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Open Access Longitudinal change in East Timorese tertiary student attitudes to national identity and nation building, 2002-2010

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Longitudinal change in East Timorese tertiary student attitudes to national identity and nation building, 2002-2010

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The attitudes of the tertiary students who are likely to comprise the next generation of leaders are pivotal to understanding the challenges of nation-building and national identity formation in post-conflict settings such as Timor-Leste. This article examines post-independence debates over national identity in Timor-Leste, presenting the findings of a longitudinal survey (Dili, 2002, 2007 and 2010) of East Timorese tertiary student attitudes to national identity. In particular, in the wake of the 2006 political-military crisis, the paper examines the evidence for differences in attitudes between students from eastern and western districts, concluding that the few significant differences in attitudes peaked in the 2007 survey, and were associated with the overt politicization of regional identity within Dili, and concerns over post-independence leadership, rather than any genuine ‘ethnic’ or ‘regional’ variation in attitudes. The paper also examines significant changes in some youth attitudes since independence, including a significant increase in the acceptance of the co-official status of the Portuguese language in the tertiary student demographic since the early years of independence. The survey also highlights the ongoing importance of tradition and adat in understandings of political community, but reveals significant gender differences in attitudes towards the role of traditional authorities.

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