I feel honoured and proud to be asked to reflect
on ETAN's 20th anniversary. How quickly time flies! During the
Resistance years, ETAN, John Miller and Charles Scheiner became
household names among the Timorese activists in the Diaspora.
It was indeed 20 years ago that I first heard of
ETAN. Following the Santa Cruz Massacre, friends of the late Kamal
Bamadaj, the Network of Overseas Students Association (NOSCA) and I
met at the office of the NSW Fretilin Committee to discuss
strategies and follow-up actions to raise public awareness and
maintain the pressure on the Australian Government. I remember
clearly that it was then that I was informed about a group of
Americans were contributing to an information sharing and
distribution service amongst the solidarity movement. It was called
an electronic distribution service begun by Tapol in Britain. For
me, this was the most important and effective tool of information
dissemination – it essentially closed the gap and brought the
solidarity movement and Timorese activists in the Diaspora together
to share our common goal.
This chain of news sharing proved not only to be invaluable
but the thought that we (the Timorese) still had people who cared when the whole
world seemed to be turning their back on or rather, betrayed us! Psychologically
and emotionally, it was a very powerful incentive and encouragement to keep
fighting, to keep pursuing our goal for self-determination.
I cannot recall exactly when (as I need to go
back to my files packed in a garage of a house in Sydney), but every
news article, opinion, political commentaries about East Timor that
appeared in the major newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald, The
Australian or in a magazine would also be published in reg.easttimor.
This type of work was time consuming, especially given that scanners
were virtually non-existent at that time. This information-sharing
network later expanded to reporting on every activity carried out by
Timorese activists, reports and outcomes of international campaigns
and conferences such as APCET (Asia Pacific Conference on East
Timor), the All Inclusive Intra-Timorese Dialogue (1995-1998) – all
these were posted on ‘reg.easttimor’ for distribution. Messages from
the leader of the National Resistance, Xanana Gusmão and CNRM’s
Special Representative abroad, Jose Ramos-Horta were also re-typed
and sent to ‘reg.easttimor’ for posting.
Equally, the ‘Matebian News’, an 8-12 page
monthly bulletin and ‘Radio Timor Oan’, and the 1-hour weekly Tetum
radio program produced by ETRA (East Timor Relief Association) would
also reproduced many of the news and articles published in ETAN’s
news list for the international and Timorese community in general.
The list was an essential ‘virtual community’ transcending borders
and technical limitations.
This chain of news sharing proved not only to be
invaluable but the thought that we (the Timorese) still had people
who cared when the whole world seemed to be turning their back on or
rather, betrayed us! Psychologically and emotionally, it was a very
powerful incentive and encouragement to keep fighting, to keep
pursuing our goal for self-determination.
I hope that one day this extremely vital piece of
work will make it to the National Archives of Timor-Leste for future
generations to know about how this young Nation came to be where it
is today. How the persistence and determination of ordinary people
all around the world helped to realize our dream for freedom and
I would also like to extend my gratitude to ETAN
(East Timor Alert Network) Canada , especially Kerry Pither whose
energy surpassed human capacity. Without the support, hard work and
solidarity of Kerry and the rest of her team, our ‘Team Timor’ (1997
campaign in Canada) would not have been successful. Their tireless
work and campaigning kept our flame for freedom alive throughout
Canada – in the newspapers, television, and public forums.
As a Nation, we are not only facing new
challenges but also opening new chapters in our history. Without a
doubt, ETAN will continue to play an important role in this journey.
Thank you, ETAN, for your solidarity! Thank you
for believing in our struggle!
Last but not least, I hope to one day be able to
finally meet John Miller.
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Read Noam Chomsky on 20 years of ETAN