Burma And How It Can Change - Can Aung San Suu Kyi Lead Burma?
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...
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.
The American Chronicle View of Burma
- American Chronicle | Slavery is in Burma, Today!
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- Democratic Voice of Burma: News (English) Front Page
Democratic Voice of Burma is a multimedia organization focusing on Burma - Myanmar. We provide impartial news, information and analysis about Burma. We have two hour daily radio broadcast to Burma via short wave, promoting press freedom, click here.