Tumults and brinks

I feel an unavoidable heaviness triggered by the unrest. I remember reading the ICG’s blog entry of July 9

Concerns that the formation of a new coalition government might give rise to violence, as occurred following the 2007 elections, now look misplaced

And thinking, well that’s a bit premature. In 2007, the tumult came after the announcement of the coalition. 

Who knows what will happen this afternoon. As I have mentioned before, Timor has an eerie way of going “to the brink” and stopping.

If there is any pattern in relation to urban/political violence in Timor, to start, it is that the international community (and English-speaking media) always seems somehow completely taken aback, as though it was completely blind-sided.

Everybody knows the history, everybody knows the level of personal tension between the politicians in question. (Why did people assume just because there had been mention of a CNRT-Fretilin coalition it would just melt away?) Here were a couple of warning signs about yesterday, seen from half way around the world:

– TV live broadcast of CNRT Congress, in which Fretilin was discussed at length (Alkatiri just said Fretilin felt it was a public ‘trial’ of his party). I could not watch, but I can only assume rhetorical rama ambon were fired.

– The late hour of the announcement of the coalition – it’s never a good idea to do something “hot” at the end of a long, hot day.

The second part of the pattern — after the “holy shit, they are running amok” moment — is international media’s massive over-reaction and lapse into the “failed state” narrative. (Granted, as I write this, the photo of the body of the university student from Uatolari allegedly shot by police is circulating on social media. But there is nothing to say that this cannot actually blow over.)

Particularly after having lived through London’s riots last year, I would say let’s not fetichize urban violence in far away, different places. (I suppose the same people who were surprised by Dili yesterday would have been shocked by Tottenham and Brixton last August, when for many of us, it made all too much sense.)


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