Companion to East Timor - Pressure generated by foreign activists to end the Famine

Pressure generated by foreign activists to end the Famine

Smith, Pagnucco and Chatfield, in their work on social movement theory, have described the importance of 'challenger research institutes,' which provide a knowledge base that social movements can use to change government policies. They are essential movement allies because they provide well-researched intellectual justifications for movement claims and technical background information for information campaigns.6

Foreign activists created an intellectual and political counterforce and a 'structure of legitimacy' around East Timor. They provided 'well-researched intellectual justifications' to contest the claims of the Indonesian and Australian governments that all was well inside the territory. They were always able to give the movement an effective intellectual counter-force to pro-Indonesian diplomatic initiatives. Without the structure of legitimacy created by scholars and activists, who in turn enlisted influential constituencies in the political, media and religious spheres, East Timor might well have gone the way of the West Papuans or the South Moluccans.

The US activist network for East Timor began just after the invasion. The first US activist for East Timor was Richard Franke, who formed the East Timor Defence Committee in New York. Its members could be counted on the fingers of one hand. The most important and enduring foreign activist from any country during the 24-year occupation was Arnold Kohen. At the time of the invasion, Kohen was a volunteer journalist at a radio features program called 'Ithaca Rest of the News' in Ithaca, New York. He spearheaded an energetic and highly effective campaign with the help of a very small group of scholars, including Benedict Anderson, Richard Franke, Noam Chomsky, Roberta Quance, Michael Chamberlain and Jeremy Mark. Sue Nichterlein and Richard Tanter assisted the Fretilin External Delegation at the United Nations in New York. Congressional hearings in 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980 were highly significant events in the campaign to end the famine.


6J. McCarthy, The Globalisation of Social Movement Theory, in J. Smith, C. Chatfield and R. Pagnucco (eds), Transnational Social Movements and Global Politics: Solidarity Beyond the State. (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997: 62).