Subject: AGE: Portugal's Legacy A Stumbling Block For East Timorese

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

The Age [Melbourne] Friday 5 November 1999

Portugal's legacy a stumbling block for East Timorese


More than four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule in East Timor have left a legacy of language and culture that threatens to open a dangerous fissure in the emerging nation's political landscape.

As East Timorese begin rebuilding their nation shattered in Indonesia's violent withdrawal in September, they are also coming to grips with refashioning their identity to include their Portuguese history and the dreams of a younger generation raised as Indonesian-speaking Asians.

An anthropology graduate from Jogjakarta's Gadja Mada University, Ms Ivete de Oliveira, warns of a deep culture shock in the next two years under United Nations administration as East Timor's past and future collide.

From the cultural past come the veteran leaders of a tumultuous quarter of a century of struggle that began with the abrupt departure of the Portuguese and the Indonesia's ill-fated recolonisation.

These men, now riding the crest of a wave, have demanded that the Portuguese language and even Portugal's currency, the escudo, are adopted in the new East Timor.

Men like the independence fighter Mr Jose "Xanana" Gusmao, Nobel laureates Mr Jose Ramos Horta and Bishop Carlos Belo, and the former governor of East Timor under Indonesian rule, Mr Mario Carrascalao, were all educated in Portuguese and identify strongly with the culture of the former colonial power.

Mr Gusmao, who is expected to become East Timor's first leader after independence, has written of his love for the Portuguese language.

At a World Bank reconstruction meeting in Dili this week, Mr Carrascalao, who ranks behind Mr Gusmao in the pro-independent CNRT, pleaded with aid officials not to scrap East Timor's Portuguese identity, leaving the new nation without a past as the Indonesians attempted to do after they invaded in 1975.

"Don't do that to us again," he said. "Don't come in here and make English our official language."

Retaining these links with the past may be comforting and secure to the generation straddling East Timor's decolonisation and recolonisation, but it is treated with great suspicion by the young.

Ms de Oliveira, 24, believes the future of East Timor belongs in the hands of the young and most of them don't speak Portuguese. "We who have studied in Indonesia don't understand the Portuguese language," she said.

"From 1975 until now we have learned Indonesian in our schools. We think it is more useful for us to use Indonesian."

The young worry that going back to Portuguese, now spoken by fewer than 10 per cent of East Timorese, would cut the new nation off from its geographical reality, one of the major drawbacks of the centuries of isolationist Portuguese rule.

They want Tetum, the tongue understood by most of the territory's diverse regional and ethnic groups, to become the language of everyday life, with English and Indonesian taught so that ties can be built with Australia and Indonesia, their two most important neighbors.

Ms de Oliveira also suspects that the older leaders have a more sinister agenda in insisting on Portuguese. "I think the older leaders have a strategy of keeping the young people down," she said. "Maybe they are scared that we want to join in the leadership. We are very angry about this."

Most foreign observers believe that there is little chance that the escudo can be a workable currency in East Timor and doubt if Portugal, with its obligations to the euro, could support such a move. For the moment, the Indonesian rupiah remains in circulation.

The determination among the leadership, however, to speak Portuguese and possibly reintroduce Portuguese law to replace Indonesia's legal code will not be easily discouraged. But it is often forgotten that the final years in East Timor under the Portuguese were relatively relaxed, with a liberal political climate and virtually no racial discrimination.

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