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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Ditch the myths

May the myths continue to fall:

"Australia wanted East Timor to remain an Indonesian province and the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, lobbied Jakarta to delay a vote for independence, a report to the United Nations has found.

"East Timor's truth and reconciliation commission has been collecting evidence from thousands of witnesses for the past three years about Indonesia's takeover of the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

"It also makes special mention of the more recent role of Mr Downer before the vote for independence in 1999. It says he lobbied Indonesia to delay the poll because it was in Australia's interests for East Timor to remain part of the archipelago.

"'The commission finds that, even when [the Indonesian president B.J.] Habibie was moving towards his decision to offer the East Timorese a choice between remaining part of Indonesia and independence…[Mr] Downer made it clear that his government believed it should be several years before the East Timorese exercised their right to make that choice and that it would be preferable…if Timor-Leste remained legally part of Indonesia.'"

Dr Clinton Fernandes, author of "Reluctant Saviour", has long known that the myth of the Howard government's "liberation" of East Timor deserved greater scrutiny. Indeed, the government encouraged Indonesia's brutal suppression of East Timor until the very last minute, until massive public outcry forced a change of policy.


Blogger Edward Mariyani-Squire said...

The traditional story is that the Indo govt was dragged kicking and screaming out of East Timor. This story is very strange because it terms the traditional story on its head: that DFAT was having to lobby the highest levels of the Indo government to not walk out. It almost sounds absurd.

The best explanation, I suppose, lies with the "Jakarta Lobby" in the federal bureaucracy. I always thought that because Soeharto was pretty much the linch-pin to everything in Indonesia (and the Lobby's influence derived in large part to not only the Soeharto administration but Soeharto the man), the Jakarta Lobby would loose its relevance. Obviously I thought wrong. Bizarrely, it seems as if DFAT was arguing for a position that was perfectly aligned with the Soeharto position even though Soeharto was no longer there. (It reminds me of a sci-fi movie where the computers goo on, business as usual, long after their human masters have expired.)

Incidently, A.L., Scott Burchill (a good Indonesia specialist) draws an interesting parallel:

"To the extent that Indonesia under Suharto became a "special case" for Australia, the Canberra-Jakarta axis parallels the Washington-Tel Aviv relationship which developed at around the same time. In both instances a small minority of highly influential people started lobbying their own government (often from within it) to protect and further the interests of another which illegally occupied adjacent land (East Timor, Palestine).

The strategies of both lobbies included -

* protecting each state from criticism and scrutiny (downplaying human rights violations in occupied territories (Santa Cruz, Jenin), portraying state terrorism as self-defence, silence on WMD programs, attributing atrocities orchestrated by senior state officials to middle management or "rogue elements");

* exaggerating their strategic vulnerability (Indonesia's fragmentation, "tiny Israel" - armed with WMD - surrounded by hostile neighbours - conventionally armed);

* providing diplomatic protection at the UN (Whitlam's visit to UN, Washington's Security Council veto);

* recognising the acquisition of territory by force and denying rights to self-determination (Canberra's de jure recognition of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, Bush's recognition of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the denial of refugees' right of return);

* portraying critics of the governments in Jakarta and Tel Aviv as being motivated by racism (anti-Indonesian, anti-Semitic); and

* accepting, despite global trends heading the opposite way, the militarisation of politics as legitimate (TNI in politics, former generals as heads of Indonesian and Israeli governments, the brutality of their military in occupied territories - Aceh, West Papua, Palestine, Lebanon)."

Friday, February 03, 2006 2:46:00 am  
Blogger boredinHK said...

Edward ,
I have a few questions on this -

Was Habibie acting as a lone, loose canon when he gave the decison for the east timorese to have a vote on independence? What might have been his motivation in changing the stance of Jakata?

Apart from oil and gas ( this may render the question void ) what were the factors which were considered so important that successive Australia governments aided the colonisation of the archipeligo by the javanese? Was it cold war style fear of communism? I have never been able to understand why the ALP was so close to the Soeharto regime.

If anyone can explain the pig farm investments/Keating's role and subsequent bruhaha I'd love to hear about that too!

Saturday, February 04, 2006 4:55:00 pm  

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