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East Timor – Indonesian Amnesia


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.

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?”

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 forget.

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