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 spiegel.de, 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.