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When the hurly-burly’s done, When the battle’s lost and won: Socio-Political Imaginaries of Former Combatants and their Supporters in South East Asia

Dr Henri Myrttinen
Mauerpark Institute

Leena Kotilainen
University of Turku

Panel Abstract

Since the end of the Second World War, all Southeast Asian countries have experienced armed insurgencies, revolts and uprisings. These have included anti-colonial and nationalist struggles for independence, religiously and politically motivated struggles, counter-campaigns against these struggles, and uprisings borne of more diffuse feelings of grievance. This panel seeks to examine what happens to the protagonists after the conflict is officially over and how and to what end ex-combatants identities are mobilised and reconfigured in the post-conflict milieu.

Whether victorious or not, former combatants and their supporters, in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, often continue to reproduce the language, logic and political imaginaries of the struggle years – witness, for example, the self-portrayal of the Burmese tatmadaw as guardians of the nation harking back to the anti-colonial struggle; the continuing anti-communist rhetoric of groups such as Pemuda Pancasila in Indonesia; the insistence of former GAM in Aceh to have their symbols and leaders representing the province; and the ‘a luta continua’ rhetoric of former resistance members in Timor-Leste. The conveners invite papers that examine the various socio-political imaginaries of Southeast Asian former combatants and their supporters in a broad sense, including the gender and spiritual dimensions of these imaginaries.


Paper 1: Reintegration Programmes and the Remaking the Timorese State.

Kate Roll
University of Oxford

Reintegration and benefits programmes are at the centre of processes of post-conflct state-building. These programmes ‘do’ much more than provide welfare payments or control spoilers; they are, instead, more usefully approached as a providing a set of mechanisms or a technology for defining the post-conflict state and enabling the extension of state power. While many practices may be analysed in these terms, this is particularly true of reintegration and benefits programmes, both as they engage with classic definitional issues around the state such as who may legitimately wield force as well as mark significant changes to state infrastructure and state knowledge of its subjects.

This argument, however, rest on a particular conceptualisation of state-building and the state itself, one that diverges from the dominant approach focusing on institutional development. More specifically, I apply recent theoretical analysis of the state as constructed to post-conflict state-building in Timor-Leste. I follow the calls to ‘focus on the multiple sites in which state processes and practices are recognized through their effects’ (Trouillot, 2001: 126) and plumb the quotidian practices of governance and state performance that become ‘a central domain for the production and reproduction of the state’ (Navaro-Yashin, 2002: 135). Accordingly, I approach state-building as concerning the broader questions, including how does a collection of new institutions become a ‘state’? What processes transform these entities into something more than the sum of their institutional parts? Fundamentally, how does the state emerge as a ‘common ideological and cultural construct’ (Mitchell, 1991: 81)?”


Paper 2: Shadow, Parallel and Contested States in Timor-Leste: The Political Practices and Myths of Veterans’ Organisations in Timor-Leste 

Dr Henri Myrttinen
Mauerpark Institute

The official narrative of the independence of Timor-Leste and the state which it begot, the armed resistance of the Falintil plays a major, if not dominant role. This is underlined by public displays of valorisation, be it in commemorative speeches or increasingly extravagant monuments, but also in several hundred million dollars worth of pensions, scholarships and public contracts. 

Nonetheless, the veterans, as represented by their organisations, tend to be an unhappy polity. This paper examines the political practices of two key veterans’ organisations, the CPD-RDTL (Conselho Popular pela Defesa da República Democrática de Timor-Leste) and the Sagrada Familia. While both whole-heartedly support the valoriastion of veterans and neither questions the independence or the existance of the state of Timor-Leste per se, both have a distinctly ambivalent attitude towards it. While both have been seen as factors of instability in the post-independence years, they have followed different paths in the interaction with the state.

Of the two, CPD-RDTL is the more radical in its stance, questioning the legality current constitution of the republic, using mostly political and legal arguments, and drawing on an eclectic ideological mix based on ‘maubere:ism’. The organisation has been challenging state authority by setting up parallel structures to the very RDTL state it purportedly is defending. The Sagrada Familia, on the other hand, while ideologically similar has a much more mystical basis, centerd arounfd the persona of Comandante L-7. While also carrying out activities in parallel to the state (such as collecting and storing the bones of fallen guerrillas), Sagrada Familia has also been able to occupy central positions of the state buraucracy with its members, including the Armed Forces Commander, thus forming a kind of shadow state. Over the course of 2013, a new actor emerged in the form of the Revolutionary Council headed by L-7’s brother, contensting the authority of the government based on poor socio-economic performance. The paper examines the forms of interaction of these three organisations with the state, analysing some of the deeper issues underlying the forms, narratives and practices of these processes.


Paper 3: DDR in Aceh, Indonesia – Disillusioned, Discontent, Ready to return to war?

Roman Patock
Goethe Universitaet

Based on the general DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) approach this paper looks into the economic, political and social implications of reintegration of former guerilla combatants in Aceh, Indonesia from an ethnographic perspective. 

Against the backdrop of the post-Tsunami brokered peace agreement between the Acehnese resistance movement GAM (Geurakan Acheh Meurdheuka) and the Government of Indonesia in August 2005 the initial process of disarmament and demobilisation of guerilla fighters, relocation of Government troops and amnesty for political prisoners went surprisingly fast and smooth. The economic, political and social reintegration into civilian life, however, progressed much slower and saw numerous obstacles.

In the eyes of former combatants reintegration (reintegrasi) is merely thought of in economic terms as compensation for suffered losses and legitimate spoils of war rather than benefits of peace. Channelling the funds through the organisational network of the former rebel military on one hand reinforced a far reaching parallel society lead by military authorities, on the other hand helped to commit GAM members to peace so far.

Besides economic and political empowerment the need for social integration is widely abnegated under the assumption GAM and the Acehnese people have never been separated. ‘Mental disarmament’ and reconciliation have not yet settled in as can be seen from the vivid expression of past warrior pride and ethno-national sentiment. Rhetoric of war and independence (meurdheuka) are still strong in conversation, heroic tales, karaoke songs and symbolism.

In the eyes of numerous fighters the present post-conflict period is merely seen as a transitional period with open end at best, often referred to as ‘times of political war’ with considerable potential for violence as the discovery of weapons caches, grenade attacks and prevented assassination attempts suggest. Should sentiments of disillusioned and discontent fighters be fuelled and their readiness to return to war exploited, the peace process could eventually come under considerable pressure.