Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 1
28 September 1998

Kazi Stastna C Z E C H   R E P U B L I C:
Jose Ramos-Horta Visits Prague

Kazi Stastna

On 22 September, human rights activist and leader of the East Timorese resistance Jose Ramos-Horta was in Prague for a panel discussion with Chief Foreign Advisor to President Vaclav Havel Jiri Pehe, Minister without Portfolio Jaroslav Basta and Director of Broadcasting for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Jeffrey Trimble. The discussion, organized by the People in Need Foundation, took place in the huge glass maze of a the former parliament building which now houses the studios and offices of RFE/RL. Over the course of the two-hour discussion, several issues managed to be swept under the wider thematic umbrella of "Global Responsibility in the post-Cold War Era."

One timely issue touched upon repeatedly was the question of RFE's broadcasting to Iraq, which has yet to be approved by the Czech government (broadcasting to Iran has already been approved). Most questions on this subject were directed at the representative of Czech government Jaroslav Basta, who stressed the need to first review Czech security interests before signing on the dotted line.

The bulk of the discussion was oriented toward tapping into the long-standing experience of the Nobel Prize winning resistance leader. When asked what role smaller countries such as the Czech Republic can play in resolving larger human rights issues such as the those he has experienced first hand in East Timor, Ramos-Horta pointed to the examples of Costa Rica's role in affecting change and brokering peace in Latin America, and Holland's firm yet solitary stance, at the expense of damaging oil embargoes back in the 1970s. He suggested that with Vaclav Havel's strong moral authority, the Czech Republic can play similar key roles in conflict resolution.

Speaking on the issue he knows best, the situation in Indonesia and East Timor, Ramos-Horta repeatedly stressed that the current transition government in Indonesia must be given the benefit of the doubt, and the public must await the developments of the next few months and the results of the elections in May. Only with time can one assess the government's efficacy and sincerity in carrying out widespread reforms, which, he noted, must include investigations into human rights violations on the part of both sides, Suharto's government forces and the Timorese resistance.

As a leader of a violently repressed and colonized people, Ramos-Horta naturally fielded questions regarding the effectiveness of trade embargoes and claims of self-determination. Both must be assessed on a case by case basis, he claimed, emphasizing that self-determination is not necessarily synonymous with secession and is often confined to cultural, economic or linguistic spheres. In cases when secession is the ultimate goal and is shown to be locally legitimate and not instigated by outside powers, serious dialogue between the concerned parties must be occur.

As for Ramos-Horta's fellow panelists, they generally presented complementary views which coincided with Ramos-Horta's own position. In effect, the discussion at Radio Free Europe's headquarters was not so much a discussion in the sense of a debate or free exchange of ideas between participants, but rather a targeted question and answer period in which there were no surprising answers.

Kazi Stastna, 28 September 1998


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