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HomePolicy & PoliticsNews from Asia

Community Building Essential for Nation Building, says East Timor's President

Mar 26, 2003

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão (www.defenselink.mil)

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão (www.defenselink.mil)

Sydney, Australia
March 26, 2003

Keynote address by His Excellency
President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

Mr. Richard Woolcott,
Director of the Asia Society Australasia Centre
Mr. Benjamin Chow,
Chairman, Council for Multicultural Australia
Mr. Hugh Morgan AC
Chairman, Asia Society Australasia Centre
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and a great pleasure to be here to share with you some thoughts about Nation Building in Timor-Leste.

Many people have asked me if the independence experienced today represents the vision and the ideals that I fought for. My answer has always been this is the Independence which I yearned for in terms of ideals as well as vision.

Only that the reality of being an independent country, in our case, carries difficulties and enormous challenges not only for those who govern but also for the whole population.

The building of a nation is a process and the process itself will, of course, take time. Whether short or long term it depends on the policies and programs of those who are tasked with the responsibility to produce.

Timor-Leste is in this situation. The post-conflict situation nourishes the psychological basis of the feelings and experiences of the people, because violence and destruction left imprints on the body and soul of our people.

It is normal that, in post-conflict situations, trauma (supposedly collective, as in the whole society) is emphasised as the worst thing to be confronted, as though it is a ‘sine qua non’ condition for the resurrection of the people for the new process.

And when we speak about reconciliation it is almost a crime not to speak of justice and many argue that it clashes with ethics and morals (in relation to justice for the sake of justice), which the activists – that once we were a part of – today uphold as the sword of human rights.

Reconciliation is an important factor, be it at a national level or, above all, at the community level. But it is not the fundamental factor that many may think it is.

We lose the notion of Nation building in the complexity of its problems and limit the process to a factor that is not ever lasting, that is not incurable.

Community building is the fundamental factor of nation building. Moreover, it is only by implementing democratic processes of local governance that participatory democracy will become an invigorating reality for the people and stimulate new energy for the holistic development of the nation. Democracy should be experienced daily by the people, in solving their problems, in the implementation of their own programs and the revitalisation of their own capacities to think and act.

With the election of chiefs at different levels of the community starting at village level, we will be establishing a collective responsibility, in terms of duties and rights. The participation will arise in the discussion of their problems, in the search for a common solution that will suit all. As a result, a new consciousness will thrive from the willingness to build, from the energy to move forward and the dynamics to innovate. And each community will feel linked to its neighbouring community and consequently, forming widespread chains of relationships which strengthen, in terms of solidarity and in terms of co-ordination and co-operation.

This should be the dynamics of the unifying force that we target. And, in turn, this will create in itself, a new mentality of citizenship, a citizenship which contemplates rights but, above all, individual and collective duties. No one will feel left out of the process, no one will be a passive agent in the nation building. Today, the cries of the widows and orphans are still invoked to argue the existence of trauma, as are the frustrations of those who suffered in one way or the other. The notion of the value of the sacrifice has been lost; the commitment, which led everyone to accept the sacrifices demanded to liberate our Homeland, is in danger of being lost. The noble ideal that mobilised all is lost.

The foundations of ‘nationhood’ will only be created when there is genuine participation arising from the communities towards their own development. Some say, jokingly, that we can become, for example, another Singapore; but I would like to avoid such a miscalculation, which is more materialistic than of a human dimension that should take into account the individual and collective respect of our People. Of course the development of Timor-Leste does not have to be ‘sui generis’, but it can and should include the structural elements of our identity, so that we are not ashamed of being Timorese.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The transition to independence was not easy, but it allowed us to reflect on the one hand, the burden of the enormous responsibility and, on the other, the relationship between Timor-Leste and the international community and, above all, with the donors whom, today, we call partners.
The challenges are great and can be condensed in the motto that is now common to developing and under developed countries: ‘poverty reduction’. ‘Poverty reduction’ is a very simple concept when approached in academic dissertations, but it is much more complex when one attempts to convert it into energetic action to this end.

Education is referred to as the fundamental element to ‘reduce poverty’. Once fortnightly, I meet with dozens of people, mothers, widows, youths, orphans, men, elderly, who raise and present their difficulties to me: be it the fact that they have no means of subsistence, or no jobs, or no roof, or mostly, they cannot pay their children’s school fees. Just try to imagine: one Australian dollar, per month, per child in prep and primary school. Even this, they cannot afford to pay and this is the problem!

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