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East Timor Lessons : Mourn, Worry, Organize - and Celebrate Michael Albert, ZNet

September 23, 1999

The escalated carnage in East Timor in the past few weeks warrants great sorrow, and despite Mother Jones's motivational advice "don't mourn, organize," people rightfully mourn.

The Indonesians knew when they sanctioned a referendum months back, that the future of East Timor was going to escape their control. So one wonders, why would they cap a quarter century of horrible violence aimed at annexing East Timor with another paroxysm of violence now that annexation was no longer in the cards? Well, imagine the people of East Timor dancing in the streets and waving the Indonesian Army out of East Timor, all videoed far and wide. Imagine the inspiration that would that lend to the nationalists and democracy advocates of the provinces and even the capital of Indonesia.

So instead of that, the Indonesian military decided that independence ought to be drenched in blood. The image should be, instead of joy, suffering-and instead of liberation, devastation. The message they wished to communicate was that the Generals are not suddenly pushovers, not suddenly timid. Instead, cross us and the price you will pay will be astronomical. So the East Timorese who have died lately did so as a kind of reverse greeting card to the Indonesian people, and that does indeed merit sorrow and mourning. And of course it's gut-wrenching that the people of East Timor could have had their independence long ago and at far less a human cost if only the United States and its major allies had not placed profits and strategic advantage above human rights, self-determination, and decency.

More, it is also warranted to worry and fret about East Timor's future. The image of Australian peacekeepers intervening to prevent more carnage and of U.S. diplomats talking about ending the violence and helping the suffering people is so hypocritical that it takes one's breath away. After twenty five years of overt and covert support for the subjugation of the East Timorese, and up to the very last minute restraint in applying sanctions precisely to abet sending the violent message noted above, then the Aussies and Americans, acting under pressure from dissenters, claim credit for being concerned. It is stomach turning, but what is worse, it warrants concern.

Remember Haiti, where the U.S. protected the citizenry from violence, again after having supported their violent subjugators as agents of U.S. interests for decades? And then remember how the U.S. pushed and cajoled and forced the liberation of Haiti into subordination to the IMF and the international market and its vast corporate agendas? Well, with Aussie soldiers (whose country covets the Timor Gap oil fields) and U.S. diplomats (whose agenda is always American interests uber alles) seeking to mold the independence of East Timor into a new subordination, there is plenty to worry about, for sure.

And naturally, worried, we should organize.

The Timorese need continued support to get aid to withstand rampant starvation induced by the latest Indonesian violence and also to ward off continued violence in outlying areas and particularly in West Timor, directed at refugees. Our resistance is based on a simple logic. Dissent creates a situation in which the price of persisting in oppressive policies is greater to their perpetrators then bringing those policies to an end.

Grassroots activism threatens to expand consciousness and obstruct agendas more widely, and so the U.S. government begins to wash its hands of overt support for Indonesian violence, and then to finally tell the Indonesians they must stop the brutality or suffer the consequences. The Indonesians weigh the potential losses of continued pursuit of annexation against their potential gains, and finally relent. Getting aid delivered to the East Timorese and blocking the machinations of the Aussies and Americans involves the same logic, and dissent is therefo! re not at an end.

But perhaps the hardest thing to realize is that we ought to celebrate.

Amidst the mourning, the worry, and the activism, what gets lost and dropped from view is that there has been a great victory that deserves to be extolled and celebrated. It is a victory for the people of East Timor and their unrelentingly courageous opposition to subjugation. Their struggle was from the base up, and it shows, again, that the people united are truly a formidable force.

At the same time, the people united, but unseen and unheard, would have a very hard time prevailing. The honest journalists, writers, and especially activist organizers creating groups like ETAN in the U.S. and its counterpart efforts in Australia and various parts or Europe and Asia, and the broader populaces that have in turn been moved to protest, have also contributed to this victory, also have reason to celebrate, and also evidence by their actions the power of even widely disparate and resource-poor resistance if it is well informed, steadfast, energetic, and honest.

It is a vicious fact of the world we live in that almost all victories for justice and liberation will remain, until there are fantastic and basic transformations of underlying power relations, also times of mourning, worry, and need for further unrelenting activism. But still, we should not let that cause us to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. The fact that the price of independence was high, that the hypocrisy of the oppressors is still rife, and that dangers still abound for the people of East Timor, doesn't negate that it was a magnificent achievement to free East Timor.

Link to main East Timor page

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