In honour of those everywhere who dare to see and act, in memory of those who die fighting when it would be so much easier not to fight at all.
This will be a brief description of the history of East Timor since the 1940's (it is quite violent, the images are very graphic and may be copyrighted).
East Timor was a Portuguese colony for many, many years. During World War II it was invaded by the Australians, who sought to build a resistance network. The came the Japanese with their concentration camps, leaving 60.000 dead behind and many more scarred for life (no one ever heard of it. East timor does not have oil, or any that is available to countries other than Australia, shall we say).
Portugal never really paid much attention to East Timor either, other colonies being more profitable. It was, however, very handy as a penal colony and many dissidents from the Salazar regime were shipped there. There weren’t any basic infrastructures till the 70’s, if I’m not mistaken, so it wasn’t pleasant - that being the whole point of a penal colony, I expect.
(Salazar, by the way, was a dictator in power for nearly 40 years. It was a terrible time, a shameful one. People were arrested and tortured, raped and robbed of their dignity in a multitude of ways, sent to prisons in the continent and in the colonies. Many were exiled, many chose to. People were afraid, families were divided, it was easy to rat on someone because they annoyed you, our secret police, PIDE (may God spit on all of them!), not being very picky or honour-bound. When the April Revolution - The Carnation Revolution because one woman selling flowers started placing carnations in the barrel of the guns - happened (April 25th, 1974, in a coup organised by the military, with almost no blood spill), my mother and my father went out to join the thousands of others gathered on the streets trying to get information, not daring to believe it was true, but she went back to hug me once more - I was a todller - because she did not know whether she would return. Corny? You bet. Death often is.)
PIDE also exiled Timorese who dared to be nationalists. I’m not sure where they were shipped to, probably one of the African colonies, to one of those tiny tin prisons where you baked in the sun till you almost lost your mind. After the revolution, we abruptly left and left chaos and mayhem behind, as we were wont to do. Just file it away, brave Lusitano, not your concern anymore. Who cares if the ex-colonies were unprepared to govern themselves with no transition whatsoever? Our Colonial War was raging, for no good reason other than people wanting to have the right to decide what happens in their own country and dictators having a small problem with that.
The Timorese were given the choice between independence and annexation to Indonesia. Sadly, Australia immediately sided with annexation. Australia’s behaviour re East Timor has been shameful no matter how you look at it, which is a pity. (I like Australians. They seem extraordinarily sane and strong, and they are direct as hell. Then again, there's the Aborigines issue, which may be seen as a hint. But God forbid I should judge the Portuguese as a whole by what Portugal chooses to do. Or vice-versa.) Anyway, Indonesia decided they owned East Timor. The Timorese resisted for decades, with little resources. The Indonesians had no qualms about setting forests on fire to to prevent the guerrilheiros from hiding, pouring napalm - yes, you read right, Vietnam is a state of mind - on them and on villages full of harmless peasants, men, women and kids, they raped women, tortured the Timorese, decepated heads that were then paraded through other villages to work as deterrents.
http://www.angelfire.com/pe/Timor/ - very graphic images
The US Jewish Congress found the genocide in East Timor to have been the greatest one of the XXth century (considering population proportions) right after the Nazi one. Some investigators say it goes beyond that, reaching about 45%.
On November 12th 1991 the Indonesian Army opened fire on a crowd gathered at the Dili cemetery of Santa Cruz to pay homage to a student, Sebastião Gomes, killed by Indonesians. The crowd was unarmed. 200 were killed there and then, many more were caught and murdered during the manhunt that took place the following days and nights - and that included raiding the Military Hospital. 271 in total. The images of the massacre travelled the world and for a while it seemed as though the world cared.
For events narrated by a survivor, go to: http://www.uc.pt/timor/stc2.htm East Timor is now independent but all is not well. To find out more about it and what you can do, see
: http://www.etan.org/ ;
I have met some Timorese through work with Amnesty International. I have met some of the survivors of the Dili Massacre. Let me tell you about the Timorese. Imagine this: you live in terror. You work for the liberation of your country and are constantly afraid for your life. Worse: you live in fear that they will get to your family because of your activities. Or just because. You may not be involved in anything “subversive”. You don’t have to be involved in anything to be killed, the only good East Timorese being a dead one. You are wounded and almost die but you don’t; you manage to elude the police and hide; or you are taken into Bishop Belo's house and reach a hospital where you are treated (even if it means amputation without anaesthetics, at least you'll live). You see members of your family, friends, teachers be killed in front of your eyes, you see them Disappear never to be heard from again. You manage to get out of the country, mostly to Australia and Portugal. You leave everything behind. Everything. You cannot get in touch with your family, your friends. You don’t know how they are. You don’t know if they still are. You were a lawyer, a doctor, a student. You come to Portugal and you have to start from scratch. No studies equivalence. No home. No support network. And you still have to learn the language which is very, very hard (the romanic equivalent of German, I would say).
But the Timorese… they make one want to cry. I so admire their bravery, their dignity. They stand even when forced to blindly navigate the limbo. They are so strong, they are so gentle, they are so worthy. Humbling. They will sit with you and matter-of-factly talk about what happened, their losses, their hopes. They grieve but they never whine. And they smile. And their smiles light up whole rooms the way you read in books.