Nicolau Lobato Presidential Palace, 30 August 2018
Beloved people of Timor-Leste!
Every year, the 30th of August is celebrated among us as a public holiday because of its great and profound historical significance. Not only for us, but also for the international community. This day represents a victory for the Timorese people and for the international community, marking a difficult phase in the struggle we faced together. Although they did not know us, people from all over the world, guided by their sense of justice and human solidarity, dedicated themselves to our national liberation struggle. Many spoke up against their own government, encouraging countless more to follow them through campaigns they held year after year, financed out of their own pockets, without ever asking for anything in return. The citizens, groups, and governments who believed in us supported our External/Diplomatic Front, spreading word about our national liberation struggle. International solidarity, which started with the former Portuguese colonies in Africa, continued to grow thanks to the proactiveness of Timorese people overseas. This solidarity was boosted with the release of the footage of the Santa Cruz massacre, filmed by Max Stahl in 1991.
International solidarity arose and became stronger thanks to the Resistance, whose steadfastness – despite the blood spilled and the countless sacrifices – was an inspiration. Our collective commitment to Independence led many in the Clandestine Front to risk their lives, releasing documents abroad with the help of Indonesian friends in Timor-Leste and in Indonesia.
The Resistance organised in the country, through the Armed Front and the Clandestine Front, and abroad, through the External/Diplomatic Front, demonstrated our capacity and our determination to achieve independence.
Today, I salute the perseverance of all combatants and veterans in the three fronts. I salute also the voters who bravely stood up to death or injury, and lost their homes and their possessions on the day of the referendum or the days that followed. Despite United Nations supervision, the environment on that day was very different from what we now find on election days. Nevertheless, most Timorese people went to the voting polls to make way for independence.
On a day when we remember the 1999 referendum, I want to highlight two important UN figures – our friends Sérgio Vieira de Mello and Kofi Annan – who remained committed to help us make our INDEPENDENCE dream a reality. They are both gone from this world, but they will be forever present in our memory. Let us also never forget the six United Nations aid workers deployed for a peacekeeping mission in our country, who were murdered by the militias in Atambua, on 6 September 2000. The blood of international solidarity fused with the blood of the Timorese people, at different times and circumstances, in a process that led us to INDEPENDENCE.
Let us also remember to highlight the support of the CPLP, of all Portuguese-speaking people, who expressed their solidarity with our objective at difficult times.
I salute also the Indonesian citizens, especially the young students, who fought for the democratisation of Indonesia. We all know that the referendum solution emerged when the courage of the Indonesian people put an end to Suharto’s regime in 1998.
Let us not forget the role played by the Catholic Church in this national liberation struggle. The State of Timor-Leste, through the Constitution of the DRTL, acknowledges its contribution, which we again celebrate today.
Beloved people of Timor-Leste!
Our courage arose from a nationalist movement that awakened us to the sense of belonging to one people, one nation and one homeland. This sense of belonging is what drove us to find ways of consolidating national unity as an important condition to sustain a popular and prolonged war policy for as long as it took to achieve INDEPENDENCE.
National Unity was what strengthened our people’s faith and brought the support of the international community on the road leading up to the Referendum. National Unity did not arise all of a sudden. It arose from the clear and comprehensive vision of our nationalism’s founding fathers – Nicolau Lobato, Mari Alkatiri, José Ramos-Horta, and Justino Mota – continuously passed down through our political and military leaders, such as Vicente Sahe, Mau Lear, Xanana Gusmão, Nino Konis Santana, Hodu Ran Kadalak, Ma Hunu Bulerek Karataiano, Taur Matan Ruak, and Lere Anan Timur, among others. We cannot forget the brave women who led and actively participated in the women’s emancipation movement, namely Rosa Muki, Soimali, Bi-Lear, We-We, Maria Goretti, Maria Tapó, Merita Alves, Bi-Lessa, Bi Soi, and Bi Mali, among others. Let us also remember the fighters in the Clandestine Front, especially Fernando Lasama, Sebalae, David Ximenes, António Aitahan Matak and Órgão 8, Gregório Saldanha, Constâncio Pinto, Avelino Salar Kosi, Vasco Criado, etc., who risked their lives in the woods, as well as the young Timorese students who, with a number of initiatives organised in Indonesia, supported the Armed Front and the External/Diplomatic Front. They have all left an important nationalist legacy to current and future generations. Each with their own capacity and wisdom, under different circumstances of the struggle, but they all developed and advanced the struggle, guided by only one goal: the people of Timor-Leste must be independent. The struggle might be long, but MATE KA MORIS, UKUN RASIK-AN (‘dead or alive, independence’).
Beloved people of Timor-Leste
What does INDEPENDENCE mean? It does not simply mean having our own flag and national anthem, having government in the hands of Timorese people. It also means living, thinking, feeling, acting with pride, as Timorese citizens.
Despite being a small nation, living in a small, impoverished island, we want to continue asserting our own identity as a people. We don’t want to be the same as the other nations in our region and in the world. It is important for us to understand that our unique identity was bequeath to us by our ancestors as a legacy, influenced by the Catholic missionaries and by 500 years of Portuguese colonisation. During the Indonesian occupation, most Timorese people chose Catholicism as a form of resistance. Our leaders chose Portuguese as the language of resistance. Now that we are independent, we see that many of our fighters are fluent in Portuguese. We also see that many Timorese public figures are guided by Christian doctrine, although there are still plenty of practices that reveal the animist faith of our ancestors.
But in today’s society, influenced by a number of factors, by the media, and by contacts with people with different values, how can we preserve our identity, the identity that defines us as Timorese, endowed with our own unique personality.
What do we need to preserve, now that we are independent? How can we integrate Christian values and the values of animism? Which language should we adopt as a form of national union for us as a people? What principles and values do we want to foster for future generations?
I take this occasion to call for a reflection on the measures we must adopt to strengthen our Timorese identity, which has been weakening since our independence. Today, on 30 August 2018, as we commemorate the 19th anniversary of the referendum, I encourage all organisations to meet with teachers, families, community and religious groups to debate the type of civic education programme our children need, starting with the family and progressing to preschool and to the next stages, and at the community level. With this programme, our children will learn from an early age the principles and values that define us as a people with an identity of our own. An identity that was formed with our ancestors and strengthened through contact with other people and other countries.
Beloved people of Timor-Leste.
As I said before, our sense of Timorese identity was the anchor of our National Unity during the national liberation struggle. National Unity may start to crumble if there is no dialogue on how to build our country for future generations.
The discussion about language within the context of the school curriculum has resumed. Taking into account that the Portuguese language, as the language of the Resistance, is an important element of our identity and national unity, which allows us to acquire scientific knowledge and promote development more quickly, I call on the members of parliament and the 8th Government to calmly reflect on how can we use this official language in our educational system.
To honour the victory of the referendum, we must do everything to ensure peace and develop our country.
Through our experience, good or bad, we learn to consolidate our collective commitment to do the best for our children.
I conclude by calling for a reflection on how can we celebrate, next year, the 20th anniversary of two historical moments: the arrival of INTERFET in Dili, as an expression of international solidarity, and the Referendum, as the day of our victory.
Glory to our Heroes! Long live Timor-Leste! Long live the people of Timor-Leste