[TimorLesteStudies] Abstract: Trindade: An Ideal State for East Timor: Reconciling the Conflicting Paradigms

Bu Wilson Bu.Wilson at anu.edu.au
Tue Feb 19 18:01:12 EST 2008

Trindade, J. 2008.An Ideal State for East Timor:Reconciling the Conflicting
Paper delivered at Democratic Governance in Timor-Leste: Reconciling the
National and the Local Conference, Charles Darwin University, Darwin 7-8
February 2008

Copies available from author, Josh Trindade:   trindade.josh at gmail.com  

Or soon to be posted on CDU conference website


"The upsurge of ethnic conflict means that we need to reassess our
understanding of nationalism. It had been widely assumed that the capacity
of nation state was strong enough to resist the ethnic challenges, but it
suddenly become conventional wisdom to assert the impeding demise, or at
least the crisis, of the nation-state" (David Brown, 1998) [1]

Before 1999 East Timor was a 'nation without state' (Borgerhoff 2006:
102)[2]. Twenty-four years of resistance to the Indonesian occupation
unified the country's diverse population. This sense of unity thrugh
struggle and being historically distinct from Indonesia, contributed to
achieving Independence in 2002.  As of 2006, East Timor looked very much
like a "state without a nation."  The Timorese sense of nation and state
appeared to fragment, being replaced by competing and divisive narratives
about the past, and a strong sense of exclusion and frustration. In the
process of nation-building, key groups in society felt excluded and were
looking for a sense of belonging elsewhere than the state. Prior to
Independence, a national identity was build and based on resistance to
occupation (Scanteam 2007) and colonialism. Evidence shows that this
constructed identity has divided Timorese society and triggered the 2006

This paper will argue that, in order to make the state work for the people,
it is not too late to develop and introduce new concepts and ideas that
facilitate the population to have shared values, common identity and
understandings based on existing culture,[3] traditions, history and social

This paper will discuss how the formation of the nation-state in 2002
ignored some of the vital elements of Timorese social structure, culture and
traditions that still influence the daily life of contemporary Timorese
citizens. This paper also put forward the argument that the manner in which
East Timor is building a state is like that of a house being built on sand.
The country has no spirit or soul and is like a walking corpse; inanimate,
yet alive.[4]As a state, East Timor remains fragile and what is needed is a
strong foundation that is rooted deeply in its people's common beliefs and
shared cultural values, which will enable the population to remain cohesive
and live together under one nation. Therefore, in the context of East Timor,
we may need to reassess our understanding of nationalism and the wide
assumption that the capacity of this nation-state was strong enough to
resist internal and external challenges.

The first part of this paper will discuss the Timorese understanding of
nationalism using Anderson's (1991) 'Imagined Communities'. Part two will
analyze conflicting paradigms between modern versus traditional concepts of
political power and legitimacy. It well as discuss the flaws within the
nation-state formation process from 1999 - 2002. Part three will question
'East Timor's national identity', and final part four put forward action on
how to reconcile the conflicting paradigms between the modern idea of a
nation-state and traditional structures and its belief systems, including
how the state of East Timor would look like after the reconciliation process
is completed.

Bu Wilson
Regulatory  Institutions Network (RegNet) 
College of Asia and the Pacific, RSPAS
Australian National University 
Canberra   ACT   0200 

T: 02 6125 3194 
F: 02 6125 1507
M: 0407 087 086 
E: Bu.Wilson at anu.edu.au


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