[TimorLesteStudies] Article: Fragments of Utopia: Popular Yearnings in East Timor

Jenny Jennifer.Drysdale at anu.edu.au
Tue May 5 11:04:49 EST 2009

Article: Fragments of Utopia: Popular Yearnings in East Timor
Douglas Kammen

Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 40(2) , pp. 305-408, June 2009

Six months after the historic August 1999 
referendum in which the people of East
Timor voted to reject Indonesia’s offer of broad 
autonomy, the newly appointed chief
of the United Nations Transitional Administration 
in East Timor, Sérgio Vieira de
Mello, commented to CNN on the enormous challenge of setting the territory on
the road to independence: ‘It is a test case, 
therefore it is even a laboratory case
where we can transform utopia into reality. But I 
think we can try and get it right
in the case of Timor.’1 After 24 years of brutal 
military occupation, the suggestion
that East Timor was to be a laboratory case for 
the United Nations might have seemed
insulting, the notion of utopia absurd. Hundreds 
of thousands of people were without
housing. Basic infrastructure lay in ruins. 
Commodities were scarce and those goods
available were sold at grossly inflated prices. 
Eleven thousand foreign troops had
arrived to restore security. Tens of thousands of 
refugees were still living in squalid
camps across the border in Indonesian West Timor, many against their will.
Nevertheless, Vieira de Mello’s statement neatly 
captured the twin aspirations of
the time — the independence long-dreamed of by 
East Timorese and the opportunity
for the United Nations literally to build a state 
from the ground up. In the same CNN
report, East Timorese Nobel Laureate José Ramos-Horta emphasised precisely this
point: ‘This is the first instance in the history 
of the UN that the UN has managed
completely an entire country; and they have a 
[Timorese pro-independence] movement
that is very cooperative, they have an exceptional people that’s cooperating
with them, so they cannot fail. They are condemned to succeed because failure
would be disastrous for the credibility of the 
UN, so they simply cannot afford to
fail.’2 Utopia, it seems, had become a necessity.
The classical utopias – often set on islands at 
the edge of the known world – were
imagined as social orders where material want has 
been overcome and the inhabitants
are free to pursue personal expression and mental 
pleasures. The most famous of all
utopias is the work of Sir Thomas More, published 
in 1516, which is narrated by a
fictional Portuguese traveller named Rafael 
Hythloday. Five years earlier, of course,
Portuguese ships had reached the great emporium 
of Malacca on the Malay peninsula,
from where ships were sent to learn the routes to 
the fabled spices of the Molucca...

Please consider the environment before printing this email
Dr Jennifer Drysdale
Pacific Economic Post-Doctoral Fellow, Crawford 
School of Economics and Government
Moderator, Timor-Leste Studies Association List www.tlstudies.org
Mobile 0407 230 772
Email Jennifer.Drysdale at anu.edu.au
Personal Website www.jenniferdrysdale.com

Post-doctoral research:
Institutional adaptation to volatile oil prices
This research will examine the way Vanuatu has 
responded to changes in world energy prices 
through policy and institutional means.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.anu.edu.au/pipermail/easttimorstudies/attachments/20090505/8801d907/attachment-0001.html 

More information about the Easttimorstudies mailing list