Young Timorese celebrate diversity after historic trauma | Political news

Jakarta, Indonesia – East Timor, the first state created in the 21st century, commemorates on Friday the country’s two decades of independence from Indonesia, with the inauguration of José Ramos-Horta as the next president.

The young country is a young nation – its population of around 1.3 million has a median age of just 20.8 and Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who also previously served as president, is faced with the challenge of creating jobs for its young citizens.

Officially known as Timor-Leste, the country was a Portuguese colony for centuries, but after the Timorese declared independence from Portugal in November 1975, Indonesian forces invaded and annexed the country.

Berta Antonieta [Courtesy of Berta Antonieta]

After the fall of Suharto, the authoritarian leader of Indonesia, 78.5% of Timorese voted for independence in a referendum organized in August 1999 by the United Nations.

After an abrupt separation, Timor finally became a sovereign nation in May 2002.

Timorese analyst and researcher Berta Antonieta, based in Dili, the capital, says most citizens, including those currently in government, have experienced “national trauma” as they lived through Indonesia’s occupation during from which tens of thousands of people are said to have died.

But despite past conflicts, the country has become one of the most vibrant democracies in Southeast Asia.

“To run a country while having this generational trauma, I think we’ve done extremely well,” Antonieta, 31, told Al Jazeera.

“There are so many good people in Timor-Leste who genuinely care about this country.”

Al Jazeera interviewed four young Timorese – born after the 1999 referendum – about their impressions, concerns and hopes for their homeland.

Romario Viegas Francisco Marcal, 20 years old

Born in Dili to a Timorese father from Manufahi and an Indonesian mother from East Java, Romario Viegas Francisco Marcal is now a second-year civil engineering student at a public university in the capital.

Apart from being an undergraduate, he has been posting videos on his YouTube channel Romario Gajog since November 2021.

With over 9,000 subscribers and over 650,000 views, all of her videos are in Indonesian, one of the two working languages ​​in East Timor along with English. Tetoun and Portuguese are the official languages ​​of the country.

His articles cover Indonesian products, Timorese reaction to the beloved Indonesian instant noodle brand Indomie, daily life in Dili and other topics.

“I mostly use Indonesian because a lot [people] who watch my YouTube are from Indonesia, and there are also many Indonesians who want to know [about Timor-Leste]the 20-year-old told Al Jazeera.

“I want to strengthen the relationship between these two countries.”

Inspired by the late Indonesian President and eminent engineer BJ Habibie – who enabled the 1999 referendum to take place – Marcal wants to help improve links between the different regions of the country.

“If Timor-Leste’s technology advances in the future, I’m sure the overall development will definitely take place in Timor-Leste,” he said.

Jerry Liong, 19 years old

Jerry Liong dreams of creating a website or smartphone application that promotes East Timor to the international community.

Jerry Liong in a black t-shirt and jeans, photographed at night
jerry liong [Courtesy of Jerry Liong]

But the 19-year-old, born in Dili, who graduated from a private Portuguese-language high school last year, told Al Jazeera he plans to study information technology at a public university in the city. Indonesian province of Bali, because technological education at home is “not that”. advanced” and “still far behind”.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is working to improve telecommunications infrastructure, which it says represents a “major constraint on economic growth opportunities and future investment,” noting that the industry is also “unregulated” and vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Liong – whose parents of Chinese descent were born in East Timor – wants to return home to Dili after completing his undergraduate studies.

He plans to run a store offering mobile phone accessories and repair services, but he fears it will be difficult to compete and attract customers’ attention after seeing many similar businesses run by economic migrants. from mainland China.

Yet, he says, “Timor’s potential for progress is greater.”

He also wants to make mobile games later in life.

Jenifer Octavia Tjungmiady, 16 years old

Jenifer Octavia Tjungmiady is currently in her second year of high school at an international English language school in Dili.

Jenifer Octavia Tjungmiady poses in a yellow dress with her hair tied up
Jenifer Octavia Tjungmiady [Courtesy of Jenifer Octavia Tjungmiady]

The 16-year-old – whose Indonesian-Chinese father is from East Nusa Tenggara and Timorese-Chinese mother is from Viqueque – launched her Jenifer Octavia Tjung YouTube channel in August 2017. It now has more than 6,000 followers. subscribers and his videos have increased. some 174,000 views.

Tjungmiady’s videos cover a variety of topics – from the education system of East Timor to the Portuguese language. She even created a YouTube account to practice her Portuguese while making friends from the Portuguese-speaking world and beyond.

“Many are surprised that in Asia there is a Portuguese[-speaking] country,” she said. Most Asian nations were British, French and Japanese colonies.

Meanwhile, Tjungmiady, who was born in Dili, wants to study industrial engineering in Germany, hoping East Timor will develop more local industries and factories and eventually export its products overseas.

“So far, Timor-Leste is still very dependent on imports,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that the country’s food comes mainly from Indonesia.

According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, a data visualization platform for international trade, East Timor’s imports reached some $622 million in 2020, with the country purchasing products ranging from oil to rice and cement. . Indonesia was its main import partner that year, followed by China, Singapore, Australia and Malaysia.

Not yet an adult, Tjungmiady still retains Indonesian and Timorese nationalities. Jakarta does not recognize dual nationality and it has not decided which passport to take.

“I see my career potential [is in Timor-Leste]maybe I will go back to Timor-Leste, so I should take Timor-Leste [passport],” she says.

Levilito Das Neves Baptista, 22 years old

Originally from Manatuto on the North Coast and currently living in Dili, Levilito Das Neves Baptista is passionate about justice and human rights and is in his final year of undergrad.

Baptista dreams of reconciliation between citizens after the bloody past of his country.

“It’s really hard to [achieve] reconciliation between Timorese who voted for Indonesia or autonomy [and independence]he said, referring to some 94,000 people – out of an electorate of 438,000 – who in August 1999 chose to remain part of Southeast Asia’s largest nation. .

Levilito Das Neves Baptista in white and gray cropped pants sitting in a chair at a reception
Levilito Das Neves Baptista [Courtesy of Levilito Das Neves Baptista]

The country was plunged into violence after the referendum and more than 1,000 people were killed. Indonesian forces and pro-integration militias destroyed much of the territory’s infrastructure in a scorched earth operation.

So far, the 22-year-old – who wants to become a lawyer in the future – and 12 other Timorese have set up the youth organization Asosiasaun Juventude Hakbi’it Justisa Timor-Leste “because people in Timor don’t understand not the laws that we have”.

The association aims to educate citizens about how the laws work and their rights as citizens.

Finally, Baptista sees his country as “a little ray of sunshine in Asia”. He adds that it is inclusive, diverse, multilingual and multicultural – with a multi-layered history.

“The greatest pride of being a Timorese child is their history,” Baptista told Al Jazeera, adding that the past has made the national mentality “very different” from other nations.

“We grew up with our Portuguese grandparents, our Indonesian parents and us as Timorese,” he said, referring to how older generations grew up at different times. “Something we hope is [for people] be together.”

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