Advertisement

Archive for Sunday, September 19, 1999

VICTIMS OF EAST TIMOR DESERVE JUSTICE

September 19, 1999

Advertisement

— The Javanese politicians and generals who run Indonesia have established a wretched place in history that no one should now try to deny them. They are the 20th century's last colonialists worthy of the name. Their actions shred a generation's sense of moral authority in world politics.

The rulers in Jakarta have washed their hands in the blood of another nation that wanted only to be free of their oppression. They have materially supported, encouraged or condoned the settlers destroying the people of East Timor to protect Javanese privilege and comfort built on economic exploitation.

The continuing repression in East Timor puts the Indonesian establishment in a class with the Europeans who pulled out of Africa and Asia at midcentury in anger and spite, and with the Russian commissars who saw their empire of captive nations crack up a decade ago.

The Indonesians have in fact carried out the slaughter of a subject, defenseless people with a brutality and industry that would have impressed the Belgians in the Congo or Stalin in the Caucasus. And to drive their effort they did not need the racism against peoples of color that was inherent in those earlier colonial conquests.

This historic accomplishment runs deeper than technique: The rulers of Indonesia have established that the last great colonialists of our time come from the Third World, not the wicked white societies that for so long exploited Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their actions destroy the last vestiges of moral authority the Third World gained through its long struggle against European colonialism. They also inflict heavy collateral damage on the United Nations, which drew legitimacy from its role in the decolonization movement and the long international fight against apartheid in South Africa.

Jakarta's rulers have acted as white tyrants once did to keep control of lucrative coffee plantations and other spoils conferred by military occupation. Presented a chance last month to act better than did the Dutch who colonized and brutalized them, the Javanese leaders, drawn from the ethnic group that makes up two-thirds of Indonesia's population, did worse in many respects.

They pretended to accept that chance, which came in an Aug. 30 U.N.-sponsored referendum. Nearly 80 percent of the East Timorese voted to become independent from the Indonesian occupation begun in 1975.

The response from "local militias" that the military supplied and oversaw was quick and ferocious. It ripped away the mask that had been kept in place -- with significant help from the United States -- to hide the Indonesian army's readiness to brutalize the civilian population of the world's largest archipelago.

This is an army that killed a half-million Indonesians and jailed another 750,000 in 1965-66 largely on political grounds, according to estimates by its own commanders. Even before this month's orgy of violence, the Indonesian occupation had resulted in the deaths of 200,000 East Timorese, according to Matthew Jardine, author of "East Timor: Genocide in Paradise."

"The violence in 1965-66 had a conditioning effect on the armed forces," George McT. Kahin of Cornell University told me when I asked what accounted for the savagery witnessed by foreign journalists in Dili. "But they have acted with a new heavy-handedness. They have occupied that area for so long and become so attached to the unique economic stake they have developed there."

You could be speaking of Serbs in Kosovo, I told the professor emeritus of international studies. "The Javanese have played the role of the Serbs in this instance," he agreed. They suppressed the East Timorese, who have a separate language and religion, and cloaked their greed in the banner of territorial integrity.

I called Kahin not only because of his impressive books on U.S. involvement in Indonesia and Vietnam but also because he was cited in a recent New York Times profile of Sandy Berger as a major influence on the foreign-policy thinking of President Clinton's national security adviser. Was the professor impressed with what and how his student was doing on Indonesia?

"I have seen only a marginal change under this administration," Kahin said sadly. "I had hoped for more."

Complaisant and reactive throughout the ongoing Indonesian revolution, the Clinton administration may be tempted to fall for pleas from Foreign Minister Ali Alatas for there to be no hard feelings now that Jakarta has agreed to a U.N. peacekeeping mission. But the victims of the pogroms of East Timor -- the human and moral victims -- deserve justice, not the oblivion of realpolitik.

-- Jim Hoagland is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.