Sunday, 30 August 2009

10 years after the referendum in East Timor

30 August is a good day for Australians to remember that the so-called 'realists' in Canberra got it wrong for 24 years. I'm pretty sure a whole lot of them still think 'well, our strategic priorities just changed pre and post 1999, the cold war was over, and who saw that the New Order regime would collapse?'. I'm pretty sure they also think 'teh Left' were just a bunch of unrealistic and idealist whingers who accidentally got something right for once.

Au contraire. Along with saying the occupation was wrong, and a human rights disaster, the East Timor solidarity movements were also pointing to a critical empirical factor: Indonesia was not likely to succeed. How could a forced integration - with no basis in international law, unrecognised by any other state, with no respect for human rights, and implacably opposed by a nation of people - succeed in the long run? Its like the inevitability of a Palestinian state. Power cannot operate without legitimacy forever. Foreign policy 'realism' does not equate to pragmatism, how ever much the back-slapping defence and security circle-jerkers might fancy it does.

The major parties in this country were frankly out of touch with reality. They appeared to believe that just because it suited our imagined strategic priorities, a military occupation that could not even establish a monopoly of force after 24 years was some stable 'fact on the ground', that we all just had to live with. Let history record that the Australian people saw through it all first, and the 'experts' in Canberra followed.

I hope the lesson is not lost. Justice matters in international affairs. Foreign policy 'realism' does not make you realistic.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Abigail's Party (1977)

Its no surprise to me that Mike Leigh's early film for TV Abigail's Party (1977) was rated 11th in the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. I saw it recently, and it truly is a magnificent precursor to that excruciating but hilarious genre (self-important-type-makes-constant-arse-of-self-in-public) that later spawned classics like The Office.

I also think its a toss-up as to whether Prunella Scales of Fawlty Towers or Alison Steadman's potrayal of Beverly is the origin of that classic UK aspirational lower middle-class female character that ends every sentence on a patronising "okaayyyy?".

In any case, I can only agree with the Channel 4 reviewer who said that Abigail's Party "still ranks as the most painful hundred minutes in British comedy-drama." Its compelling, peek-through-your-fingers-while-you-cringe viewing. Also interesting are the class dynamics between the five characters, flung together by post-1960s suburbanism and Britain's rising lower middle class.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

100th Post Commemorative Yabber

You know, when first my Caravel navigated these bloggy waters, armed with nothing but an Astrolabe, orders from the Leal Senado in Macau, and a rough Portolan of the last known voyage of Eredia (handed me by a marooned Marineiro in Solor), it was impossible to tell what adventures might lay at the end of the cartographer's wind-rose.

So many forts in Asia, so many lattes, and so many forts in Asia later, and... sadly... os meus amigos, its time to hang up ye old blogging mouse, and sail into the unknown waters of Luca Antara.

Hoho, just kidding! What a classic blog cliche, the threatened departure! As if. You and I both know the Portuguese forts in Asia scene has never been hotter. And I didn't come this far to yield the parapets and hoist my lateen sail for Lisbon, just because of some pesky lack of widespread interest in my deliberately obscure blog. You didn't see the Forte São João Baptista administrators abandon their post, just because they controlled less than 100 sq foot of territory, and no one sent them a letter for 200 odd years, did you?

No, and likewise, we're made of sterner stuff here at BmL.

Instead, let's dwell briefly on life as a small blog. Here's some random stats, in lieu on any actual desire on my part to analyse it properly.

Days since first post: 588. That's a post every 6 days. So don't tell me I never get ya nuthin!
Number of visitors: 4279. That's a massive average 7.3 per day! Those stats don't include me either - only genuine vistors. Somebody call google ads, we've got a live one!
Number of comments: 460. Subtracting the 40% that are mine (which is how it tends to go) that's a monster 2.7 punter comments per post. Mother, hire a letter-opener!
Record number of post comments: 24. Twice! Renegotiate the 1856 border, Capitão, this enclave ain't big enough!
Number of CPLP Countries on my counter: 4 full members (Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, East Timor); 1 associate member (Macau); and 1 associate observer (Senegal).

Aos novos fortalezas! Até a vitória sempre!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Man, 41, seeks new word for partner

I don't know about you, but I reckon its high time we thought of a better word for one's main squeeze, when you aren't the marrying kind.

Now, if you're married, no problemo. 'Husband' and 'wife' are fine old terms if you ask me. Stood the test of time.

But for those of us who aren't into marriage (and let's face it, that's now a bunch of us - possibly a working majority for all I know) the options are poor.

I'm sorry, but I find the contemporary frontrunner 'partner' so completely lameass, I cringe every time I even think of it.

'Howdy, partner! Soooo-eeee!'

'Defacto' tends to run in second, but that sounds like you're making do until something better and more formal comes along; presumably a de jure occupant of your bed.

Recently, I've gone back to 'girlfriend', after dropping it some time back in the early 90s. Its mainly for a laugh, in explicit rejection of you-know-what, but secretly, I quite like it. It makes me feel youthful as well, and has done wonders for my complexion.

But really, I can't keep trotting that out for the mother of my child.

....OR CAN I??!!!

Alternatives welcome.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Roger East's Final Communique from Dili, December 1975

I saw Robert Connolly's film Balibo last Monday at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Its a magnificent work of Australian cinema - the best I have seen in many years. Both historically sound (respected East Timor academic and justice campaigner Clinton Fernandes was the historical consultant) and dramatically set at perfect pitch. The treatment is neither overplayed nor overwrought, the dialogue remains tight and realistic throughout. As a result, the impact of the dramatic climax stays with you long after the film.

As readers of this blog might recall, I once visited Balibo, and its a beautiful, quiet town on a mountain, with a long view down to the border between Batugade and Indonesian Mota'ain. The Balibo House Trust - funded by the Victorian Government - now owns he Chinese house and runs it as a community learning centre. Also involved are the Australian Friendship Group, the Friends of Balibo.

I reproduce here Roger East's final communique from Dili in December 1975. He was murdered on the Pertamina Wharf in Dili - along with scores of East Timorese independence leaders and supporters, including Nicolau Lobato's wife - by invading Indonesian forces on December 7, 1975.

Australia's nearest neighbour, tiny East Timor, has cast the die. It's 'Independence or Death', a western cliche, but here a daily salutation - and the Timorese people mean it.

The mortar that binds the East Timorese is the thoughts of Independence after 400 years of colonial rule. They will settle for nothing less.

Fretilin's army is basically anti-colonial, strongly Catholic-tinted and, not surprisingly, has many vehement anti-Communists in its midst.

Djakarta has elected to win support from its nervous neighbours by attaching the Red label to Fretilin.

However, Fretilin's initial planning is a blending of socialistic and cooperative policies which would appear natural for a colony bereft of secondary industry and winning only a subsistence existence from the soil.

Membership of Fretilin by Australian standards would include thinkers from the centre to the extreme left - the latter in a fringe grouping in the Central Committee.

Secretary of the East Timor Department of Foreign Affairs, Jose Ramos Horta, admits the committee's views vary on many issues, the sole exception being independence.

"I expect to see a multi-party set up in East Timor after we cross the present hurdle.

"We are a tolerant people who have waited a long time for the democratic process. We'll share it when it comes."

Fretilin believes the Governor, Colonel Lemos Pires, now living on the Island of Atauro, the St Helens of his choice, aided and abetted the UDT to stage its ill-fated August coup.

Fretilin had been told of the coup plot and a request to the governor to disarm the plotters is said to have been turned down.

Fretilin was defenceless when the fighting started and its members hounded, jailed and some murdered. UDT lost when the Portuguese-trained soldiers defected in favour of Fretilin.

UDT's leadership is now split three ways. Some are languishing in Timorese jails and others in the more comfortable surrounds of Australian cities.

The remaining standard bearers are in Indonesia, hosted and promised a triumphant return, albeit in the wake of mortar bombs.

Their platform of independence, which over a year ago saw them in a political alliance with Fretilin, is now abandoned. They are opting for Indonesia after 450 years of Portuguese domination.

Apodeti, the party pressing for union with Indonesia, is a bad bar-room joke. Its political rallies could be staged in the proverbial ten by four room which includes a table.

Founder and President, Arnold Araujo, 62, a respected horse thief, is currently being detained at Fretilin's pleasure.

The Portuguese jailed him for nine years for war crimes committed against the Timorese during the Japanese occupation.

This leaves only Fretilin which wants to embrace an offer of a United Nations supervised plebiscite.

East Timor's problems grow daily. Its primary ricebowl in the Maliana Valley is now a battlefield. Other crops have been destroyed or neglected in the turmoil of the fighting. Hunger is a reality and starvation a growing threat.