Burma these days is in the hands of unkind military leaders. I, a 32 year old poor Burmese writer, have often compared our plight to post-monarchy, socialist Laos, or Tibet which was occupied by China after the departure of the Dalai Lama and oppressed by Mao’s massacres.
The capitalist Thailand and ASEAN now try to be gentlefolks by brokering the democracy talks for Burma. Of course, the West and the U.S. diplomatically engage in the illegitimate government of Burma with no effective and peaceful strategy to bring about democracy in Burma. If long-democratic and wealthy nations in the liberated West are not able to show Burma’s government to democratize, I guess no one can, on this fragile earth.
I once discussed the fate of Burma with Phra Phuwadon, a Thai monk who cited collective karma for the political drama of Burma today. Sure but as one who believes in people power, democratia, I must see that just like the last peaceful monarch King Thibaw, or the first democratic President Shan Saopha Sao Shwe Thaik (Yes, Burma was a democracy before Ne Win’s bloody coup in 1962), or a similar case of the confined Laos Royal family, now both Tin Oo and Aung San Suu Kyi are mistreated in isolation and poor living conditions by the low-minded brutes who were unfit to lead Burma. The international community should worry about the health of Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo because history showed that the Laos monarchs, King Thibaw and Sao Shwe Thaik all died in confinement, spiritually abused by the armed governments.
In 1996 Dr Michael Aris, the late husband of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi emailed me that he would not engage in any political activity for Burma because he worried about his beloved wife's safety in Burma. As an Eastern studies scholar, Dr Aris knew the Christ-like work of Daw Suu and the dirty politics surrounding her. In 2003 May, both Daw Suu and Tin Oo escaped assassination attempts by a top general and were since detained by the junta.
The United Nations has appointed a Malaysian, a Brazilian and now perhaps a Thai as a special envoy to negotiate with the military junta. In my opinion, all these skilled diplomats have done their deed of goodwill, but they are not Burmese in identity to decide on the moral character of the ruling generals in Rangoon.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the radical heroine with a learned East-West wisdom and courage have now haunted the greed of Asian guys for more than 16 years. She remains under house-arrest, struggling with her own intestinal illness, along with ageing leader U Tin Oo in Rangoon, where the majority poor live in electricity black out nights and dirty water from plumbing. Burma is not really that poor. According to Myo Lwin of Mizzima News, in 2002 alone China-Burma (now Myanmar) trade accounted for US$ 860 millions. It is the poor in Burma who are trying hard to make ends meet. Burmese are malnourished, child labour is on the rise, and people have to buy their own medicines at hospitals while doctors are rapidly-educated with lots of experiential education but little academic or social rigour as it is now 1 or 2 years less to study medicine. We also have lots of saved up Swiss Bank accounts by the last dictator Ne Win and his family. After all we have very little debt owed to the IMF, compared to other capitalist nations. An international legal system should penalize the corrupt in court and then distribute the funds to the long-impoverished Burmese in welfare, healthcare, education, labour union and agriculture.
Now Sonny Inbaraj wrote in July issue of The Irrawady : “Forests in a critical watershed for the Salween and Irrawaddy rivers, along the China-Burma border, are in danger of disappearing because of corrupt deals brokered between wealthy Chinese businessmen, Burma’s ruling military junta and cash-strapped armed Burmese insurgent groups.” Worse still, China plans to construct dams along the Salween and Mekhong Rivers to generate electricity, which will hurt marine animals, environment and rural communities of many Southeast Asian nations including Laos, Burma, Vietnam and Thailand.
If you remember what happened to Tibet, faithless China is quickly destroying the sustainability of a beautiful Buddhist civilisation of Burma. Chinese refugees have penetrated the heritage of Thai and Burma resulting in royalty, arts, cuisines and aesthetics being threatened by such predominant Sinonisation. After all what does a refugee have to hold on other than nostalgia for communist failures and corruption back home. Look at Mandalay, the materialist Chinese have occupied most of land and property away from other poor Mandalay locals. Due to Britain’s colonisation, Burmese are a multi-religious lot as well with Pagan animism, Muslims, Hindus and Christian all coexisting in harmony. In 2004 July, in exile Chao Tzang of Yawngwe died in Canada after being a revolutionary for over 40 years, as once a son of the confined President of Burma and later the leader of Shan State Army. His death marked another extraordinary point for Burma as it is illustrative of how Ne Win and Rangoon’s generals have systematically abused both ethnic and Burman leaders who are loved and supported by their own people.
So we want to install democracy in Burma? The intellectual and leader of Burma's independence General Aung San had written much on social democracy before he was assassinated in 1947. Now reworking his visions, we must inspire the Burmese youth that Burma can reinvent a new kind of democracy comparatively to the ones in India, Thailand, ASEAN or UK/US models in this virtual age of post-globalisation. A great thing which has resulted from the 1988 revolution was that Burma has a wonderfully organised democracy movement endowed with plenty of experts in political science who went through hardship after 1988 or 1962 protests. Chao Tzang Yawngwe, Kyay Mon U Thaung and leaders of ethnic movements are just a significant few to mention. Pen is well mightier than the sword or else one can be lured by Mao's ignorant words "the real power is behind the barrel of the gun." We all know that we can’t hold onto democracy like a consumer product; it is in our hearts and affirmative actions to help the weak and marginalised. It is in our idealism and pain.
Burma is mismanaged, corrupt and demoralised. We need honest people in power and we need good people to come to Burma and help found institutions of democracy that will empower the weak, the refugees, the rural folks, the poor and the youth. The military still has not opened the internet access to students and citizenry except for its affluent elites. This is just an example of how the government limits opportunity and freedom of all sorts to its powerless people. We need generosity from our fellow Burmese to eliminate child labour and worsening prostitution of women as well. Burma’s future is in our hands. As Burma history is too, for it showed us all the wrongs and the new paths to take if we do not want to be endangered and hope to restore the democracy and quality of human life we had before 1962.
My mother Daw Tin Tin Ohn used to teach me that we as humans are often drawn to bad deeds more so than to good ones. She is right in the case of Burma. When I was ordained at the Masoeyain Monastery in Kabaaye, I was fortunate to experience the life in the monastery, where almost all monks and novices worked hard to ask for two morning meals, or to prepare and share the cleaning of temple grounds. The monks also went out often to lead prayers at a local school or a home. The leading monks also contribute out of their own finances to funds necessary for the monastery. I also recalled that the abbot of this monastery of less than 100 sons of Lord Buddha was once disrobed and detained by the military in a Rangoon prison, along with the abbot of Mahagandaryon temple, for insinuating dissent and not signing some documents. I asked the Masoeyain Sayadaw how it was to be in the prison, and he replied that he was invited to grant prayers at the ceremonies in the prison, wearing only white robes instead of the regular maroon ones Burmese monks wear.
I felt so fortunate that my father gave me a nicely packed Yuzana brand dried soyabeans fried with chillies and nuts. After gulping them down feeling a bit of yummy culture amid Thai globalisation wasteland, I thought of the relationship between the chairman of Yuzana company Ko Htay Myint, a multimillionaire and a business crony of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt. The general is also very chummy with Thai premier Mr. Taksin, and had traveled often to Malaysia or China to meet with other Asian leaders. What I am figuring out here is that the top generals in Burma are a connected and clever bunch, who have manipulated negative living conditions for both Burma’s citizens and the NLD leaders. Many Asian nations, including Thailand, have shown friendship and goodwill towards the ruling generals of Burma, yet they in turn have no heart to share such kindheartedness with opposition leaders or the underprivileged citizenry. Afterall, most ASEAN leaders are pretty influential and tight-knit group of CEOs who are shrewd at corporate management tricks. Arguably money-mindedness has extinguished the passion and beauty of oriental ways while we are quickly absorbing pseudowestern economics and marketing to rip off the poor consumers in the East with overproduction, bubble economy and greed.
A positive change in 2004 is that Burma stops exporting rice, thus reducing the price of the staple. Land is taken away without consent from rural folks to build dams to generate electricity that Burmese people jokingly tried to laugh off the incurring blackouts in the cities. Even papayas are now imported from Bangladesh or roadside pears from China. Not so surprisingly, these papayas I found were also GMOs without seeds. Burma simply does not protect its agricultural sector like China, EU or Thailand with subsidies, import bans or incentives to empower farmers. Thais’ efforts to engage the United Wa State Army, another political stooge of western China arms trade, introducing Thai crops or machinery including soya beans or tea are also hypocritical considering how can these food-growing peasants live pleasant lives under the control of the Wa businessmen and politicians heavily armed with weapons mass-produced in China.
It is a norm that many rural Burmese use motorcycles and cars illegally imported from Thailand, as they have long polluted Thais’ California style freeways. I have been getting annoying emails with cramped words and a US flag asking me to apply for a visa application to America costing a few thousand baht, and I am sure the republican-controlled US immigration service, once an institution set up by immigrants, is not open-minded enough to let in new immigrants of colour.
A day free and bright in Thailand, I had an accidental meeting with Elizabeth, in her ageingly plump and la joie de vivre persona, who was half French and half Spanish. She asked me where I was from and when I told her my nationality, she exclaimed, “ I love Burma!” I felt so surprised to hear such a one liner. It was a daunting question: how could a foreigner love Burma amid all these tales of poverty and political isolation. She also said Burma is so poor and that “the government cannot live in isolation forever.”
Sipping a few bubbly Singha and Thai beers on a filthy noodle stall, I talked to Ko Charlie who could speak five languages among them are Nepali, Burmese and Thai. As a well traveled man versed in cultures of Gurkha, upper Burma and southern Thailand he was saying that "Thagaun htet nya ma net par" meaning "Nothing is darker than midnight" depicting how Burma has no choice but to rebuild and reform. Before joining Thai tourism and textile trade, he worked in mining in Burma and he said the business was not bad. As immigrants both he and I have challenging lives in Thai democracy; he was recently told to get out of town by another Nepali and now he is planning to work in Koh Samui. He predicted that in about 5 years, Burma will change quite a lot. Sure, Burma is reaching a deadend, and we must be aware of the judgement day where people will win over injustice.
Buddhist economics. Will they work in Burma? Certainly, just like His Majesty King Bhumibol advocated sustainable development, Burma must learn to share its resources or the recent profits of lucrative trading within the country. When a private enterprise approached the late democratic Prime Minister U Nu for mining contracts when his cabinet was in power, the Prime minister asked how long these natural resources had been unearthed. The businessmen answered a few hundred years. U Nu said he would then suggest to keep a few hundred years more to conserve it for the future generations of Burma. That was the spirit of U Nu, a Buddhist democrat and an exile, harmed by Ne Win.
Burma is too small, poor, weak, complicated, and absolutely beautiful. No country in the world could care and show understanding towards its current political crisis as much as the liberated citizens of Burma, the lifeblood of healthy and prideful Burma in the near future. Burma is a promised land; we simply cannot become a refugee race, a victim of global media wars and money-greed. Wouldn’t it be nice if the international community could join us in our passionate cause to free the NLD leaders and the oppressed citizens of Burma.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2004