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Burma And How It Can Change - Can Aung San Suu Kyi Lead Burma?

Updated on August 26, 2013

Burma in 2013 is now emerging as a limited democracy - but one of the most troubled, most divided countries in the world. It has a history of almost permanent war for many centuries, interspersed with brief periods of calm and peace. The various tribes of the Mon, the Karen, the Kachins, the Shan, the Chin, the Tibeto-Burman, Thai and Malay people have always fought among each other. The Buddhists and Hindus and Karen have fought over land, leadership, power, resources and religion. It has been “owned” twice by the British, and has been under military Junta rule since about the middle of the last century. And then there is Aung San Suu Kyi, the woman who inherited her father’s role as spiritual leader of Burma after he was shot when she was aged 2 years old - and she headed up a political party that won a landslide victory. We also know she was brutally repressed and thrown into prison, and has been incarcerated several times by the military Junta. The Party she formed was at one point outlawed, though now reformed, after her release. And Burma is bought and paid for (bankrolled) by six of the richest countries in the world. And there’s more than a slight chance that you live in one of them...

Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest for 2 decades
Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest for 2 decades

Burma is trying to free itself from that monicker of being a failed state. Democracy traditionally has never worked in Burma up until recent times. And no one knows how to fix the many wrongs that still dog this delicate and endangered country for so long. Its political hero was seen by many outsiders and many Burmese as Burma’s spiritual hero, yet she had to languish in prison or under house arrest for so many years, all because of her beliefs and her politics.

On Saturday 13th November 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from her long incarceration, and she is now rebuilding her life and her future.. 2013 sees Burma trying hard to reinvent its poor international image.

You might have read to the contrary, but the Military Junta, also known as the SLORC still rule with an iron fist. The country lurches from one problem to another like a drunken boxer. It suffered in the past by being officially isolated by the rest of its neighbors in Asia. Sanctions instigated by the West were vicious and brutal. Today Burma is working to build new alliances with the most developed countries in the world. There was a time in the recent past, when, behind the veil of official diplomacy, some countries quietly traded in its resources below international “radar” of many media outlets, making the trade go unreported. And the elections in recent years were a forgone conclusion since the elections were rigged and not truly democratic. Few people expected a military Junta to play by the democratic rules.

A message from Steven Seagal...

Although a bit dated now, the Hollywood stars came out and bravely did their duty to call for the release of the Freedom Fighter Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma is not in the democracy business. Burma is a Work In Progress.

Burma - up until recent times, was not interested in being friends with anyone or being a good neighbor. Burma saw this a s a big mistake. It previously shared its fortunes (or lack thereof) with North Korea, the recently unfortunate Haiti and Zimbabwe, and some other states that are politically isolated, and “blanked out” by the international community. But as long as Burma didn’t make international waves like some pseudo-terrorist countries, the rest of the world perhaps tolerates this strange behavior.

Since 9/11, the world cannot afford to tolerate the needs and behavior of countries like this. They become bigger problems over time until they become unmanageable.

Burma has many resources that in the past, were constantly poached by rich businesses linked to western Governments that do trade with its rulers. They were able to buy most goods there at knock down prices. This practice was indicative of a foreign hypocrisy at work when it came to Burma. Some foreign Govts did not want Burma to clean up its act too much as it would have been bad for business. Even though Burma is opening up its doors and even its borders to foreign travel and business, it needs to do a lot more. And human life still fetches a low price here too. The Human rights abuses continue in Burma.

The reasons behind its failures are many. There are too many tribes and groups with ambitions for power and control and they are easily divided against one another. Most of these groups are poor and needy, and so can be bought off easily and are corruptible. Burma has never been open to the possibilities of inclusive debate and admittance of the rights of many parties and factions. Then there are Burma’s many neighbors with which it has been at war for many years.

Drawing a line under this history and moving on is difficult enough. Thailand. India and China have in the past - had much involvement with its development and conquest. India and Burma were both once part of the British Empire, before both gaining independence. But while India slowly flourished and grew, Burma stagnated. China’s economy began to grow separately also and its population grew. China has only ever seen growth in its modern life and has never been owned or colonised. China is one of the richest countries in the world today. Burma is now slowly embracing democracy and more openness, but it trails behind even the poorest countries in the world.

So why are the Burmese so futile at forming a proper society, and why do their efforts always come to nothing? It has too many weak people at the bottom strata of society who have been brutalized and oppressed. Only now are they able to have a voice and a say in events shaping their own future.

Burmese resistance had its chance in the first half of the 20th century, but it was torn apart by in-fighting and lawlessness. It emerged that vested interests from outside had succeeded in keeping the country under-developed, and its dictators conspired conveniently with foreign powers and trading companies. That vicious cycle now appears to have been broken. But many say that much disparity there still continues.

The country has many religions but few true believers. Aung San Suu Kyi never stopped hoping for the future of her country, a once proud Asian Nation that succumbed to war and in-fighting and lost its way. The Burma that Burmese people want today is one that can choose its own path.

Burmese people have for decades been prisoners in their own country. There are young smart and dependable and honest people willing to innovate and learn, grow and develop, and do things for their country, in the same way that it happens in any other developed nation on earth. They are only now getting the chance. Reinvention is a difficult game. Changing your mindset is a lot harder than just changing your name like changing Burma to Myanmar. You can't just give it a different name and announce that everything is better already.

Freedom is a luxury they only dream of here. Watching TV channels on what few TVs are available in Burma, you see westerners watching music concerts and sipping coffees in restaurants and laughing and joking, texting on smart phones and checking emails on iPads. You would be lucky to find a Starbucks cafe or internet cafe in Burma today. And internet is a luxury that less than 3 percent of Burmese people get to enjoy. Burmese people probably would beg for foreigners to explore their country and see what kind of world Burma is. Burma is a country that needs exposure to the outside world.

Burma has amongst the lowest take-up and ownership of mobile phones of any country in Asia. CARS and TVs are an incredible luxury there. Its living standards are on par with Haiti. Burma's Junta know that Burma would continue to get nowhere unless they embrace change and allow free and fair elections. Burma needs hospitals and schools and many utilities. It lacks major infrastructures that modern countries and cities have. it has a tiny economy. It is very vulnerable and still not stable politically.

Why did the Burmese never end up like The Philippine People after Marcos was overthrown? The Philippine people chose a path to democracy and peace, and although it has been slow, it is becoming more democratic. In recent years, the Philippines has seen record growth. The Govt recently signed a historic peace treaty with the southern region on Mindanao. What were previously unthinkable possibilities have become ACTUALITIES. The Philippines is already passing through the eye of that painful needle of change and improvement. It may have several mountains to climb still, but its economy will develop more, and its people will also prosper more. Burma has yet to take these steps. The Philippines is on the list of the world’s next ten most promising economies, in terms of doing business and in terms of democracy and tourism and manufacturing. The Philippines is managing its own affairs better than ever. Burma would learn more from its Filipino neighbors on how to grow from a "poor man of Asia" model - to become a successful place to live and friendly non-aggressive nation.

In the past Burma learned not to trust foreigners. And it was actually right. The war years of the 20th Century were bad for Burma. But Burma could change this now forever, if it chose to.

It’s similar to the indifference the world showed to Tibet when it was swallowed up by China. People were outraged and protested and made vocal and verbal complaints, and the West protested - then did nothing.

Actions never matched words or rhetoric. It seems that Asia has a history that consists of most of the World’s developed countries trying to greedily exploit Asia for whatever they could get. Some countries fell victim to that western influence and other influences and suffered, while others recovered and continued onwards.

South Korea and The Philippines are 2 of Asia’s most successful examples of poor countries that overcame terrible odds and became successful, as did Singapore, India and Malaysia - the latter countries having been former British colonies. Indonesia is another country that has made progress. These are now the Tiger economies of Asia today.

Interview with Aung San Suu Kyi

What about art and culture, books and music – how did they contribute to this story of the re-invention of Burma? Do they offer any help as to how Burma can grow?

One well known verse in poetry written by the modern hero of Burma today speaks volumes about Burma's violent past:

In the Quiet Land, no one can tell
if there's someone who's listening
for secrets they can sell.
The informers are paid in the blood of the land
and no one dares speak what the tyrants won't stand.

In the quiet land of Burma,
no one laughs and no one thinks out loud.
In the quiet land of Burma,
you can hear it in the silence of the crowd

In the Quiet Land, no one can say
when the soldiers are coming
to carry them away.
The Chinese want a road; the French want the oil;
the Thais take the timber; and SLORC takes the spoils...

In the Quiet Land....
In the Quiet Land, no one can hear
what is silenced by murder
and covered up with fear.
But, despite what is forced, freedom's a sound
that liars can't fake and no shouting can drown.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Burma story is a universal one. It is a story of oppression of waste, of greed and ignorance. It is a moral tale that can be presented on an infinite number of levels and platforms and can tell us so much. It can also teach us, and make us understand. There are so many different voices that are begging to be heard. Now for the first time, they have the chance. The world is listening. The world is reading. The world is waiting. And we care.

Only now have the doors to this country marginally opened to the rest of the world. Only now is some kind of openness beginning to appear. Some people say that Aung San Suu Kyi would make a great future leader for this emerging country. She would not be able to lead Burma alone. Her voice has never diminished, and foreign nations trust her more than the actual leader of the country at present. Her pedigree is undiminished. Her arguments for more freedoms for Burma's people are irrefutable. This may be a country taking it's first slow faltering steps forward, and it will need time to adjust to the 21st century. But for the first time in a long time, Burma is not without hope.

(Poetry by Aung San Suu Kyi.)

This written article, excluding the poetry, is copyright 2010 (c) Cassy Mantis. Updated in 2011, 2012 and August 2013. All rights reserved. Videos are copyright of their prospective copyright holders.

Song about Aung San Suu Kyii, Unplayed Piano by Damien Rice.

Irish singer songwriter Damien Rice had an international hit with this song "Unplayed Piano" - written on Aung San Suu Kyii's 60th birthday. The woman in the video singing is Lisa Hannigan.


Submit a Comment

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Well spoken and I echo your sentiments entirely, Chef Jeff. She is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, and that makes her supposedly dangerous. It shows how retarded the whole imprisonment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was. She is at a crossroads herself now. She is a hero to me, as a woman and leader. She needs all the support she can get. Cheers, Chef Jeff. Always good to get your comments!

  • Chef Jeff profile image

    Chef Jeff 

    8 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

    Excellent hub, and as you know, I also feel passionately about Dr. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose release from her house imprisionment has gladdened my heart. How she may be able to function as a voice for her people and the nation of Burma, I have no idea. I can only hope all our governments take the lead in backing her in this struggle. She deserves our respect, of course, but more than this our constant, unfailing support.


    Chef Jeff

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hello sarovai: I pray that that window does open. It is a desperate situation for any human being to find herself in. It turns my blood cold just thinking about it, and yet it must be said here any way. Yes, her poetry is very moving. And she is not getting any younger or healthier as time trickles by. Thanks for the comments.

  • sarovai profile image


    8 years ago

    When the door is closed atleast a window will get open. With what you narrated about Burma that is Myanmar is really sad thing. Even the poetry is expressing darkside of Burma.

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hello meow48: okay, we can't be dumb about this stuff, it's not our fault for not knowing about the things that we are not told. (That sounds kinda weird when said out loud) But what we can do is make sure we know, and know enough. By knowing, we learn to appreciate. And it makes us think. The mere fact that you have learned something important here and decided to comment to me is enough, and I thank you for being honest and for caring. :)

  • meow48 profile image


    8 years ago from usa

    i think i am as dumb as the next person when it comes to burma... thankyou for making me realize what is going on. but now, again, what could a person like me do... humnnnn. thankyou for a thinking hub. take care meow48

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hy Micky Dee: Wow, thanks for this insight here. Oppression is the invisible hand that influences so much of what goes on in the world, and it goes un-reported or not reported enough. And that makes me crazy. There are elections in 2010 in Burma. I am a girl on a mission - call me nuts, but I want people to know what's going on. Your idea on the Golden Rule is facinating. A Law above all Laws. Well, the West seems to have let us down. I do wonder is the "West" just a name or a bit of a con? It is beginning to sound more like every nation for itself, and don't cheese off your neighbours kind-of-thing. Thanks for some good solid comments here, moi friend.

  • Micky Dee profile image

    Micky Dee 

    8 years ago

    Great hub Cheeky. These type hubs of oppression draw me more than others. I am so into human rights. It doesn't matter what type of government is in charge. What matters is that the "governing" are compassionate. I "harp" about the Golden Rule all the time. I will always. It's the law above all laws. If there is no Golden Rule there is chaos. We don't have enough in the western world. Not near enough! Thanks for a great hub.

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hy film critic: Thanks for popping by, I haven't seen you in a while. Refugee camps are miserable places and like prisons, it is sub human existence. They are what I call "kept" people. Kept ignorant - kept in the dark, kept in the materil sense, forcing them to become dependent on someone. Taking away their identity and breaking them down. It's just horrible.

    But the interesting things start when they get educated, and discover things, find "ideas", and then get smart, as all down-trodden people do. That sows the seeds for change. Dictatorships rise and fall. All the ignorant idle people will be needed eventually, and have to be shown things, taught and trained. That's where it starts...

    I'm not an anarchist, but I just feel the people don't deserve it - and there are those who could help, but won't...

    Who told you I bought the company? Come on - who? That's supposed to be a secret! Hehehehehe! Bet you didn't even laugh! I really am a Cheeky Girl! x

  • film critic profile image

    film critic 

    8 years ago

    Hey Cheeky Girl,

    Nice Hub. I have a few friends that have stayed there for awhile. One at a refugee camp, and one in a fishing village. Their perspectives are limited to the small areas that they stayed, but they both had similar things to say. In both areas the people were very poor, were completely uneducated, and were more concerned with day to day living than anything else. In the fishing village long work days are the standard. There are no real means of communication beyond the word of mouth.

    When that's what you are born into, sometimes it is not a matter of not wanting anything better, as much as not knowing anything else.

    A common thing a dominating culture does, whether it is an indigenous military power or an outside colonizing power, is to keep the natives ignorant (uneducated) and without the basic needs. When your primary concern is food, I am sure most are not considering the more abstract needs.

    Anyway, nice hub. I'm glad to see that you are taking over hubpages!

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hy frogdropping: that name and avatar always makes me smile. I am glad you liked the Hub on Burma. The way of life there is very interesting, I got to know it through a close friend and through some fantastic books, including one by Aung San Suu Kyi herself. It is a pity she didn't talk more of her life there. Wonder why. Perhaps a little story buried in there. As a country it has had its fair share of drama and confusion. I would also love to visit, but things there now are in a state of upheaval. It is a curious country the way it developed. You couldn't make it up! Thankyou for reading this, and feel free to check my other hubs. I will visit you often too!

  • frogdropping profile image


    8 years ago

    I know of the state of Burma, Myanmar, and have for much of my life. My Grandmother was of the Shan culture, Tai Yai. She was raised in a way befitting the life of someone born to royalty. She arrived in the UK in the 1940's. Luckier than most, of that I've no doubt. But she went to her death, as ever refusing to talk much about her place of birth. She wouldn't speak her native tongue or Burmese, only ever using English. Luckily she was educated in English as a child. It always amused me that this tiny, oriental looking woman always sounded quite plummy when she spoke.

    Although she was born and raised in a Shan State, she considered herself Burmese. It's a shame she spoke so little of the first 35 years of her life. She occasionally told me some wonderful snippets of her life as a child.

    I truly hope to visit Burma one day but sadly, the current state of things makes it unlikely.

    A great hub and a surprising find, thankyou for taking the time to write this.

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    @ Jason Wen: I did not know that about Nuclear power. That is news to me. I know a few countries in Asia are in some kind of "cahoots" with the Burmese Junta alright. Well, I am glad to have written this hub, it has caught some people's attention - and I appreciate your comments, Jason. I won't give up hoping, though. Thanks.

  • profile image

    Jason Wen 

    8 years ago

    Burma is thought to be, according to the Economist magazine, conspiring with North Korea to develop Nuclear Power. How true this is, I know not. But worry I verily do. China is also conspiring with Burma. Burma has friends in high places. Some say Burma is untouchable. Whatever the truth is, democracy is now a pipe dream. Do not get hopes up for its heroes. They can do little now.

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    @ Dolores Monet: It is always good to see your comments, my friend. I have to thank Cathy (aka Astra Nomik) for really inspiring me to write this hub. Aung San Suu Kyi does seem to be that symbol.

    She is a symbol of all our failures in a way, since no one is brave or willing enough to dissavow Burma the way South Africa was dissavowed by the west over Apartheid, until Democracy finally came about there. I know there's more to it than that. Power truly does corrupt. Oh, what a mess this country is in. Thanks for your comments.

    I have been taking sneaky looks at your hubs these days! Great reading, as always!

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 

    8 years ago from East Coast, United States

    Cheeky Girl, thank you for your insightful, beautifully written article about Aung San Suu Kyi. She is a symbol of all that is wrong with the world, with the corruption of power, and the ability of corruption to marginalize the will of the people. It's heartbreaking.

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    @ Truth From Truth: Thankyou for this, we live in hope!

  • Truth From Truth profile image

    Truth From Truth 

    8 years ago from Michigan

    Great article on Burma, I hope things improve there soon. Thank you.

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    @ tonymac04: It is interesting that she wrote this, these curious and a bit sad as poetry goes. I like your comment about us not being free either, it seems to bring home ever more the urgency that undelines what we need to do, and to never stop caring about the important things. Thanks for this comment. Love and Peace - Tony. From Cass.

  • tonymac04 profile image

    Tony McGregor 

    8 years ago from South Africa

    "In the quiet land of Burma" - what a poignant, sad story. Aung San Suu Kyi is truly a hero of human rights. Freedom is indivisible and so while she and her people are not free, neither are we.

    Thanks for putting all this information so well.

    Love and peace


  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hy TattoGuy! I'm just kicking off my shoes after a day busy shopping! Nice to get your comments! Yes, there are many, and yes, Hubpages is chock full of 'em! Heh! Thanks for popping in, Capn! xx

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    To be honest I know little about Burma but I know a lot more now, deff one should take time to learn other cultures which is why I like hubpages as its full of all cultures, great hub moi friend x

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    @ Lindsay G: Hy Lindsay, I must confess, that's one Amy Tan book I have not read, but now I will, thanks to you! My friend Cathy has some relations for near Burma (she is part Asian) and I am reading a lot about the country, and its history and culture. It sounds great! I will check out the book, and thanks for the tip! Bless you!

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    @ prettydarkhorse: I am touched by these lovely words here from you, Maita. I know the path to recovery for Burma will be slow, it deserves better. Congrats on being an American Filipino. I went there some time back, I fell in love with the place! Boracay was divine! I didn't want to leave! And Manila! SM! It's got it all! For me! Heh! "My girl"...*chuckles here* I am touched by your warmth, Maita! You are beautiful and loving! x

  • prettydarkhorse profile image


    8 years ago from US

    wonderful and thanlk you for featuring Burma, we just hope one day it will survive and imrpoved its current state, thanks also for featuring Philippines, am an American Filipino BTW, Cheeky you are my girl hehe, Maita

  • profile image

    Lindsay G 

    8 years ago

    Thank you for this insightful article on Burma. I listened to an audio-book called "Saving Fish From Drowning" a novel written by Amy Tan in 2005.

    The story follows the trials and tribulations twelve American tourists face when they embark on an expedition of China and Burma. It was a interesting look into the lives culture and issue of the people there. I always wanted to write about how it touched me.

    You have done it so much better than I could have. Well, done!

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    @ Tatjana-Mihaela: Thanks for this, my friend. It is a suybject close to my heart for many reasons. Reality is painful for the Burmese people. It almost doesn't seem like reality to many others who live outside of Burma.

    @ myownworld: Yes, they need the strength to stay alive - but I wonder a lot about the future of this country, and where it will end up? It's nice to get your comments, as always - I value them all, and learn by them. It's nice to see people do care in their hearts! You have a beautiful soul, my friend. Bless you! xx

  • myownworld profile image


    8 years ago from uk

    'Like a private closed conclave, its people are, democracy-wise, prisoners - gagged and bound' - Yes, my heart goes out to the ordinary Burmese people. May they have strength to never let their spirit die!

    Thank you Cheeky for's beautifully written and conveys your compassion and love. Words are powerful Cheeky... I believe hope lives through them! Take care...and keep writing these powerful hubs... x

  • Tatjana-Mihaela profile image


    8 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

    This is VERY interesting article, CG. I have read also Hub about Aung San Suu Kyi... Very sad story. Reality of this world is often very painful.

    Thumbs up.


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