Map of protest sites in Burma, from TIME magazine’s article “Burma on The Edge.”
Reading articles about Burma from mainstream magazines always make me feel a bit optimistic, that change will come soon. The protests that have occurred throughout Burma in recent weeks is fascinating; the latest, in Pakhokku, by monks who retaliated the treatment of fellow monks who were jailed or physically assaulted, is especially aggressive. Although I believe that nobody, including Buddhist monks, should use forms of violence and force, by destroying cars and homes, holding government officials hostage, I can only emphasize with them. The government’s response, both logistically and politically, was quick. It sent troops to keep nearby Mandalayans from being inspired to take to the streets in peaceful protest (it has not even flagrant by any means; most of the protests have simply been marches). The New Light of Myanmar claimed that these protests were the result of media manipulation, from foreign governments that want to colonize Burma yet again (also adding that fugitive protesters [, namely Htay Kywe] were being harbored in Western embassies.)
This vigorous response, on the government’s part, reflects a change in tactics. Burma can no longer do as it pleases, restrained by its ties with other countries. Even China has responded to the recent protests and clampdown, urging reconciliation between dissenters and the government. All of this makes me feel excited and optimistic, that perhaps nationwide protests are coming soon.
The USDA, which has played a major role in repressing protests, through civilian members, is an obvious propaganda arm of the government. On its English website, readers can find statements such as “No people in Myanmar go hungry” and “There were only 4 robberies recorded [in the nation] this year.” And the USDA is powerful, headed by the generals themselves.
And today, there is news of another small protest by NLD members. The government’s attempts to discredit the NLD as a foreign and seditious entity that is working with Western nations to take over Burma (hence the commonly-seen ‘neocolonialism’ in Burmese state newspapers). Something must change, or so I think while I read all of these articles, that give me hope that the Burmese people have finally become fed up and will demand political change, or at the very least, secure better living conditions.
But then reality sets in. When has the government really cared about its people? It went on a building spree to build numerous universities throughout the country, for two purposes: to move students away from city centers and make congregation and protesting more difficult and to bolster the government’s stance on education through numbers. It was simply killing two birds with one stone. The government routinely stages drug-burning ceremonies, where kilos upon kilos of drugs are burned in front of military officials. Yet it maintains a deep friendship with Lo Hsing-Han (and his son Steven Law and the AsiaWorld company), wanted by the U.S. for drug trafficking ($2 million USD reward.)
And when will the government change, anyway? There are some Burmese who are optimistic that the next generation of military rulers will be more benevolent and more educated. But that will unlikely lead to political change in the country. Western countries have made fruitless attempts and Asian countries have stepped up their economic partnerships with Burma, filling the void of Western nations. And the United Nations has failed previously, through its envoys, to bring about political reconciliation. Burma seems destined for many more years of military rule, either cloaked through the executive and legislative branches or simply straightforward rule.
I’m no Burma studies scholar. But all I know is that the international community, China in particular, needs to get serious about Burma. Ignorance is not bliss.