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Title: Fragments of utopia: Popular yearnings in East Timor
Authors: Kammen, D. 
Issue Date: 2009
Citation: Kammen, D. (2009). Fragments of utopia: Popular yearnings in East Timor. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 40 (2) : 385-408. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
Abstract: Six months after the historic August 1999 referendum in which the people of East Timor voted to reject Indonesia's offer of broad autonomy, the newly appointed chief of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, commented to CNN on the enormous challenge of setting the territory on the road to independence: 'It is a test case, therefore it is even a laboratory case where we can transform utopia into reality. But I think we can try and get it right in the case of Timor.' After 24 years of brutal military occupation, the suggestion that East Timor was to be a laboratory case for the United Nations might have seemed insulting, the notion of utopia absurd. Hundreds of thousands of people were without housing. Basic infrastructure lay in ruins. Commodities were scarce and those goods available were sold at grossly inflated prices. Eleven thousand foreign troops had arrived to restore security. Tens of thousands of refugees were still living in squalid camps across the border in Indonesian West Timor, many against their will. Nevertheless, Vieira de Mello's statement neatly captured the twin aspirations of the time - the independence long-dreamed of by East Timorese and the opportunity for the United Nations literally to build a state from the ground up. In the same CNN report, East Timorese Nobel Laureate José Ramos-Horta emphasised precisely this point: 'This is the first instance in the history of the UN that the UN has managed completely an entire country; and they have a [Timorese pro-independence] movement that is very cooperative, they have an exceptional people that's cooperating with them, so they cannot fail. They are condemned to succeed because failure would be disastrous for the credibility of the UN, so they simply cannot afford to fail.' Utopia, it seems, had become a necessity. © 2009 The National University of Singapore.
Source Title: Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
ISSN: 00224634
Appears in Collections:Staff Publications

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