Former Portuguese Prime Minister José Manuel Durão Barroso told Lusa on Thursday that the independence of East Timor, which turns 20 on Friday, “demonstrated that the cynics are not always right”.
“Once again it has been shown that the line between realism and cynicism is very fine or narrow. And it’s also been shown that the cynics aren’t always right and that Timor-Leste was the first nation, the first independent country of the 21st century and of course it was and is facing some pretty tough challenges, but the truth is that it has proven, not only its viability, but also the indispensability of being recognized as a sovereign country”, he stresses.
The former Portuguese Prime Minister evokes the “realpolitikwhich marks international relations.
“You really have to see the context and put things into perspective. We cannot forget that when, for example, we supported the idea of independence, even when Timor-Leste was under Indonesian rule, the common feeling, so to speak, what is sometimes called “conventional wisdom “said that Timor would not be a viable country, and that there would be no reason for it to exist”, he recalls.
“It comes from the best-informed circles of the world, who have argued with the so-called ‘realpolitik’ advising Portugal to renounce this cause. Once again, it has been shown that cynics are not always right.
Durão Barroso was referring to calls for Portugal to “drop the issue of independence for East Timor”.
“There are things that I will leave, if you allow, for my memories, but there are others that I can already share with complete frankness. The truth is that Portugal and, to a certain extent, the PALOP [Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa] they were practically isolated in that position,” he recalls.
“Our allies, including our closest allies, privately advised us to drop the cause saying it was unrealistic, that Indonesia was the biggest Muslim country in the world. That they would never accept the principle of self-determination of Timor-Leste, etc.,” he adds.
Durão Barroso recalls that “many said they could support [Portugal] in the struggle for the cultural, religious and linguistic autonomy of Timor-Leste, but that it would be unrealistic to support the idea of independence”.
Democratization in Indonesia, he points out, has helped change Jakarta’s position.
“There was a democratization of Indonesia, and that allowed us, as I said at the time, to set foot in such a way that the door of Independence does not close. And from there we pushed the door and I had the honor of representing Portugal in three successive rounds of negotiations with the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Ali Alatas, who unfortunately passed away”, under the aegis of the UN Secretary General, General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
“These were extremely difficult times, with enormous tension in which he was not open to anything at the beginning and he had the famous sentence saying that for Indonesia, Timor was nothing more than a thorn in the To which I replied that a pebble in the shoe, if it takes a long time, can cause bleeding and who can even cause death, so it was better that he solved it or helped to solve it”, he continues.
The difficulties encountered in raising international awareness of the Timorese question lead Durão Barroso to resort to a metaphor.
“I think if there were bets, the bookmakers wouldn’t even consider the idea of possible independence. But it was possible. That’s what politics and diplomacy are for: making this possible which is necessary,” he says.
In these 20 years of independence of Timor-Leste, Durão Barroso underlines the lack of generational renewal of the Timorese ruling class, a fact for which he finds justification.
“Of course, it is always good to have a revival, but the situation in Timor-Leste is also understandable because, after all, it is a founding moment not only for a regime, but for a country, and so it is. so, in a way, it is natural that those who are considered responsible, the independence leaders for some time, maintain this prominent place in the Timorese political system,” he says.
However, Durão Barroso defends a generational renewal.
“In summary, without a doubt, a renewal of political frameworks is always desirable, but I also think that it is, in a way, understandable that Timor-Leste continues with the generation of independence”, underlines- he.
In an assessment of the 20 years of Timorese sovereignty, Durão Barroso naturally emphasizes independence itself, because, he says, “it represents a fundamental principle, which is a principle of international law and in accordance with our values , which is the principle of self-determination”. . If a people wants to be independent, it can be independent”.
“Actually look, albeit in a different context, at what is happening now with Ukraine. Those who said that Ukraine was not a nation realize that they were wrong. National sovereignty “an extremely important objective that should not be underestimated, because people want to be masters of their destiny. So that in itself is positive.
“And secondly, it is also positive that, despite the difficulties which are great, it has been proven that there is economic viability for Timor-Leste. There is therefore competence for the administration of the country,” he adds.
As for the difficulties identified during these two decades, Durão Barroso underlines “an excessive conflict from the point of view of political parties, sometimes even with personal outlines, which has weakened a certain consensus that, especially in a situation like that of Timor -Leste, it would be imperative to consolidate.
“I hope that the various Timorese political actors will have the intelligence, the wisdom to overcome these difficulties, because when we think of what the country has undergone to achieve independence, it would be a shame if now, for reasons ultimately secondary, these consensuses have been undermined, ”he defends himself.
In conclusion, Durão Barroso recalls the emotion he felt when the Timorese flag was hoisted at the United Nations headquarters: “I remember with emotion the moment when, alongside the President of Timor-Leste at the time, Xanana Gusmão, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, I saw the flag of Timor-Leste being raised for the first time at UN Headquarters in New York”.