Accepted paper:

From revolution to polity: the case of Portuguese Timor


David Hicks (Stony Brook University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes a revolutionary movement in Portuguese Timor, founded in 1974 by young people. It describes its evolution into a structured post-colonial polity, and explains how these young nationalists, without any knowledge of government, established a viable system of governance.

Paper long abstract:

This paper analyzes the process by which a revolutionary movement in the colony of Portuguese Timor in 1974-1975 evolved into a structured post-colonial polity. It explains how two dozen young nationalists, among them student activists, without any knowledge of government and lacking experience of administration, collaborated in changing the established political structure and replacing it with a viable system of governance as the colonial authority, Portugal, extricated itself from a colony over which it had held hegemony for three centuries. The revolutionary movement, reified in a political party, the "Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor," or "Fretilin," mounted a campaign to win the allegiance of Timorese, ninety percent of whom were illiterate. Following a war with two rival political parties and the departure of the colonial authorities, Fretilin's central committee formed a de facto government with innovatory features that distinguished it from its colonial precursor. This was a liminal entity without any formal legitimacy; but it restored order and provided the colony with administrative continuity, though of a character radically at variance from what had existed before.

panel IP08
The institutionalization of revolutionary movements: ethnographic case studies