I said that in the Timorese fight for independence we were also "meddling in Indonesia's domestic affairs." Why should we suddenly leave the (Timorese) alone to fight their own struggle against corrupt leaders, the UN and its bureaucracy, and against foreign investors?

But, as an Indonesian, I'm proud that many Indonesians and Indonesian organizations are working together with Timorese to work for democratization.

The Timorese are not yet independent -- politically, culturally or economically.

Those in the solidarity movements from Indonesia -- like the Association of Independent Journalists supporting the Association of Journalists of Timor Lorosae, Fortilos (Solidarity Forum for People of Timor Lorosae) supporting the Hak and Sahe foundations, the feminists organizations hopefully continuing to support Fokupers and other women's groups -- are very welcome among the young Timorese.

But many Indonesians ask, is it true that many Timorese want to be back with Indonesia, now that there is more hardship?

I think this is the result of the propaganda spread by organizations or people who have been involved with the militia in the past, who are glad to see corruption in East Timor ... and believe that the East Timorese will one day "return to the fold."

In all the four times that I went there, in spite of all the destruction, in spite of having to live under tarpaulin roofs, in spite of the dual economy -- the lucrative economy of the foreigners and the very poor economy of locals -- I have never heard anyone longing for the day when they were colonized.

But I don't overlook the possibility that the Indonesian state or the military or other sections in society will try to work hard to regain East Timor.

Because, in history every colonial power has always dreamt of the days when they were the benign rulers, while always disregarding the possibility that the former colonized people can finally manage their own affairs better, their freedom of expression and chances for economic development.

When Indonesia was pumping a lot of money into East Timor, the Timorese knew that the lion's share was recycled back to Indonesia, at least in civil servants' salaries, transportation charges by Indonesian shipping and airline companies, and the fact that the biggest economic players in Timor were Indonesians.

So it seems very unlikely that the Timorese now would want to return to Indonesia.

What I do see is a reduction in hatred towards Indonesians compared to my visit in November 1999, when everyone would spin around to stare at anyone speaking Indonesian; now all languages are being spoken in the streets.

What will East Timor's future relations with Australia be like?

Again, if the UDT-SPD coalition wins there will be a kind of struggle of Australian and Portuguese interests. One example is in telecommunications.

(Australian telecommunications firm) Telstra now manages the whole telecommunications system. Telstra came into East Timor riding on the International Force for East Timor, and signed a three year contract with Interfet.

Now Portugal Telekom is also lobbying to take over the telecommunications pie through small entrepreneurial loans to small and medium enterprises, which strengthens the structure of the CNRT.

Every application for a loan from the (Portuguese bank) Banco Nacional Ultramarino, needs a recommendation from the district head, who is the local CNRT chief.

So here the Portuguese, after losing their political battle, are seen trying to regain cultural and economic influence.

When Portugal left, the owner of the BNU was also co-owner of fazendas under the Portuguese SAPT firm, which under then Maj. Gen. Benny Moerdani were nationalized under PT Salazar, controlling coffee and coconuts.

BNU is a co-shareholder in SAPT. So there will be Portuguese resistance to agrarian reform.

So rather than changing from a colony of Indonesia to a "colony of Australia", Timor has been transformed from an Indonesian colony to an outpost of global capitalism with investors from Hong Kong, Macao, Portugal, Singapore ...

Everyone wants a piece of the reconstruction pie.

The World Bank says East Timor is a showcase in how to build an economy from scratch, thanks to the Indonesian Military, but (rebuilding) also involves many other groups, so the Timorese are becoming guests in their own country; this is a more subtle and entrenched form of colonialism.

The old colonialism was brutal. The new one is pervasive, filling in the gaps, leading to a begging-bowl mentality. If you're Caucasian, you're regarded as a donor and this applies from the top to the grassroots level; begging has increased, which is why the first English word for many youngsters is "Hello Mister," ironically now the name of a supermarket in Dili.

So far there are no signs, at least official, of Indonesia wanting to regain East Timor, as you suggest...

There are signs already through the nonstop border intrusions, apart from the entry of Indonesian businesses; including those of the Kopassus (special forces) and SGI (intelligence) outfit and those with shady characters like PT Pura Barutama, which was implicated in the production of counterfeit money in Indonesia.

And with PT Gunung Kijang (a subsidiary of an Indonesian military-owned business) operating in (among others, renovation projects) in the heart of Dili, it is not unlikely that elements in Indonesia would attempt to make Timor its client state ... especially TNI with their belief in the (defense of the archipelago) Wawasan Nusantara concept; if one part in the circle of islands breaks then the whole chain will be affected.

Thousands of foreign troops in East Timor are seen as a potential threat to the archipelago.

Thus, the need to change demographic structure by sending (civilian defense groups) to regions in eastern Indonesia. (The thinking is that) with East Timor soon gaining full independence, more regions will try to break away.

So the continuous offensive attitude (towards East Timor) is a strategy, evident from the fact that Indonesia has not been very cooperative in allowing those in West Timor to return, because (the refugees) are their bargaining chip (with the international community). The international community have thus conceded that no international tribunal (will be conducted).

If Indonesia wants it could easily dismantle all the militias, it could work with organizations and the Church to accommodate the 100,000 (refugees); therefore Indonesia has not been ready to give up East Timor.

With no chance of an international tribunal, with little hope for the bringing to account of those who ordered crimes in the courts of Dili or in Jakarta, how can reconciliation be expected among Timorese?

It's very hard and nearly impossible. The side effect, I fear, will be an East Timorese version of dwi fungsi (the Indonesian Military's concept of its defense and political role).

Xanana and Ramos-Horta earlier pleaded for a state without a military, only a police force. But they have backtracked because of this militia threat, now they are bent on trying to transform (pro independence militia) Falintil into a professional defense force.

This is also a strategy of Indonesia to bleed East Timor economically by forcing them to use their resources to support a professional defense force -- an army, navy and air force. Portugal and other countries have offered to share defense costs.

If East Timor did not have a hostile neighbor like Indonesia there would be no need for fully fledged armed forces. Falintil will seek justification, saying "We suffered the most" in the struggle, and deserve rewards.

Haven't the veterans already been given a fuel depot?

There could be more rewards. As in other countries with earlier guerrilla movements, if you have guerrillas in the government, you will soon have them in business.

So fighting for democracy has been no less difficult than fighting for independence.

The young, the women and the villagers feel the most marginalized; this is the new task of the solidarity movement (to help them) instead of just shaking hands with Xanana.

January Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from