Some expats, it seems, live in constant mental feverishness, running their lives plagued a high degree of paranoia or hyper-imagination. These people believe the winning party in the recent UN-sponsored election fixed the election or that the CIVPOL and Portuguese peacekeepers are following them, and that the Special Representative to the Secretary General (in East Timor, the king) want to be rid of them, by whatever means necessary. Does one categorize these people paranoiacs? Schizophrenics? Anywhere else, I might say so.

But in East Timor, there is a sort of Heller-ish logic to their condition. Those who would stay here long enough, in this liminal environment, entrenched in nasty bureaucracies (or fighting them) have to be mad in the first place. So madness is a precondition to staying, but it prevents legitimate participation… The East Timor Catch-22.

The yes-man cliques and personality cults, defining both local and UN internal politics, coupled with the singularly undemocratic design of the sovereign governing body called UNTAET (UN Transitional Administration in East Timor), have created a hostile environment to critics. Show your opposition and you are immediately branded persona non-grata. And in a country where the ex-pat population is no less than a medium sized American college, there is no anonymity.

And while stories of being chased, threatened or run off of the road by UN police soun far-fetched, well, law enforcement is conducted by a patchwork of international police forces, each with its own checkered human rights record. So these paranoic characters, having resigned from UNTAET, or having had too many intimate journalistic encounters with the Administration, form a sort of “dissident” class.

When the UN decided to become the sovereign governing body over a piece of territory, it had to expect well-voiced and systematic criticism. Instead of taking the transparent, democratic approach, or more realistically adopting careful post-scandal, spin strategy, it has attempted to create an aggressive propaganda machine. UNTAET has previously issued a gag order over its staff, threatening penalties for contact with the media. The Press Office functions as a Ministry of Truth, recently issuing a proclamation of UNTAET’s 20 achievements over the past two years, half of which contain a thinly-veiled revisionism and newspeak.


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