Monday, June 05, 2006

The Costs Of Nationhood. Timor Leste.

The newpapers and cable news are packed with scenes and reports from Timor Leste. But I'm not going to talk about Timor Leste. I'm going to talk about the concept that Timor Leste has the misfortune of being the latest poster child for.

That's the concept of nationhood in "countries" that shouldn't be countries at all.


Timor Leste was a poor, sparsely populated country with no economy to speak of. Throughout the Indonesian occupation, it's economy was essentially imported and propped up. After an extended period of revolt against the Indonesia, Timor Leste gained independence in 1999. It was nowhere near a prosperous place to begin with, and that period of fighting left it even poorer, fully dependent on foreign aid. How many schools did they have? How many people were literate and employed? What kind of social and economic infrastructure did they have?

Nonetheless, the native and foreign power brokers saw it fit to proclaim a new country. Without working out the day-to-day bread and butter issues, the Timorese were left to their own devices.


I don't believe that Timor Leste possesses a population that can fully grasp the concept of nationhood and the accompanying complications - much less produce outstanding individuals and bodies that can run a country. What do they know of government, elections, democracy, self determination, minority rights etc? What kind of political infrastructure did they have? Did they have the bureaucratic and public service delivery systems in place? A system of political representation? A system of basic education?

Without political and social maturity, the infrastructure of good government and the resources of a viable economy - such an immature population succumbs easily to the natural instinct to divide themselves along racial, religious or socio-economic lines. Even in the most homogenous of populations, some sort of "us & them" division will develop between the different sections of the population. The differences can be real or imagined or fostered by those who are greedy for influence. And in all cases, this primitive need for division leads to instability and a struggle of influence.

What was different when the Indonesians were there? The citizens of Timor Leste were just as immature then, if not more so.

True. But the difference was that the Indonesia represented a MOTHER ENTITY that forcibly suppressed these differences and in effect, focused the population's attention on the Indonesian occupation rather than on division amongst themselves. In a sense, Indonesian occupation united them, overwhelming their instinct to fight amongst themselves. This was also true of the former Soviet Union and its numerous breakaway republics. The huge problems that they faced (and are still facing in some parts) after achieving nationhood are reminiscent of what's happening now in Timor Leste.

I have no idea how to fix Timor Leste's problems, so but I do know that a politically immature population such as theirs will only recognise the persuasion of raw power. They need guns pointing at their slingshots and only then, will they comply. So, will we see a long term Australian occupying force? Back to square one?

There is also trouble brewing on other fronts that might lead to the same consequences if these separatist movements ever gain independence. Let's see:

- Acheh province in Indonesia's North Sumatera
- The northern part of Sri Lanka occupied by the Tamil Tigers
- The majority Muslim Mindanao, in mainly Catholic Philippines
- The majority Muslim south of mainly Buddhist Thailand
- The many ethnically and culturally disparate regions of China if the communists ever lose power

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