Tue 25 Jan 2011
Filed under: Opinion,Other
Burma is back in the news, with the looming opening on Monday of a kangaroo legislature in the isolated capital of Naypyitaw. This is the poisoned fruit of a manipulated election by which the ruling junta of what calls itself Myanmar aimed to buy some rare legitimacy.
The generals followed on their opposition-light vote by granting a relaxation of strictures on Nobel winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the prime symbol of dissent in a sad land. But any real popular resistance seems destined to be crushed anew.
The New York Times Sunday described the latest video evidence of repression, a documentary about a lapsed member of the 400,000-strong military that tightly rules the country. This follows on an earlier work, Burma VJ, which was nominated for an Oscar award last year. That production used smuggled footage to capture the 2007 Saffron uprising led by Burmese monks. I viewed the film after meeting at a New York reception three of the monks who helped lead that revolt. The trio, who escaped from Burma and reached the U.S., now live in Brooklyn and are trying to maintain their vows while pressing for reforms in their homeland. (An article about them, in the January 2011 issue of First Things magazine, is behind a paywall.)
It is through diligent monitoring and campaigning, mostly by outside non-governmental organizations that furtively keep tabs, that the predations of Burma’s military rulers are kept in the public eye. Certainly officials organizations ranging from the United Nations to the ASEAN group of Southeast Asia nations (which admitted Burma to membership in 1997) have been of limp use in supporting Burmese democrats and ethnic minorities at odds with the generals. Cyclone Nargis in 2008 was a reminder of how useless these bodies have been rendered.
Burma has suffered through nearly 50 years of this brand of dictatorship. An earlier military group seized power in 1962, and resisters have been outflanked or beaten down ever since, particularly in a 1988 uprising and the one followed it (also beginning on Sept. 18) in 2007. In reining in an admittedly splintered populace–with resistance movements that themselves can be violent–the Burmese regime has mixed ruthless muscle with the pretense of democracy.
It held the bogus elections Nov. 7 to set up the next stage of the tyranny (rumor is that ruling Gen. Than Shwe will appear Monday as president before the new legislature) and, having done that, let Aung San See Kyi free of house arrest in Rangoon. (Her surprise victory in a 1990 vote was what triggered the latest 20 years of harsh order.) How many of her fellow Burmese she can now reach in a society where electronic communication is stifled is anyone’s guess–probably few.
The general case for continued despair over both the plight of the Burmese and the unhelpful actions of outside parties is made in this recent posting by veteran Southeast Asia journalist Bertil Lindner, and buttressed by the latest country report from Human Rights Watch.
For now, the civilized world will simply watch how this ruse plays out, and what part international entities, especially the governments of China and India, play in it.