Timor again (sorry Lou)

João Paulo Monteiro jpmonteiro at SPAMmail.telepac.pt
Sat Nov 20 04:43:07 MST 1999

James M. Blaut wrote:

> What I'm saying is:
> 1. I find it disturbing that you talk about Timorese with phrases like
> --Guzmao "a romantic and sentimental character,"
> --Beloved "to the point of worship,"
> --"The east-timorese are very sensitive to this kind of nobility
> and distinguish it with blind loyalty and ritual submission."
> --"They are kind of monarchic."
> --" these are cultural traits very difficult to eradicate."

I still have problems understanding what's so disturbing about these statements
(at least now you seem to be dropping the charges of psychoanalysis). Of
course, some of them - particularly the last three - would need further
developments. But that's the same with about anything one may say on any
subject. I can only renew my offer of exposing in some detail the traditional
organization of east-timorese society. I hope this won't be necessary, for it
will take me some time and I don't think it is absolutely indispensable to
understand in broad outline the political issues at stake today. Nicolau Lobato
(who, incidentally, was born into a timorese royal family) was most emphatic in
his struggle against the privileges of traditional chiefs, superstition and
ritualized reverences. I have had news that some members of the new leadership
are not so scrupulous on this regard.

After a bit of reflection, I think I know what made you so upset. You probably
abhor the good old entomology of the savages that goes by the name of
anthropology. Well, don't worry with me about that, for I have little of such
eurocentric arrogance. I believe each people has its own history, which
translates into a cultural memory, a certain set of institutions and acquired
social gestures. And some of them do indeed need eradication. (I'm not an
eurocentric "progressive" but I'm certainly not a conservationist either.) For
instance, I am very much interested in eradicating a most backward and
disgusting western custom that consists in exploiting the labor of other people
for the accumulation of private wealth. And the superstitions, fetichism and
ritual submission that go with it too.

> 2. When detailed information is provided to me on a complex political
> situation, I would like to know if the writer (a) knows what he or she is
> talking about and (b) is not giving me the view of some particular sect/or
> of the Left that would not be seen as factual by the Left in general. We
> are all sensitive to this problem from having read such accounts -- often
> very detailed -- in various party publications.

You want my party identity papers, is that it? I have none for a long time. I
have belonged to the Portuguese Communist Party from 1982 to 1987. The PCP was
not a sect. It was a mass party, hegemonic in the labor movement. It could
command up to 20% of the votes in national elections. I never belonged to a
sect and have no ideas of adhering to any. I'm an independent marxist, a
communist and a revolutionary in the tradition set by Lenin. Not a
"marxist-leninist". For what they are worth, I make my own political judgments
so on reading them you may be assured that it's all home-made, not pre-cooked
sectarian fast meals.

As for my sources of knowledge of east-timorese affairs, I'm probably much
privileged over you since I live in Portugal, where media attention is now
permanently focused on what's happening in that faraway island. I also draw on
books, naturally. Most of them strictly portuguese editions, but also some that
you can probably have access to. Try, for instance: John G. Taylor,
'Indonesia's forgotten war' or José Ramos-Horta, 'Tomorrow in Dili'. There are
also resources on the web, for instance at http://www.easttimor.com/ (with
links). Of the sources I have NOT consulted, the most authoritative seem to be
the ones Warwick Fry has mentioned: Jill Jolliffe and Geoffrey C. Gunn. There's
also J. S. Dunn. The bibliography is in fact vast.

You know, when you participate in a list such as 'Marxism', you just have to
decide for yourself, over time (and you have been here long enough), which are
the participants you find reliable and which are not. You don't go about asking
people "Who the fuck are you?", "What's your damn little sect?" and "What
you're saying seems to be bullshit, how can I be certain it is not?" This is
very bad netiquette. But I'm in a patient mood today.

> 3. What did you mean by "...is now urging Xanana Gusmao to please stop
> acting like Fidel Castro"?

Why don't you ask Mário Carrascalão? He is the author of the request and I have
little access to his  thoughts. To my judgment, Xanana is no Fidel. But
apparently his attachment for grass-roots mobilization and democratic discourse
is judged to be too radical by some.

> 4. You describe a bewildering number of political formations. Those of us
> who know relatively little about East Timor tend to think that FRETILIN is
> essentially the unitary liberation movement. Are we wrong?

Yes, you are wrong and I have explained this before.
The unitary liberation movement since 1981 is a broad front that now calls
itself the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT). It is composed
mainly of the two largest and oldest of east-timorese parties, the FRETILIN
(one time marxist-leninist, now left-of-center) and U.D.T. (right-wing). It has
always been the dream of Ramos-Horta to unify these two parties, who engaged in
a civil war back in 1975. It was finally done in exile over laborious

But there are political parties outside the CNRT too.
The Nationalist Party, led by Abílio Araújo, defended the indonesian proposed
autonomy in the referendum of August 30. Araújo now defends the portuguese as
official language of the new nation and the portuguese escudo or the indonesian
rupia as transitional currency. Nevertheless, he is nostalgically advocating an
"intransigent defense of the true independence proclaimed in November of 1975"
and animating a Popular Council for the Defense of the Democratic Republic of
East-Timor (CPD-RDTL). He is also making proposals for a very inclusive

The more hard-core pro-indonesians may make a come back as well. Next week
there will be a four day meeting of reconciliation in Singapore between the
CNRT and various integrationist leaders like Francisco Lopes da Cruz, Domingos
Soares, Armindo Mariano and João Tavares (a notorious militia leader).
Reconciliation with Indonesia is now very high on the agenda of the CNRT and
there is a very good atmosphere. Xanana Gusmão and José Ramos-Horta will be in
Jakarta on November 30 "to pay tribute to the wisdom and vision of Abdurrahman
Wahid and begin the process of reconciliation and rebuilding of relations".
Everybody in Dili seems to be enamorated with the new indonesian president
these days. I think this may be a good sign.

And there is the Socialist Party of Timor, of which I have already said about
all I know on several occasions.

> 5. It would help if you would call the people "Timorese" once in a while,
> insteadf of always calling them "East Timorese." Of course, in terms of
> modern political history the two parts of Timor are distinct, but I suspect
> that we should view Timor as a nation and be ready to support what will
> probably become a Timorese fight for a unified independent nation-state.

Completely out of the question. There may be pro-indonesians in East-Timor but
there are no pan-timorese in Western Timor to my knowledge. On the other hand,
the east-timorese don't have any irredentist claims to the rest of the island
and absolutely no interest in starting another fight with Indonesia.

In fact, this was one of the main sources of incomprehension of the
east-timorese struggle throughout these years. Why are these people fighting
for half an island? Isn't it absurd?

The western and eastern part of the island of Timor already had a distinct
ethnic make-up at the time of the arrival of the europeans, on the XVI century.
This is still visible today, on language, architecture, folklore, etc.. Of
course, the marked differences between dutch and portuguese colonization have
only exacerbated these original differences. It's not even mainly a question of
the different cultural imprints imposed by two very distinct european nations.
It's that the very different regimes of colonial domination have created
divergent in-built historical dynamics on the development of the timorese
social fabric, East and West. Over four centuries this has made quite a
difference. In most of Africa colonial domination lasted for a mere 80 years
and its frontiers are still considered untouchable.

João Paulo Monteiro

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