Public Opposition

A large cross-section of the Australian public disagreed with the government's diplomacy and supported East Timor's right of self-determination.

It should be noted that East Timor had no land border with a friendly country and no external source of weapons. Its successful resistance is probably unique in the
history of guerilla warfare. Its mountainous terrain and its people's courage sustained a powerful resistance movement for 24 years. One contributing factor to this success was the support of ordinary people outside East Timor, in Australia and elsewhere. This transnational movement engaged in solidarity actions of mutual dependence - although
not under direct threat themselves, and for the most part not even of Timorese origin, foreign activists identified with the struggle of the East Timorese and operated within a shared framework of understanding and collective action.

Just as successive Indonesian and Australian governments tried to increase East Timor's diplomatic isolation, the solidarity movement adopted tactics designed to give it maximum publicity. Activists carried out a long-term campaign of grassroots public education. They held public rallies, conducted research, published articles and books, disrupted ministerial press conferences, blockaded military bases and even sabotaged military equipment. These activists were the little wheel inside the bigger wheel of public opinion, making it turn in support of East Timorese self-determination.

Their actions were based on the knowledge that simply turning up to the ballot box every three years would not have a significant effect on policy. By rejecting political passivity, they ensured that foreign policy was taken out of the exclusive control of Canberra's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Their efforts were viewed with hostility by elites, and still are. Elite hostility is often a good indicator that activists are on the right track.

Today, however, instead of campaigning for justice for East Timor, civil society in Australia tends to focus exclusively on development projects, academic career-building and non-political cultural activities.

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