Subject: Living Timorously: Longing for Indonesia? Yeah, right!

Living Timorously

24 March 2007

<>Longing for Indonesia? Yeah, right!

More ignorant crap from the Australian media, this time from Paul Toohey in the Bulletin. What next? Given the wretched state of Zimbabwe at the moment, perhaps an article entitled 'Longing for Rhodesia' might be in order.

Most young-to-middle- aged East Timorese don't just speak Indonesian. They think Indonesian.

Most? In that case why are they writing in Tetum as well as speaking it, unlike those Indonesians who speak regional languages but don't write, publish or broadcast in them? That's a healthy sign that they've got out of the "Timtim" mindset.

That's because for a long time there they were Indonesian.

Well, for thirty years, many people in Korea and Taiwan not only spoke Japanese, they thought Japanese, because they were Japanese. And for a long time, Mr Toohey, your Irish ancestors in Ireland were British. Try telling them they still are or still should be.

Go to an East Timorese home on sunset. They're not watching ABC's into-Asia service.

The Australia Network isn't that popular as most people in the region who can speak English prefer US shows.

Nor are they watching Portuguese television - even though their leaders would prefer they did.

RTP Internacional is so boring, even the Portuguese and Brazilians don't like it. So who can blame East Timorese, even Portuguese-speaking ones, from not bothering with it either?

In an absurdly bloody-minded decision,

unlike the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor

those who had exiled themselves during the Indonesian occupation

José Ramos Horta and Mari Alkatiri left only a few days before the invasion. What were they supposed to do, go back to Indonesian-occupied East Timor, and face imprisonment or death, unless they collaborated?

went to live in Portuguese-speaking places like Mozambique, Angola and Portugal, came home after 1999, took power and imposed [!] Portuguese as the [sic - an] official language.

Supporters of the Portuguese language policy, like Xanana Gusmão and other guerilla fighters never set foot in these countries, while Carlos Ximenes Belo made a descision to return to East Timor during the Indonesian occuopation, not stay in Macau or Portugal. Call them absurdly bloody-minded if you wish, but many of them lived through the same horrors of the Indonesian occupation as everyone else.

But everyone's still speaking Indonesian

to Indonesians, to Australians (and only if they don't speak English) but not to each other.

and they're watching Indonesian TV

People who are educated in a language, will prefer to watch TV programmes in it than ones in a language that they don't understand. That's why in Ireland, British TV is more popular than the Irish-language channel, because most Irish people don't speak Irish.

There aren't many TV programmes in Tetum, much less other Timorese languages, and TVTL's signal is limited to Dili. Indonesian TV channels have subtitles, Australia Network and RTPi don't.

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.

Why not? Kupang's cheaper than Darwin, and Jakarta's got more to offer.

Indonesia built the East Timorese road system

for the benefit of the military. If they were going to crush the guerillas, they needed the infrastructure to do it.

(which has since fallen into chronic disrepair after 1999).

Who was in charge between 1999 and 2002? The UN, which left things half-rebuilt or undone, not East Timor's elected government.

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.

The CNRT was prepared to accept autonomy, but only if there were a referendum on East Timor's final status. That's what John Howard had in mind when he proposed "wide ranging autonomy with a built-in review mechanism".

But at that time they were fully entitled to believe in the possibilities of independence.

Because it was all or nothing. What these revisionists ignore is that an independent East Timor could have maintained close links with Indonesia, the way that other small countries do with their neighbours. As well as keeping the rupiah, East Timor could have maintained a customs union with Indonesia, the postal system, the telephone system.... But they weren't allowed to, because the Indonesians didn't let them.

But as the price of electricity skyrockets in Dili, as mobile phones (there is no landline system)

Really? So why do people have fax machines and internet connections, which can only be used with landlines.

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,

Of course there are advantages in being part of a large country, economies of scale being one. It's easier for a large country like Indonesia to subsidise food, electricity, petrol, etc, than for a small one.

the 24 years of sometimes


brutal Indonesian rule is being reassessed against this backdrop: was my country stable?

Yes, in the same way as Poland was under Nazi Germany.

Were my children educated?

Yes, but Indonesia did no more to promote local language, culture or history than the Portuguese did.

Did I have enough food?

Yes, because all those Indonesians in East Timor needed to eat too.

Did I see hope?

Only because the Suharto regime couldn't last forever.

The answer to these questions is yes.

But only because you're asking the wrong questions. The questions should be: did the East Timorese ask the Indonesians to invade in the first place? Can you buy off people who've had members of their family raped, tortured or murdered with schools, hospitals and roads?

The answers are "no" and "no".

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