Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Burmese Days

So, some time to let the mind roll-over my first experience of Burma in another karaoke poisoned (the worst I have ever heard – this country’s pop is worse then Cantonese or even Tibetan – seriously wrong) cramped bus trip headed straight for Yangon. Another night at the ridiculously friendly Mother Land II guesthouse, a wander around markets and then a final tea over-looking the picturesque port and Schwedegon that dominates it. Then back across the Bay of Bengal to India with our dodgy beards.

An important area that I must delve into. This country is famed for its oppressive regime and indeed many choose to avoid it for that very reason. How far was I able to investigate the situation? How informed an opinion could I attain? The truth is not far and not much. That though is compared to the standard of knowledge that should usually be expected to give a reasoned opinion, but this is not an ordinary scenario. The whole situation can not be grasped from the hand-full of areas that are on the tourist map or from a people who are generally too scared to speak up. This I believe makes it even more important that those who can, publicise the snippets of information they can gather.

Firstly from what I saw with my own eyes. I saw a strong military presence, propaganda and an undoubtedly suppressed people who were noticeably cautious in speaking out. Freedom of speech is curtailed on airwaves and with closed access to Hotmail/Yahoo/news sites etc. Overall it reminded me a lot of western parts of China and that was a key point in my thinking. Here we have two oppressive governments that act secretly, strangle free-speech, suppress minorities, open-up some areas for foreigners to see how well everything is getting along while closing off other large regions where god-knows-what goes on. Many similarities. Why then is the rich world treating them so differently? Surrounding countries seem to treat Burma comparably openly (compared to how the West treats it) - as can be seen in the streets of the capital laden full of East Asian products. The West has chosen a policy of shutting-off the country while at the same time opening their arms to China.

From the little I can see, a policy comparison that deserves closer attention so to avoid hypocrisy. I repeat I have not seen much, but it has raised questions in my mind.

Now to what I heard with my ears. In particular, two individuals opened up politically to me (their names or roles of course kept confidential – people are scared to speak out for a reason). From them I heard stories of killing and suppression in the cut-off areas. Of child armies, drug-wars, and immense human rights violation. Of friends in jail and an increasingly powerful and paranoid government/military structure. The impression I received was far from a government weakening under western constraints, but rather one that is constantly consolidating power and a people with ever less heart to openly fight it. The situation was described as hopeless up until alcohol took effect and one man stressed the need to find a leader to give hope.

It is hard to have any settled opinion from only a few weeks in this country but from what I have guaged there is little hope for short term political freedom in this country. As I left, the "Lady" as she is known (Aung San Suu Kyi) was put under house arrest once more, but for most people I spoke to she gives little hope. In fact one side of the argument goes that she is as much a hindrance as a help. Yes she does bring publicity to the struggle, but provides a convenient excuse for the West to do as she asks - isolate the regime and officially sanction the government - while at the same time largely forgetting about the situation. The policy is not working. On the surface the situation does not appear to be improving. The government does not seem to be weakening but digging in further. I just cannot see a successful revolution coming from the mass of these peaceful people in the near future.

Either way, the idea in the West that if we strangle the government the people will revolt and fix the situation so that the West can fling open their arms seems incredibly narrow sighted. On the one hand it seems unlikely as the government entrench and the people lose heart and on the other, if it were to come about, imagine the likely humanitarian crisis in the process of the “normalization” of relations. Revolutions can go down in history as glorious successes, but they can also go down as bloody failures and either way may take many souls with them. These people need assistance.

A policy rethink is needed for a huge problem. If the correct policy for China is to open arms and carefully guide it away from its negative side then why not for Burma. To be honest I do not know what policy is best but I am sure there needs to be a RETHINK!!!!
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