Thursday, September 27, 2007

Living In Fear in Myanmar fka Burma- and the Buddhist protests

Blogcatalog's Blogging Against Abuse Campaign, 9/27/07

How many of us know that much about Burma? I know little other than the fact they are ruled by a thuggish, oppressive, socialist military junta, and that for some reason, the name was changed to Myanmar. I also remember seeing some beautiful photos of their pagoda-laden countryside, and thinking to myself -what a wonderful place to visit- save for its despotic regime. Needless to say, I have never visited, nor do I intend to until there is some form of democracy established there, if and when that ever happens.

I didn't know much else about the country, until I read about the recent anti-government, pro-democracy demonstrations by thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns (and their supporters) in Yangon, and decided to do a little research. And what I found was frightful.

Burma received its independence from colonial Britain in 1948, and enjoyed a brief (but troubled) stint with democracy until 1962 when General Ne Win usurped power in a coup d'etat, establishing, in 1964, his "one party" state. His radical "Burmese Way to Socialism" (which included self-imposed isolation from the West) led one of the richest countries in Southeast Asia, within less than 20 years, to be classified as one of the poorest countries in the world, and it remains so to this day. So much for the progressive ideals of socialism!

In 1988, dissatisfied with both the economic situation and political oppression, student demonstrations (which later galvanized others to action), eventually led to another regime change, but not before more than 1,ooo demonstrators were killed by the military on August 8, 1988. But those efforts towards re-establishing democracy, and the many lives lost, were for naught. In September of that year there was another coup, this time headed by autocrat General Saw Maung who abolished the BWS and established, in its place, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). He immediately suspended the constitution, which has never been re-established. In response to continuing public unrest, approximately 3,000 more people were massacred, and at least 10,000 students went into hiding.

In 1989, the SLORC changed the name from Burma to Myanmar.

The SLORC maintained firm control (under martial law) until 1990 when parliamentary elections were held, though who knows why. As expected, when opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi' (who was under house arrest at the time, because yes, she is an opposition leader) and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a majority of seats, the SLORC refused to accept the results, and hordes of political activists were imprisoned, instead, for good measure. Aung is still under house arrest, although many fear that since the recent protests, she might have been hauled off to jail. The current leader, General Than Shwe, has led the country since 1992.

In 1997, the ruling party changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Peace? How ironic, considering the turn of events in Myanmar, today.

From what we know, the peaceful protests began on August 19th in response to exorbitant fuel and gas price hikes, but have since escalated into violence as the Buddhist monks, barefoot and weaponless, continue to demonstrate in defiance of curfews and a ban impose against gatherings of 5 or more people. The government, though oppressively socialist in nature, is also (oddly enough) strongly influenced by Buddhist tradition, and fear of what might happen if they harmed the priests had tempered their reaction to the protests, until now.

There are reports (though unconfirmed) that shots have been fired and that at least 5 to 8 people have been killed, some of them Buddhist priests. At least 300 people have been arrested and many injured. It's obvious the dog of socialism, feeling cornered, has lashed out, regardless of the consequences. They will not relinquish control without a fight, even if it means another massacre similar to 1998. Hopefully, I'm wrong.

And what no-one hears about is the apparent genocide the Myanmar junta is waging against the ethnic minorities of that coutnry: the mostly Christian Karen, the Shan, Kachin and Rohanis. According to a very inciteful article in, ethnic cleansing in the mountains and genocide in the jungles has been taking place for decades amongst these minorities.

My heart breaks for a people who live in fear and who so yearn for democracy, that they will risk their lives for it. And yet our ultra liberal left, our socialist-leaning fringe take the freedoms we so blessedly enjoy for granted, by embracing and glorifying a system that historically oppresses and tyrannizes the people it governs.

One of Aung San Suu Kyi' most famous speeches eloquently describes the power of corruption

"It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it." [snip] "The effort necessary to remain uncorrupted in an environment where fear is an integral part of everyday existence is not immediately apparent to those fortunate enough to live in states governed by the rule of law. Just laws do not merely prevent corruption by meting out impartial punishment to offenders. They also help to create a society in which people can fulfil the basic requirements necessary for the preservation of human dignity without recourse to corrupt practices. Where there are no such laws, the burden of upholding the principles of justice and common decency falls on the ordinary people. It is the cumulative effect on their sustained effort and steady endurance which will change a nation where reason and conscience are warped by fear into one where legal rules exist to promote man's desire for harmony and justice while restraining the less desirable destructive traits in his nature."

Official Myanmar website, for a look at the powers of self-delusion.

For more information on the situation in Burma.


Pat Jenkins said...

there has been no greater threat to mankind through history than individuals desire to oppress another individual. another hideous example here.

Karen said...

Excellent post, Incog! I've been following this myself and will post later. Like you I knew very little about Burma but when President Bush and Laura Bush started speaking about it to the press this week it caught my attention. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Now we know, don't we. It is a really horrible story.

jon said...

Fantastic post. Very informative and I can't wait to hear what my socialist friend has to say about Burma, they recently returned from there and I will be interested in their take on the socio-political situation. I'm sure it will divert, greatly, from reality.

Incognito said...

PAT: That's how they stay in power.

KAREN: Thank you. Sad that it takes major demonstrations to call attention to their plight.

and thank you, JON! I'll be very intersted to hear what your friends have to say. Yes, no doubt, they will find some positive in the situation, as tey are apt to do.

All_I_Can_Stands said...

Excellent post. Takes somebody from knowing nothing about the country to probably knowing everything important in just a few well written paragraphs.

Makes it crystal clear how much the people of the United States take their freedoms for granted. If every citizen lived under such a regime for one month, they would come back here committed to doing what it takes to keep the freedoms we enjoy intact.

Dee said...

Wow!! You did an incredible job on this post. I have been following this story a little but like you didn't know much until seeing the recent demonstrations. I have been planning on doing some research and doing a post but I think I will just link to yours.

It has been interesting in homeschooling my kids I had noticed that a lot of countries were very prosperous until getting their freedom from Britain only to be taken over by dictators or socialist/communist leaders. It is all very sad.

I pray and hope that the people in Burma can be free!!

Jim Fryar said...

I saw somewhere that the elections were held in the belief that the opposition was fragmented and as such the rulers would win easily, then surprise,surprise Suu Kyi romped in.

There are probably other explanations out there but this sounds the most plausible.

Great work, excellent post.

Incognito said...

AICS: well, I took myself from not knowing, but thank you!
It's interesting how much we take for granted in this country. I, for one, am so appreciative, probably because I lived abroad so many years and know what it's like to not have the freedoms we have.

DEE: Thanks so much Dee. And thanks for the link. It really is interesting, Dee.. although British colonialism (or any, for that matter) was problematic, I would think it wasn't as terrible as it is now.
Me too.. but not sure that will happen with China in the background, pulling the strings.

JIM: Yes, that's true, they did have elections and obviously did not like the results. She was under house-arrest at the time, which was also interesting. Shows how much the people want their freedom. Very sad.

Blademonkey said...

During my early formative years I lived in Thailand, Chiang Mai to be specific. It was, and still is, the place where the Karen, Kachin and other ethnic non Burmese would escape to after any brutal fighting between the Burmese army and those who are non Burmese. The Christians in the Chiang Mai area sometimes would be the ones trying to help many of these refugees with food, shelter or a visit to the refugee camps at the border. Many of the refugees were treated badly by the Burmese and the Thai Border Police, but many professed to prefer living in the margins of Thai society than to live in Burma. My father was working for some of the Christian missionaries at the time, through him we had befriended many of these refugees, some of those were lucky enough to relocate to America. We kept in touch with some of those, they still have family in Burma. The situation with the Karens, the Shans, and Kachins will stop only when all of them are killed by the Burmese military or mass exodus of these and other ethnic groups out of Burma proper.

As a side note, the Buddhist priesthood in Burma was and will continue to be the perpetual thorn in the side of the Burmese ruling class. The Buddhist priesthood may be the only class not infiltrated by the ruling junta. In this predominantly Buddhist country, they are also one of the main sources of education. In order to become a man in full in the tradition of Theravada Buddhism, one must become a man of letter. By this one must be educated in the practical and spiritual matters. The various Buddhist temples in Burma provided such education to males who are aspiring to such. This also included a period spent as a monk in the temples. The temples are also where most of the people are getting their dose of anti-junta messages. This is the main source of all the political agitators/protesters for the overthrow of the government. In effect, they are the reflection of the country's majority.

Incognito said...

Thank you for this Blademonkey!! I'm sorry you have nowhere to be contacted, because I would love to know why the Junta are so intent on murdering all the non-Burmese in the country.

I hope you don't mind, but I think I will post your comment, so more people can see this.

Blademonkey said...

I don't mind at all. As far as the answer to the possible motive for the killing of minorities in Burma I may have a partial answer. The ethnic makeup of what became the country of Burma is quite diverse. The largest group would be the Tai Yai (Big Tai), now the most dominant group in Burma. The others, such as the Karens, Shans, Kachins and other smaller groups are anthropologically distinct from the dominant group as also from each other. They all asserted their identity from the time before the formation of the Burmese kingdom. War between the groups were common, in the end, the group with the most power, the Tai Yai, won. The other groups lived under the rule of various Burmese kings as peacefully as any subjects can. The struggle for independence by the other groups continued. The main flash point came during the beginning of WWII. The Karen aligned themselves with the British, who had years earlier forced the Burmese king to agree to a treaty with them, thus destroyed the illusion of the divine kingship of the Burmese royalty. This pretty much gave others the idea of breaking away from Burma.

As far as what I believe to be a particularly vicious way that the Burmese had gone after the Karen may be attributed to the Karen's adoption of the British system of governance. They also adopted the Christian religion as their own. The last paragraph here relied more on what I got from talking to many of the Karen refugees that we met. Other than that, I think that it may have more to do with a rabid streak of extreme ethnocentricism that seems to infect the present junta.