Portugal's secretary of state for foreign affairs and cooperation Joao Gomes Cravinho was in Indonesia last week to attend the second Bali Democracy Forum (BDF). The Jakarta Post's Lilian Budianto talked to him about the progress of democracy in Asian countries and the growing relations between Indonesia and Portugal, former foes who fought many diplomatic battles over the Timor Leste issue in the past. Following are the excerpts of the interview:
Question: What is your interest in the Bali Democracy Forum?
Answer: Portugal is not part of the region, but we think the Indonesian experience of promoting democracy over the last 10 years is a very interesting experience that should be shared.
The realization of this forum in Bali as a regular event is part of a process of international promotion of democracy that we feel very comfortable with. Portugal recently has the presidency of the Community of Democracy, which is a worldwide organization of democratic countries that promotes mechanisms for democracy. We ourselves have had the experience of a transition to democracy: We were under a dictatorship until 35 years ago, and in 1974-1975 we went through the transition to democracy. One thing we think we share with Indonesia is the approach to the promotion of democracy, which is not dogmatic, one-size-fits-all, the recognition that the world is diverse and paths to democracy are different because they are based on different historical experiences.
At the same time, we also believe in the same fundamental values, values that are encapsulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And so the trick we all have to try to achieve is, I think, how to find and help other countries find their paths to democracy without compromising on the universal values. Indonesia and Portugal try to do that and that is something we share and that is why I thought it was important for us to be present at the Bali Democracy Forum.
We are looking forward to the next few years. We have relaunched our relations with Indonesia. We say relaunched because in 2011 we will celebrate the fifth century of the first contact between Portugal and Indonesia. Portuguese sailors first came here in 1511 and that experience is very important to our history. It has been a very profound exchange; we gained a lot from Indonesia and we left some legacies here in Indonesia. And we would like to use this moment of five centuries *of contact* as an excuse to celebrate the past and to think of how to use the past as a building block for future relations.
In business terms, our relations are much smaller than they should be; we have lots of opportunities for Portuguese and Indonesian businessmen to get together. What we mean to say is, we have this cultural legacy and historical knowledge of each other; we have no political problems. The issue of Timor Leste was an issue that divided us for some years but that issue has been resolved through close and intense diplomacy between us and has left us a sense that we can work well together.
You mentioned that Portugal and Indonesia have already resolved the issue of Timor Leste. However, the UN has reiterated the importance of bringing the perpetrators of human rights violations during Timor Leste's referendum to justice. How do you see this?
This is a very important issue. Point number one is that what is fundamental is the promotion of good relations between Timor Leste and Indonesia. Portugal will always work toward the consolidation of good relations. The second point is we believe that impunity, in abstract terms, is not a solution for the problems of any country in the long run. But we know this is a complex process that must go at the right speed, sometimes an excessive desire to find a solution that is 100 percent right can derail the process. We understand there is a complex process of transformation going on inside Indonesian society. Timor Leste itself is a new country trying to understand its complex heritage and we would not be interested in creating circumstances that will derail these delicate processes. But the future must be toward the path of justice, because only toward the path of justice will we find true and long-lasting reconciliation.
How does the government of Portugal see the results of the Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF)?
We think it is a part of the process. What has happened so far is not something that will resolve for the rest of eternity issues that need to be worked on over the years. We think it is a step in the right direction and that other steps will undoubtedly come when the time is right.
Does Portugal see Indonesia as a bridge builder to establish better relations with other Southeast Asian countries?
I have visited Indonesia several times and but this is only my second time in Jakarta, and I have been quite struck by the Indonesian approach to foreign policy, which has emerged quite strongly in recent times and I think it has quite an ambitious foreign policy for the next few years. I am struck by the way Indonesia is emerging as a bridge-building nation because Portugal also looks at itself as a bridge-building country in international politics.
I think, Indonesia is creating for itself a very strong foreign policy. The emergence of Indonesia as a country that is listened to by the Arab world, by East Asia, in the UN, is capable internally of promoting consensus and mechanism-finding as a sense of shared values in a diverse society. This is something we admire; we hope Indonesia will be successful in consolidating this in the international arena.
Do you have any concerns in building relations with Indonesia?
Politically, we have no problems between us. We have to work more in the economic field. Culturally, we have a heritage we need to know how to celebrate and use for the future.
Indonesia has managed *itself* remarkably and, particularly in this region, Indonesia can stand out as a lighthouse to say we have managed something which is very difficult, and to show others can do this too if they are guided by the right principles.