[Easttimorstudies] regional tensions

Helen M Hill helenh at alphalink.com.au
Sun May 28 01:26:57 EST 2006

I think we need to be wary of equating regional tensions with ethnic tensions, as Alex Tilman said recently in an ETSA email, 
Timorese from various districts intermarry and this has gone on for a long time. Not only there is marriage between the various districts, Timorese has also accepted marriages with people outside of TL, e.g. intermarriage with Indonesians, Chinese, Portuguese, Arabs, Indians, Australians, etc. A good example of this is from the leadership itself. President Xanana is married to an Australian. Taur Matan Ruak of Baucau is married to Isabel Ferreira from Same. Lu Olo is married to a woman from Atauro. The late Vicente Reis of Baucau is married to a woman from Ermera. Abel Ximenes, one of the ministers and a senior leader in FRETILIN is married to a woman from Bazartete (Liquica), sister of Nicolau Lobato's wife. Fernando Lasama of PD is married to an Australian/Filipino woman. George Teme, former ambassador to Australia is married to an Indonesian woman, as well as the minister of public works, Ovidio. PD's leaderhsip is composed of both lorosae and loromonu: Fernando is from Ainaro, Mariano Sabino is from Lospalos. FRETILIN itself is no different: Lu Olo from Ossu (Baucau), Mari Alkatiri from Dili, Rogerio Lobato from Bazartete, Ana Pessoa from Bobonaro, Jose Reis from Baucau, etc. The heads of the Timorese catholic church are both from Aileu and Ainaro (I am not so sure about this, but both men are from loromonu districts) with many of its senior priests coming from various districts. In the government itself, the composition is mixed with people from various districts. 
That said, there is still a regional component to Timorse politics partly due to the different ways that different parts of the country were treated by the colonial powers. e.g. Tetum speaking areas were converted earlier to the Catholic Church as priests were more likely to learn that language, according to Geoffrey Gunn. 

According to some of the NGOs who specialise in 'conflict transformation' e.g. Kadalak Sulumutuk Institute, the Indonesians tried very hard to promote 'horizontal violence' between Bunaq and Kemaq speakers for example, and between other language groups. None of this worked as long as the Indonesian occupiers were there as the main focus was on securing independence.  Now of course its a different matter and we are possibly seeing some of the fruits of their attempts. 

While there is a simple geographical component to the claims by the  Westerners, i.e. it costs them more to go home for the weekend and they get paid the same as the Easterners, there is also an identity component to it, albeit a bit of an articifical component as the Firaku (easterners) were stereotyped as the ones who fought back and the Kaledi (westerners) as those who were passive. The creation of the concept of Maubere and Buibere by Horta in the 1970s was designed to overcome this 'firaku' and 'kaledi' distinction, now described as Loromonu and Lorosae.  The dropping of the word 'Maubere' from the CNRM making it the CNRT on the eve of independence was an ominous sign. (I heard that some UDT people didn't like it because 'Maubere' was what they used to call their servants). However just as Timor was ditching the term, the Portuguese were publishing posters of Maubere poets in the Post Offices and other government buildings. The recently formed Maubere Study Group is a group of young NGO activists and university people who would like to see the concept of Maubere return as a unifying term.  Unfortunately now it seems to be regarded as a Fretilin only term. 

What is particularly worrying is the transfer of the regional disputes, or the regional interpretations of discrimination claims, from the army to society at large.  This is where programmes of public civic education on the radio and good Timorese history in the schools are desparately needed because this rivalry has to some extent been artificially created by troublemakers, or 'conflict entrepreneurs' as they are called in the Solomon Islands, .i.e. people who very cleverly engineer conflicts along lines advantageous to their own purposes. 

In the introduction to my yet to be published book I have written a bit about how different discourses have emerged and become predominant at different times in the struggle,  these are the 'identity' discourse, the 'human rights' discourse, the 'governance' discourse the 'development' discourse and finally the 'security' discourse.  The emergence of the East-West divide brings back the identity discourse which was the major one during the struggle, the governance discourse is of course the one the Australian government wants everyone to the focus on and the development discourse is the hardest of all to get people to really think about but one which Alkatiri has been really pushing.  Now with all these troops coming in and comparisons being made with Solomon Islands it will be the security discourse which will prevail over the others from the Australian point of view, but what about the Timorese point of view, will they ever be allowed to develop their country or do we just want them to remain dependent on Australia?  Watching the TV coverage of Timor today gave me a scary feeling of Rwanda where people from two articificially defined tribes killed each other after living peacably side by side previously, because they were brainwashed into it by someone else.  WHo is behind this East-West divide ideology?  I was in TImor in December 2002 when the student demonstration turned violent, its eventual outcome was to bring Xanana and Alkatiri together as both wanted to defend the institutions of the new state against the violent ones.  Now its different, whoever is behind it is trying to split the President and the Prime Minister and with it all the other institutions of Timorese politics. 

Helen Hill
Victoria University 

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.anu.edu.au/pipermail/easttimorstudies/attachments/20060528/f9497d4f/attachment.html

More information about the Easttimorstudies mailing list