Pressure Groups: The Contribution of Young People to the Reconstruction of East Timor

João da Silva Sarmento

 Coordinator, Student Solidarity Council


“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it”


(George Moore, Philosopher)


Last Saturday in the cold city of Davos, Switzerland (Sunday morning in East Timor), the World Economic Form held its annual meeting, which was attended by approximately 3000 business and world political leaders. However, the meeting was coloured by protests held by anti-globalisation protesters.


Four cars were burnt, several demonstrators were arrested and demonstrators were tortured by the police with tear gas, water, and rubber bullets. The demonstrators shouted anti-globalisation slogans such as “Justice, Not Profits!” and “Wipe Out the WEF!”. Demonstrators from all over Europe streamed into Switzerland, and it is thought that protests will only become more violent and tense.


Such protests are part of a whole range of anti-globalisation protests that have occurred in; Seattle in the United States, Prague, Finland, Melbourne Australia (S11), and in several other cities in recent years.


I know about all of this not because I went travelling around the world in my dreams last night, but because the world has already become a “global village” which means that whatever occurs in any part of the world will be known. The fever of the wind of globalisation is now spreading everywhere.

As a result of globalisation, the rich are becoming richer, and the poor are becoming poorer. Global inequality is one of the evils that is opposed by the demonstrators in the above example. We can see the same situation if we take a quick look at the recent development of East Timor. Small examples that can be given include security staff, interpreters, teachers and others, who are paid differently under the labels of local versus international.


The culture of MacDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken has become  a real manifestation in East Timor. Cabbage and bananas at Mercado Lama (the central market) are going rotten. Cabbage, bananas, pineapple and other goods from other countries are flooding the markets of East Timor.


Last week, the eyes of the world opened wide in surprise as they watched the drama of the overthrow of President Joseph Estrada in the Philippines by a people’s power movement. This was the second  time in Philippine history that people power overthrew a president, with the same drama befalling President Ferdinand Marcos 15 years ago. Joseph Estrada was overthrown because he was involved in the chronic disease that is known as corruption.

Even in one of East Timor’s neighbouring countries, in Indonesia two years ago, the strongman of Asia, Soeharto, was forced to step down due to the same blight - corruption. In Yugoslavia it was, young people, students, and lovers of democracy who overthrew the authoritarian despot, Slobodan Milosevic. In Indonesia, the government of Gus Dur has also recently been rocked by demonstrations by young people, students, and democracy activists.


That is just a small illustration of the activities of pressure groups that occur on both sides of the world. Such pressure groups oppose authoritarian corrupt institutions that exploit many people, and govern their people with an iron hand.


East Timor recently has also not been free from discussions and media coverage about issues such as corruption, threats towards the media and particular political groups, and manifestations of despotic behaviour. It is distressing that bad things are now occurring in East Timor. It seems that the Pandora’s Box has been opened, and all the evil elements are flying every which way to take control of all aspects of community life.


East Timor needs a pressure group to undertake checks and balances. The illustrations that I have given in the examples above take the form of protests and clashes.


It is true that these days East Timor is rather quiet after the protests from the WFP employees, and the primary and high school teachers. So, am I inviting all of you here to protest? No! Protesting is only one way of conveying an opinion, and there are many other ways. George Orwell alias Eric Blair quoted Napoleon Bonaparte in saying that ‘governing in one week can be like a spontaneous demonstration’.


These days there are many social problems in East Timor. This conference in itself on a conceptual level is not free from problems. There is a phenomenon that a newborn is given food by a congress, a sick person is given medicine by a conference, and a person who demands education is quietened with training and courses.


On a personal level, I feel sad that at a moment when we have come together for an event which is called a conference on sustainable development, we are also witnesses to a whole range of unsustainable development that is occurring, even in this room, where for example there are foreign interpreters, and particular institutions that aim to build capitalist imperialism going under the label of development agencies.


In such a context, the concept of sustainable development becomes only a jargon term that is worshipped by the countries of the world, but in fact it is a paradigm that is never successfully implemented. To quote Noam Chomsky, what actually occurs is ‘Unsustainable Undevelopment’.


The Magna Carta of the CNRT, dedicated in Peniche, Portugal on the 25th of April 1998, emphasised East Timor’s commitment to develop a civil society that is democratic, politically diverse, and which places the utmost respect on human rights, upon which are built the basic identity of East Timorese culture.


The young people of East Timor have their own contribution to make by becoming a pressure group whose aim is to struggle for the development of a community like that described above. Such a pressure group should not be viewed as an enemy or as an anarchic group, to be swallowed as Cronos swallows children in the Greek myths.


In closing, allow me to quote the motto of environmental activists around the world, “Think globally, act locally”.