Friday, September 28, 2007

Murder in Myanmar

Had I have been blogging ten years ago, you may well now be reading a post about the brutal Generals in Burma. Of course I hope no one gets injured or worse, well worse has happened already. I also think of the Karen rebels on the Thai border and the refugees in camps along the same border too.

But ok, say the Generals give over to democracy. Will it get any better?

I was somewhat passionate over independence for Rhodesia and it turning into the country now known as Zimbabwe. That was a good idea, not. India did not turn out to be a great example of colonials bolting. Self rule for Papua New Guinea, not a great result either. Fiji? Disappointing. Indonesia, what can one say.

One where I wore my heart on my sleeve and actively campaigned, East Timor, is not going great guns.

We are to believe that a rise in petrol prices has led to the present disturbance in Burma. Maybe. Perhaps that is the fuse that will bring it to be like a successful democratic Asian country like Thailand. Ah, problem there, Thailand is ruled by the Generals too.

I love a fight for democracy. But I am not sure that the end result is worth the effort for you average person. I will go so far as to suggest that the your average person may be better off under rule of Generals like in Burma, or colonial masters. There may well be immense pride on Independence Day, but there are the other 364 days to consider.


  1. Ahem. You knew I'd comment on this.

    I see your point re: the average person not being any better off. I am also willing to wager a bet that the average person (VERY simplified example here, but for blogging purposes - eg: your average rice farmer in Burma) isn't really going to mind whether the government is democratic or a military regime.

    However, the right to choose is fundamental. I can not believe that some military government can be allowed to get away with what the Burmese (Myanmar) "government" has. In 1990, they exiled the directly elected National Government (headed by Aung San Suu Kyi - who was only released earlier this year!)

    The regime has outlawed not only political parties but clubs / unions / student organisations - any form of freedom of speech, one thing which I know I take for granted. There is no independent system of law. There is huge censorship (I certainly wouldn't be posting this if I lived in Burma!) and the uprisings of the past few days suggest the government certainly doesn't hold back in using force against it's own people.

    While I do see your point about the notable examples of the change to a democratic regime merely turning sour - the citizens of Burma legitimately chose a directly elected government - and the military government overruled that. This hasn't been about a democracy being forced on the people - they choose their government, and that was taken from them.

    To me, the right of choice seems like a fundamental right. The blatant disregard of human lives and human rights in Burma suggests to me that what a democratically elected government - such as that which was democratically elected in 1990 - should be instated.

    Of course, with China on the Security Council (thus holding the power of veto) and being an allie of Burma (can anyone say ASEAN?) - it will be difficult to achieve any UN sanctions for the meantime.

    Anyway, sorry to take over your blog there Andrew! Perhaps I see the world with rose coloured glasses, but I'd like to think a change is possible.

  2. PS: As Aung San Suu Kyi once said,

    'It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.'

  3. / I stand corrected. I don't think Aung San Suu Kyi has been released? Do you have any idea Andrew? I thought the sanctions imposed by the US in Jan allowed for her release - but I am getting conflicting reports. I know Kofi Annan was a big supporter of her release. Good bloke.

  4. Every government uses force against 'its own people'. Police batons here are just a warning.

    Burma has been its own country for at least thirty years, it was take it or leave it. When I went there you could only get a seven day visa and weren't allowed to travel by road. There was no tourist accomodation (we slept on the floor of the old Rangoon YMCA), and tourism wasn't encouraged at all. In our entire seven days there, travelling to Mandalay by train and back down the Irrawaddy by barge, we saw only one other tourist, a snooty dame living in a pagoda village. An academic of course. I doubt much has changed in Burma because they've managed to keep Western influence out. Which makes it the most interesting country in Asia. But maybe not for much longer.
    The Burmese were the most gentle kind hearted people, and apart from not being allowed to travel by road we were entirely free, no pressure at all. If the place does get Democracy I sincerely hope it doesn't let Western commerce in with all its shit. Suu kyi is a latte icon already.

  5. Thanks Rosanna and Robert. An edjecated view and a personal experience. She was still under house arrest in her crumbling mansion, but it is rumoured that she may have been moved to a prison since the demos started.

  6. Thanks. I don't mind Suu Kye, but I just hope they don't cop Harvey Norman as well.

  7. Andrew, edjecated?

    Robert - thanks for writing about when you were there. My best friend was there for a period of time last year, and she said the amount of poverty was absolutely horrendous. The same came be said for a lot of places in the world - whether democracy or not.

    But the military junta is merely a power house - he has no democratic standing. He's proved himself to be capable of ignoring sanctions by some of the world's most powerful countries (UK & USA from 2001 onwards). I rallied for Burma in Melbourne on Thursday - and I'd do it all again.

  8. Ignoring sanctions by the world's most powerful countries isn't necessarily a bad thing. Capitalist democracy isn't always a good thing.

  9. I do agree with Rosanna about the people "having the right to choose". They chose once and had their choice taken away.

    East Timor might not be going "great guns" but at least it is going.

    Don't be put off by your passed experiences. Democracy always comes at a price. Australians never had to pay for their democracy and freedom with blood.

  10. You don't have to look at Burma for violence. The police did a good job imitating thugs at the Burmese Consulate in Canberra.

    Thailand still has a Royal Family which is held in very high regard by the people.

    India came off a lot better than Africa which had so many colonial masters only interested in taking everything of value. The Brits left infrastructure in place and in the hands of Anglo-Indians which didn't happen in Africa.

  11. Of course Rosanna is right Firehorse. Democracy is right and all should have it. Jaded old commie bastards like moi and RH are too cynical for the present day. But I am not so sure that Australians did not pay for democracy with blood. Not in a direct fight for democracy perhaps but indirectly. I had such dreams for East Timor. I am so sad about it.

    Not caught up with that one Jahteh. I will tomorrow. King Bummalong (oh god, I have just ruined any chance of future Thai visa) never overstretches himself. He will never order anything to happen that he knows won't happen.

    As I have said in the past, Indians are inclined to be a bit bolshie and have political streak in them, more so than Africans it would seem. Anglo Indians were frozen out of public life in the sixties and pretty well left stateless. Not proper Indians, but nor could they claim to be UK citizens.

  12. "I had such dreams for East Timor." Imagine how the Timorese people feel then.

  13. Anonymous6:33 pm

    We take the right to vote for granted and usually don't give it a second thought. But how would you feel if you were suddenly excluded from voting or if someone didn't like the outcome and decided to take over by force? I doubt you would be saying it wouldn't matter for the average person - remember you are the average person too! How would you feel if you had no right to criticise the government? How would you feel if you couldn't leave the country? Burma may be an 'interesting' country because it has avoided Western influence, but at what cost to the local people? And do you really believe the ruling Generals live as the average person does? It's not democracy or independence that is the problem, it is people's refusal do acknowledge and respect the wish of the majority. I didn't vote for Howard and I certainly don't like his policies but I would never like the Australian military to take over the country because they felt they could do a better job. I'd much rather live with an imperfect system decided by the majority than to live with the whims of whomever decided they knew what was best for the country.

  14. Anonymous6:35 pm

    Sorry, forgot to add my name to the above post; though maybe you can guess...yes, it's me, Vik.

  15. Not quite the same thing Vik. It is comparing Western democracy to third world democracy. Burmese are at the lowest of low bases and perhaps democracy in Burma would help the poorest in some meaningful way, but by the examples of other third world countries with 'democracy', I hope they are not holding their breath. I stand by my original post in so far as they won't necessarily be better off, in spite of the pride they may feel should they achieve their aims and live in a third world democratic country.

    It gives me no pleasure to be not fighting passionately for an end to military government who despotically and cruelly rules a country.

  16. What good is your vote? Whichever side you vote for it's the same crowd. Business interests rule this country, not politicians. Democracy suits bloodsuckers or they'd get rid of it immediately. When Whitlam actually went socialist in 1975 he was gotten rid of by the head of the armed forces. It's nothing new. Western capitalism has been pointing guns at the world for centuries. And ripping out all its rescources, wherever it can find them. If America gets its way Rangoon will get neons, squawking TV ads, and billboards on the road to Mandalay. The Irrawaddy will get yuppie ap-a-a-artments, and everyone wearing Levis, with belly-button fashion for all the girls in a place looking like everywhere else. Commerce demands standardisation, that's all. Latte princess Suu Kyi and all her followers in Randwick and Fitzroy have their hearts in Paris, we all know that. Or Daylesford would still be a unique little country town. Latte free.

  17. Anonymous8:50 pm

    I believe it is possible to have freedom and democracy without taking on the worst of Western culture and the capitalist ideal. Yes, the democracy touted by the powerful Western countries is designed to benefit the multi-national companies and maintain the status quo. The big world players are hypocritical and don't give two hoots about the average person unless it directly impinges adversely on their interests. I would dearly love to see a new, more equal economical model being used. However, denying people the right to vote (however poor their choices) and denying them freedom of movement, education, access to information, etc. does not mean they are going to be any better off. Democracy is not ideal but it does allow more choice. I don't have to (and don't) buy into the capitalist ideal but at least I have the chance to pick and choose how I live my life. Better that than no choice. Vik.

  18. Everyone should have a say. And be listened to. That's basic. Everyone should get respect. And not be subject to wicked manipulation. Meanwhile advertisers hire the best psychologists in the game. Making you feel like shit. I don't know of any capitalist country where democracy isn't used to put fear in people. Or any country that's taken it on without their culture being reduced to a sideshow for tourists.
    Let the buyer beware.

  19. Anonymous9:50 pm

    Yes, let the buyer beware. But also allow the buyer to choose from a number of options. Arguing that a dictator, no matter how benevolent, may be better than a form of democracy doesn't improve the situation for the majority of the world's people. We may not like the system we live under but we can argue, debate and agitate for change, without fear of reprisal (usually). This is something many people do not have. Until everyone is able to speak openly, nothing will change. Vik.

  20. You've got it, my thesis: Nothing changes.