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Okay, now, all that aside, here is an article, which happens to be
tonight's ZNet Commentary, from Andre Vitchek.
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via the ZNet Sustainers Program. To learn more about that, see
East Timor - Indonesian Amnesia
By Andre Vltchek
Timor Leste: At 55 she looks shockingly old and frail. She lives in
Ermera - poor town lost in the green lush hills of East Timor -- Timor
Leste, the youngest country on earth. Of course she has a name, but it
is irrelevant to quote it here -- her fate is the same as that of so
many women of her land. I follow her with my eyes as she walks slowly to
the main street, to the market.
She looks more like a spirit than a living person. I was told that she,
as so many women of this land, had been gang raped by Indonesian
soldiers some twenty years ago. As if rape was not enough, she was
tortured, burned, humiliated. She survived, unlike so many others. As
tens of thousands of women of Timor Leste she lost her son and her
husband and her house.
After witnessing horrors of Indonesian occupation of East Timor several
times in the past, after being arrested and tortured myself for simply
trying to do my work -- to alert the world about the genocide - I
decided to return again to Ermera, to the area that witnessed some of
the fiercest resistance battles. I came to interview this woman, some
woman like her; to interview any woman that survived the horrors of the
occupation. But when I saw her in Ermera, I couldn't approach her, I
couldn't ask her to relive her past.
East Timor is free. It is living what can be described as "Year Zero".
It is still dirt poor, desperate, confused and in pain. Even combatants
of resistance get almost no help from the government. Recently, one of
the legendary commanders reduced to subsistent existence of selling
wood, drove to the house of the President Gusmao, almost running his
guards over and yelled: "Look at me, this is what I became. Buy my
wood". And Gusmao bought it with his own money and just stood there,
repeating to his former comrade in arms: "I don't know what to do. I am
a President, but what can I do?"
I had been asked by my Indonesian friends: "How is East Timor doing now?
With all that foreign aid they are getting, is the situation improving?"
This simple and innocent question shocked me. How can the nation that
lost over 30 percent of its population recover in two or three years?
And then I understood: 'They really don't know. They don't realize the
magnitude of the past extermination. They don't realize that the policy
of "transmigrasi" ("trans-migration", when those dead were 'replaced' by
the Muslims from Java and Sumatra and even Hindus from Bali) was in fact
an ethnic cleansing on enormous scale'.
Much bigger Chile lost during and after the coup 3 to 4 thousand people
and has still not fully recovered from the shock and nightmares of the
military dictatorship. And it is not expected to fully recover anytime
soon. If East Timor would be the size of Chile, it would proportionally
have lost over 5 million people.
"This country is being helped and to the certain extend controlled by
the foreigners", explain a student of political science. "We are
grateful to them, but they don't understand us. Their job is to make our
economy work, to establish our institutions as quickly as possible. But
this nation is still in shock, it is still in deep trauma. And people
who fought for our freedom - the soil and blood of this country - are
now close to starvation. Look at Indonesia.
When they won independence against Holland, Sukarno took to his
government and to the top military ranks those men who fought for
freedom, even if they were illiterate. Because he knew that his nation
trusted them and needed them. But when our resistance leaders come to
the UN people, they have to prove that they have "skills", that they
know how to read and how to write, that they speak the languages. There
are no emotions involved, no respect for our past."
Many former FRETILIN fighters still hold to their arms and recent riots
show how unstable is the situation. Called "extremist", a Marxist old
guard of FRETILIN is running for a head-clash with the present
government that is going out of its way to please its mighty neighbors
-- Indonesia and Australia -- and to reassure the United States that
there is no left-wing philosophy engraved in the present leadership of
In 2002 (then Presidential candidate) Gusmao explained to me that "a
good relationship with Indonesia is a priority". That 'people of East
Timor should forget the recent past and look into the future.' That they
should 'forgive'. In the meantime, Indonesia never put one single high
ranking official in prison for a substantial amount of time, in
connection with the genocide in East Timor. There has been no official
apology from Jakarta, not even one privately organized delegation from
Indonesia that would take pains of coming to Dili and offer condolences
to East Timorese people for what has been done to them.
With all due respect, President Gusmao is wrong. This sort of
"reconciliation" based on silence never worked. It was tried in
Argentina and in Chile after the dictatorship and it failed. It is an
obligation of the East Timorese government to demand an official apology
from Jakarta, to demand opening of the Indonesian archives and informing
the Indonesian public of the horrors their country inflicted on its
neighbors. Not for the purpose of revenge, but in order to help to heal
the wounds of those who were and are suffering tremendous injustice.
The truth about the past is almost as important for Indonesia as it is
for East Timor. Since 1965 when Indonesia endured massacres that took
between 500 thousand and one million human lives during the anti-Sukarno
coup led by the pro-Suharto military clique (which lied to Indonesia and
the world, claiming that it was fighting 'a Communist coup' that of
course never took place), successive Indonesian leaders have managed to
create myths and amnesia which are still plundering the nation's
intellectual well being. Lies about 1965 were followed by lies about
East Timor and later about Ambon, Iryan, Jaya, and Aceh.
It is insulting to tell East Timorese who survived rape, torture and
loss of their loved ones that they should forget and forgive. Even if
they would want to, they couldn't. Does anyone dare to say to Poles,
Russians, Yugoslavs, or the French right after the Second World War that
they should just "forget and forgive"? And they lost relatively lesser
amount of people than East Timorese. Could anyone be so cynical as to
tell Jews who survived the Holocaust that they should "just forget it,
forgive, and go on with their lives as if nothing really happened?"
And could they; could they ever forgive, after experiencing and
witnessing some of the most barbaric acts ever committed by mankind? My
Jewish friends who survived the Holocaust as children are still waking
up in the middle of the night. And they scream, covered by cold sweat.
And so do my East Timorese friends. And they still will twenty years,
fifty years from now.
My liberal Indonesian friends tend to endlessly repeat that in fact the
"East Timorese massacres would never happen if the United States
wouldn't give the green light to the invasion". True. The United States,
UK, Australia, all of us should live with the guilt for standing by, for
not intervening while the occupation took place, for encouraging
Indonesia to invade. We should speak about it, write about it as some of
us (though not enough of us) do.
But this time it was not the United States that did the actual killing,
raping, ethnic cleansing, and torturing. Should Soviets be blamed for
Nazism because Stalin ordered the Communist Party of Germany to withdraw
from the coalition with other leftists in an act that helped the
Fascists to win elections? To some extent, yes. But it was Germans who
were designing the crematoriums and camps and it was their army that
massacred tens of millions of men, women, and children.
The Indonesian people have to face up to their responsibilities. They
have to acknowledge their own past. Not only for the sake of their
victims in East Timor, but also for the sake of their own future. No
decent society can be built on lies. The past returns, it divides
nations, it haunts and eventually, if not faced honestly and with
dignity, it kills.
Until the crimes are acknowledged, until there is a sincere apology and
endless grief, until Indonesian children start learning at school that
their nation massacred the innocent people of a small nation that never
had a chance to resist but resisted nevertheless in one of the most
heroic acts of defiance known to history, the old woman from Ermera with
her back bent, will be climbing the hill, abandoned and forgotten,
alone. Her government can suggest a thousand times that she should
But the memory is all she has left; those whom she loved are all dead.
Each day that goes by, each day that cameras will be showing cynical
crimes of untouchable Wiranto and other Indonesian generals, she will be
descending deeper and deeper into her past, to her previous life
brutally interrupted twenty years ago. I was not brave enough to stop
her, too scared of the magnitude of pain that she was radiating.
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