Wednesday, October 17, 2007

After the Saffron Revolution

Hello there, friends! I trust that that extended hiatus was long enough for all my readers to abandon the blog. But just in case there's someone out there whom I haven't succeeded in alienating yet: your mother's ugly! -- no, I mean "welcome back!"

For the record, this has been a hiatus in large part thrust upon me by outside forces (forces majueres) given that I was having serious problems with my laptop and the Best Buy/Geek Squad/ Toshiba/whoever people took a seriously long-ass time to fix things and get the computer back to me.

Obviously a million things have happened since my last post. For one, I went on a few trips (to NY, Texas, NJ, New Orleans). Gee, it sure would have been nice to have a portable computer on those trips! Ah, but I digress...

You've no doubt heard about the tragedy unfolding in the Southeast Asian nation of Burma over the last couple of months. Since 1962, Burma has been ruled with an iron first by a brutal, oppressive, military regime. In February of this year, a handful of Burmese protesters took to the street with signs such as "Down with consumer prices" and "We want 24-hour electricity." This was probably the first demonstration in the Burmese capital in over a decade. Despite the fact that the protesters were careful not criticize the government (they were just complaining about economic conditions), they were rounded-up and briefly arrested -- reminding the Burmese people that public demonstrations would not be tolerated.

There were a few more protests in April, but things began in earnest on August 19 when people began protesting the government's decision to suddenly and drasticly increase fuel prices. In response, the government arrested 13 prominent dissidents -- a move which drew international condemnation. Then, on September 5, things took another ugly turn when the military forcibly broke up a peaceful rally in the town of Pakokku injuring at least three monks. The country's sizeable community of Buddhist holy men took offense to this and gave the government until September 17 to apologize for the affront.

When the deadline passed, Burmese monks declared that they would refuse religious services to members of the military and their families, and they began to lead daily protests against the government. Over 10,000 monks participated; besides lamenting the price of consumer goods and the insult to the religious community, protestors also called for greater freedoms and the release of opposition leader and noble prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi.

This new wave of protests posed a unique problem for Burma's military junta due to the fact that Buddhist monks are greatly revered by the Burmese people, that their demonstrations were serenely peaceful and religious in nature, and that they had drawn the eyes of the world to Burma.

Nevertheless, the brutal crackdown began on September 26. Monks and other protesters have been beaten, arrested, tortured and killed. Last I heard, the government gave the official death toll at 10, but foreign diplomats suggest the true number is many times higher. The military has also done its best to cut off the flow of information coming out of the country, but not before the world saw footage of a Japanese journalist being shot to death in Rangoon.

On Slate.com, I found this video about Burma. Together with an enlightening narrative by writer Brendan I Koerner, it features beautiful pictures (courtesy of the Magnum group) of the land and people which have been hidden away for so long behind a wall of isolationism and repression. Sorry about the ad at the beginning, but the video is worth it.





Koerner calls Burma's military junta "the most repressive, brutal, evil regime on the planet right now." A BBC article which I read also explains how the abysmal economic hardships suffered by the Burmese people are due in large part to the government's incompetence and maladministration.

One more thing, ever wonder why some people say Rangoon/Burma and others say Yangon/ Myanmar? Both names -- Burma and Myanmar -- are used by the Burmese people to refer to their fatherland. "Burma" is apparently the more familiar, informal monicker used in everyday conversation whereas "Myanmar" is the classical, poetic form. Burma was the official name of the country during British occupation, but in 1989 -- after the last outbreak of protests was squashed by the military, resulting in around 3,000 deaths -- the government opted for the change to Myanmar. The United Nations recognizes the nation as "Myanmar," reasoning -- I suppose -- that a member state can change its name if it wants to; but certain entities such as the United States government and the BBC (to name a couple) continue to call the nation Burma in order to show that the military regime lacks legitimacy in their eyes.

5 comments:

bobby fletcher said...

Here's an article on Burmese geopolitics for your consideration:

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/IJ17Ae01.html

The geopolitical stakes of 'Saffron Revolution'
By F William Engdahl
...
The tragedy of Myanmar, whose land area is about the size of George W

Bush's Texas, is that its population is being used as a human stage

prop in a drama scripted in Washington by the National Endowment for

Democracy (NED), the George Soros Open Society Institute, Freedom House

and Gene Sharp's Albert Einstein Institution, a US intelligence asset

used to spark "non-violent" regime change around the world on behalf of

the US strategic agenda.

Amanda Fliger said...

Glad the 'meeg is BACK!! And giving us insightful information for the bettterment of our souls.

Love ya!

Meeg said...

That's a very interesting article there, Bobby.

I still don't really think we can blame this particular tragedy on Bush though. First, I don't think there's anything wrong with funding opposition media and even anti-government resistance groups in a place like Burma -- these people deserve our support.

Secondly, as the article points out, one of the major factors protecting Burma's military regime is the support they receive from India and -- much more importantly -- China, who are both Burma's trading partners. From what I've heard China and India have been pretty quiet while the rest of the international community has been condemning the crackdown

Zachary said...

Meeg!

Thanks for providing this information. I agree with you that we need to support these people. The way I see it, Myanmar is a member nation of the United Nations, and thus may at least be called out for its actions that do not conform to international standards by the United Nations.

It presents the age old question: Do people half way around the world have the responsibility to do something about a tragedy (in their eyes) happening in a small country on the other side of the world...or should we just mind our own business. Certainly interventionism has its ups and downs. Certainly in the past decade, American interventionism has not brought around much good. However, if we don't do anything...what happens to these helpless people being oppressed by a merciless and brutal junta?

nola32 said...

i just read the words "helpless people being oppressed by a merciless and brutal junta" in zachary's comment. images flash before my eyes. questions that are asked...'why don't we help?,
'america can do so much good, why aren't we?', etc.
i'd like for all of you to consider a few things, a few peoples, a few places...
tibet
china
russia
north korea
zimbabwe
sudan
(darfur)
liberia
pakistan
haiti
i could go on and discuss countries who are in dire need of our help
cambodia
afghanistan (how can we not be doing more to help the people there?)
iraq (these people are our responsibility now- whether we like it or not)
there are so many countries
so many peoples
so many things that we could be should be would be
doing if we only could stretch that far.
what's happening in burma is horrendous. so is what happens to chinese citizens. and russian ones. and north koreans.
how do we save everyone? how do you decide who needs help first and most?
and more importantly--
how do you give humanitarian aid when you're trying to use military force to take over an entire region of the globe?

how do you pick?
how many people are being beaten and tortured and we don't even know it?
why is robert mugabe still in power?
there is no easy answer. there is no answer.
we can't help everyone all by ourselves. it has to be a global effort.

and we're too busy torturing people at gitmo to really be all that concerned about burma anyway.