Archive Article: Hope From East Timor. 5 Oct 01.
January 4, 2009
At a time when the world is still in such a state of shock over the tragedy in the United States, it is refreshing to have some optimistic news of hope – especially from a location that has seemed so hope-less for so long.
Last weekend I was in Brisbane as a speaker at the National Conference of Oxfam Community Aid Abroad entitled “Surviving and Thriving in a World of Conflict”. Another speaker was Jose Ramos Horta, now the Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs and Co-operation in the new Cabinet in East Timor.
The speech by Jose Ramos Horta was very inspiring. First, the mere fact that he was speaking once again as Foreign Minister was an inspiration in itself. The first time that I met him was when he visited Australia just prior to the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor, when he was the foreign minister in the new (and temporary) government that had just been proclaimed in East Timor.
The Indonesian invasion stopped all that – and the Indonesian military went to conduct (in percentage terms) one of the worst mass murders of the 20th Century. Australia and the United States were accessories to that murder. But despite all that suffering, East Timor is back on track for independence – and Jose Ramos Horta has just been appointed Foreign Minister.
Jose Ramos Horta is a member of the Government elected in the August 30 Constituent Assembly election. This is another source of hope. Foreign media commentators were predicting violence – but none took place. Foreign observers agreed that it was a fair election. The major party throughout the East Timorese struggle for independence has been Fretilin (the Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of East Timor). It did not do as well as it thought it would in the election (with 58 per cent of the vote) but it has abided by the decision. The new Government is a coalition.
The new Chief Minister and Minister of Economy and Development is Mari bin Amude Alkatiri. He is a Moslem, descended from the Arab traders who have operated in the region for centuries. The country is overwhelmingly Christian (with Buddhism the next largest religion, with about three or four per cent of the population, drawn mainly from the people of Chinese descent). As Jose Ramos Horta noted last Saturday, how many other Christian countries have a Moslem prime minister? Or, for that matter, how many Moslem countries have a Christian prime minister?
Finally, with such a prevailing international atmosphere of hatred and vengeance, once again East Timor is setting a good example. Despite all the appalling violence against the East Timorese by the Indonesian military, there has not been a savage outpouring of violence against the Indonesians. There is no racism. The East Timorese are only too well aware that the Indonesian people have themselves been victims of the Indonesian Government and the corrupt politicians who have governed the country (with support from Australia). Suharto treated everyone equally – he punished anyone who opposed him be they Indonesian or East Timorese or whatever.
To conclude, East Timor continues to amaze the world with its example of peaceful transition, reconciliation and progress.
BROADCAST ON FRIDAY 5TH OCTOBER 2001 ON RADIO 2GB’S “BRIAN WILSHIRE PROGRAMME” AT 9 PM, AND ON 7TH OCTOBER 2001 ON “SUNDAY NIGHT LIVE” AT 10.30 PM.