By Joanne Hajjar
Joanne Hajjar is in her final year of a Bachelor of Arts majoring in International Studies. She participated in the SUT History and Politics Applied Political Research Program in 2016.
I have an interest with Australian and Indonesian relations. In 2015 I went on exchange to Bandung in Java, where I studied at a university there for one semester. Upon returning to Australia and entering my fourth and final year at SUT, I decided I would like to participate in an internship. I hoped to gain some life experience before I entered the real world and became another Generation Y individual with a degree, but no idea how to use it.
As I only moved to Swinburne at the beginning of the year I thought it would be useful to attend the Politics & History end of semester drinks to meet new people and make potential contacts. As much as nobody enjoys networking, my effort paid off, as it was there I happened to speak to the right person about doing an internship in Semester 2. My experience with teachers at this university has been great, I would like to specially thank Julie Kimber for all the emails before and during my internship, and the multiple cups of tea.
My internship was with CHART (Clearing House for Archival Records on Timor), an organisation that aims to locate, preserve and provide access to documentary records on East Timor history from 1974 to 1999. This interests me as this period largely includes Indonesia, or more specifically the Indonesian Government and military when they occupied East Timor.
My role would be to assist CHART with finding and putting online key primary source documents to provide Indonesian researchers insight into the Indonesian Government’s thinking and actions over East Timor 1974-1999, as well as the handling of humanitarian aid and human rights issues. I would attempt to translate this information into an additional Indonesian language website.
East Timor history
For some 450 years East Timor was under Portuguese colonial rule, until 1975 when Portugal pulled out of East Timor leaving a so-called ‘power vacuum’. The largest pro-independence organisation, FRETILIN, declared East Timor independent from Portugal and nine days later, the much larger neighbouring country, Indonesia, invaded. The following year Indonesia formally annexed East Timor as its 27th province, though this annexation was never recognised by the United Nations (University of New England 2012).
For its part, Indonesia claimed that before as well as during East Timor’s Portuguese decolonising process, the majority of the people of East Timor expressed their desire to join the independent Republic of Indonesia. According to Indonesia, this opinion was countered only by an “armed gang calling themselves FRETILIN who attempted by force to impose their will upon the majority of the East Timorese” (Departemen Penerangan (Indonesia) 1979).
This comes from an Indonesian propaganda booklet, ‘To build a better tomorrow in East Timor’, which the government published in 1979 to express Indonesia’s preferred international account of what was happening in East Timor (Waddingham 2009).
However, knowing what we now know, Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor was one of Indonesian military conquest and brutality, resulting in major human rights abuses of the Timorese and breaches of international law (Cotton 2001, p.133). Indonesian citizens were largely unaware of the atrocities occurring in East Timor due to the Indonesian government severely restricting media coverage of events, or any insider journalism from leaving the island. However, key Western powers such as the United States and Australia were not only aware of Indonesia’s invasion, but gave it tacit approval (National Archives of Australia Fact Sheet 238).
An example of the Australian Government’s tacit involvement in the Indonesian invasion includes the controversial ‘Balibo affair’, where five Australia-based television journalists were killed in the East Timorese border town of Balibo in 1975, when they went to cover events for Australia’s Channel 7 and Channel 9 networks.
Many questions still surround the Balibo affair, particularly around how much the Australian Government knew about the Indonesian invasion. How much did they know about the attack when the Balibo five went missing? Could the Australian Government have applied pressure in 1975 to stop the Indonesian invasion? Why did they not push for self-determination of East Timor, instead giving legal recognition to Indonesia’s incorporation of East Timor? (National Archives of Australia Fact Sheet 238).
This leads to the question of why the Australian Government and others provided tacit support to the Indonesian invasion? The answer to this is complicated, but from what we currently know it partly boils down to their economic ties with Indonesia and the need to maintain good relations (Monk 2001, p. 182).
Even after thousands of pages of documents concerning the Indonesian invasion and annexation of East Timor were declassified and released (Monk 2001, p.182), Indonesians still remained largely unaware of the Indonesian Government’s actions in East Timor, due to them being essentially ignored in post-Soeharto scholarly research, publishing and teaching in Indonesia.
Understanding Indonesia’s East Timor history is not possible without access to these primary source documents. This is why CHART wishes to make them available online in both English and Indonesian language, to afford Indonesian researchers the chance to find out more about the Indonesian Government’s thinking and actions over East Timor (1974-1999).
After twenty-four years of Indonesian occupation, a United Nations-supervised referendum vote was held in East Timor in 1999, to finally settle the question of East Timor independence. More than 78% of voters opted for independence.
However, the Indonesian military was controlling the security and the result of the vote caused a final major attack against the East Timorese pro-independence supporters (Fernandes 2015). After immediate assistance by the United Nations, which carried on for a further three years, in 2002 East Timor was finally declared an independent nation.
If you would like more detail of the events of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and the Australian Government’s involvement, follow this link to Roanna Neil-Ogilvie’s (2015 SUT/CHART intern) timeline.
My CHART project
My first task at CHART was to examine a number of photographs of documents Roanna had taken from the National Archives of Australia. With the assistance of the archivist, we examined over 2000 pages of documents, searching for those that shed light on the Indonesian Government’s political, military and diplomatic strategies on East Timor.
Out of this collection we deemed only 56 documents appropriate to be recorded in a CHART-designed spreadsheet. After all the documents had been searched, we reviewed the spreadsheet and out of that selection only 4 documents were then chosen for the pilot website.
CHART initially envisaged a selection of 50-100 documents for the pilot website. However, this process of finding and uncovering relevant information was much more taxing than the archivist envisioned for our timeframe. Therefore, in total we have a starting number of 13 documents uploaded to our website, ‘Documents on East Timor, 1974-1999: Indonesian Government’s Policies and Actions’. CHART and I wrote titles for the documents, summaries of the content and added links to the original material, as well as having an introduction to the website and the first section, 1974-75.
I translated 7 of these documents into Indonesian as well as the introduction to the website and the introduction to the 1974-75 section. I regret that I could not translate all the documents, but given the time taken to source the documents, this was unavoidable. I am pleased overall with the work we achieved as it was at times challenging and I know it was something CHART had been envisioning for some time.
While it was a long and sometimes tedious process, I found that I really enjoyed reading through the previously classified documents and gaining insight into the private internal discussions between the Indonesian Government and representatives of other governments such as Australia and the United States. It was especially intriguing comparing the public and private communications between Australia and Indonesia. Publicly the Australian Government would propose their actions were due to concern for the East Timorese, but internal communications would suggest the Indonesian bilateral relationship was the priority.
The website will be an ongoing process for CHART while they try to uncover more relevant documents. The archivist hopes the website will encourage and stimulate interested Indonesians to seek access to the Indonesian Government’s own archival record on the East Timor issue. I am glad I could be a part of the process. I have learned a lot from the material we uncovered and gained insight into the East Timor issue that I otherwise would not have been able to, and which made me realise the significance of having these documents available publicly.
I know you are curious about the title. The CHART office is located in Essendon and if you are not already convinced about doing an internship there, this brownie will put you over the edge. The cafe is called ‘the corner cafe’, no points for originality, but do not let that deter you. It is quite conveniently located, on a corner just down the hill from CHART on the way to the Strathmore train station. The waitress gave the brownie to me warmed, which I thought was odd but this unleashed the inner chocolaty goodness that had you questioning whether it was a brownie, or in fact a cake. It turned almost like a chocolate pudding in the center, yet it still had the crunchy top of a brownie and the firmer biscuit-like base. If this kind of deliciousness sounds like something you would be interested in, I would recommend an internship at CHART.
Cotton, J 2001, ‘Against the Grain: The East Timor Intervention’, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 127-142.
Indonesia. Departemen Penerangan. 1980, ‘To build a better tomorrow in East Timor’, Dept, of Information, Republic of Indonesia, Jakarta, pp. 20.
Monk, P 2001, ‘Secret Intelligence and Escape Clauses: Australia and the Indonesian Annexation of East Timor, 1963-76, Critical Asian Studies, vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 181-208.
Moore, S 2001,‘The Indonesian Military’s Last Years in East Timor: An Analysis of its Secret Documents’, Southeast Asia Program Publications, no. 72, pp. 9- 44.