Sunday, April 02, 2006

# Posted 5:02 PM by Patrick Porter  

POVERTY BUT PEACE: In 1999, the East Timorese voted for their national independence. Presumably as a strategy to deter other members of the Indonesian archipelago from breaking away, marauding Indonesian militias went on a rampage, with the winking complicity of the Indonesian government. Now that they are no longer under the heel of domination and terror, life is still very hard. There is widespread disease, poverty and joblessness, punctuated by occasional flare-ups of tension and violence between native soldiers and the government. But for many people, the fear at least has subsided:

"Are people happier now? Yes. In the Indonesian time people were frightened … numb with fright," Dr Murphy says.
"Now people go to the drinking wells and talk. Even though they don't have a lot and life is a struggle they are not under anybody's boot. But the problems continue despite people gaining their freedom."
Its a reminder of how modest and incremental relief from misery can be. Sigmund Freud once claimed that the purpose of psychoanalysis was to shift a sufferer from psychic illness to 'ordinary unhappiness.' So far, the peacekeeping operation has not worked wonders or alleviated material deprivation. But compared to the waves of machete-wielding gangs six years ago, a lapse into ordinary unhappiness, where they can talk mostly without fear, is something.
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

I have never been to E. Timor, but I did spend a week in W. Timor a year after the split and the Indonesians haven't forgiven and they haven't forgotten. I love Indonesia, I've spent about 4 months there over the past 8 years, (I know, I have barely begun to scratch the surface) and I really like the vast majority of the people I meet there, but they really do see the central government (and Bahasa Indonesia) as being the way to elevate the Indonesian peoples from a pack of squabbling islands (8,000+) with different languages (literally hundreds), religions and outlooks into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. I think the Australian gov't has done a fair job of alleviating some of the worst aspects of the Indonesian policies in E. Timor and Papua New Guinea while keeping Indonesian anger about foreign 'meddling' to a level which is merely red-hot, rather than volcanic. That having been said, I really don't know of how E. Timor is going to really rally unless one of two relatively unlikely things happen. One, their coffee might get popular due to their underdog status and the fact that it is organically grown. Or, two, their government won't waste the money from the oil deal between Australia and E. Timor that will be pouring money into the government coffers. My bet is that though unlikely, the coffee namebranding is more likely to actually help the Timorese people.
A very interesting observation in the first comment about central governments assuming the role of nation-builders, uniting different peoples. I see similar sentiments expressed in India all the time. The problems occur when the efforts at nation building are heavy-handed and achieved through centralization. Regions or states attempting to gain more control or to leave the union are discouraged at any cost. The states and regions that are close to the core of the country are fed with large quantities of nationalism and nationalism-inspired propaganda to gain their support and assistance in keeping the country together. The results can be very ugly.
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