Agam's Gecko
Monday, October 22, 2007
Burmese soldiers
Soldiers relax in central Rangoon.
Photo: Moemaka Media / AFP

he Than Shwe regime has lifted the 9 pm - 5 am curfew they imposed at the height of last month's protests, as well as the restriction against more than five persons meeting in public.

The Bush administration scoffed. These moves are rightly seen as a bad sign.
"The actions of the regime are `cosmetic'. What we need are signs of serious intent to move toward a democratic transition," presidential press secretary Dana Perino said...

"The lifting of the curfew is not a good sign, but a bad sign that the regime now feels confident that it has cleared the monasteries of dissidents by either jailing them or sending them to their home villages, and arrested all the major players in the demonstrations and sent into hiding or exile those they have not captured," Perino said.
A Korean journalist is in Rangoon, reporting for the NYT and International Herald Tribune. Check out the photo on that story. At the four entrances of Shwedagon Pagoda, authorities have posted a board of photographs of what appear to be detainees -- their faces frightened, or bruised from beatings. The junta's tactics are all based on instilling pure fear in the population.
"It's not peace you see here, it's silence; it's a forced silence," said a 46-year-old writer who joined last month's protests in Yangon and was now on the run, carrying with him a worn copy of his favorite book, George Orwell's "1984." "We are the military's slaves. We want democracy. We want to wait no longer. But we are afraid of their guns."
This reminds me of a joke that's said to be popular in Burma (see also my recent articles on the role of humour in resistance). Everyone knows that George Orwell lived in Burma for a time, and from those experiences came his novel Burma Days. But what most people don't know, is that this was only the first of Orwell's Burma trilogy -- the other two being 1984 and Animal Farm.
"Keep your pen and piece of paper in your pocket; there are spies everywhere," said a 62-year-old retired man in Yangon's Chaukktatgyi Pagoda. "Please don't tell anyone my name. Big trouble for me."
Two foreigners were travelling independently through Burma in mid September, and from a conversation with a young monk near Mandalay they had advance notice that something was about to happen, and that the monks would be at the forefront. The two travellers do not want their names disclosed, fearing that the regime could track their movements retrospectively and possibly endanger people who spoke to them.

They were in Mandalay when the crackdown was launched, and eventually made their way back to Rangoon. They sent their report, A Postcard From Burma, to the Epoch Times upon leaving the country. There is an attempt to sketch out the factors which reinforce the state of fear -- something that most outsiders will not be fully able to appreciate.
But the real control was beneath the surface. Most people in Burma are convinced that the streets are filled with Government spies who are constantly listening for anything incriminating. There is no doubt that these spies exist. But simply the possibility of them alone is enough to keep most people quiet and compliant. Conversations with locals are nervous and fuelled with stories of what has happened or what may yet come to pass.

They desperately want to speak out but know the penalties for doing so are extreme, swift and often quite irrational. This is key to the Junta's control over the people—there are no facts, no solid information, and no transparency. The Burmese live in a state of constant fear that we in outside world cannot even begin to understand...

Despite the knowledge that the world is watching, many people expressed frustration at the lack of support from the outside world. There was a feeling of disappointment and anger that such attention was only now being focused on their nation, but that some 40 years had passed with minimal help or support.

The Burmese realise that the United Nations is now attempting to pressure the Junta, but they simply don't believe that the United Nations can help them. They desperately want support however, and know that they will not be able to gain freedom and democracy without the help of the outside world.
On their last day in Burma, they met a man who was prepared to speak openly with them, and whom they described as "a very intelligent, educated, and compassionate man." Like many others the travellers had met, he desparately wanted change, and knew it could only come with help from the outside world. But he felt that a good outcome would only be possible through negotiation with the junta. His parting words to the two foreigners:
"Please tell others of what you have seen here, please help us."
A very interesting and useful piece was published in the Washington Post yesterday, written by Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. He says it's not the Generals' Burma any longer, and I do hope he's right. He's been watching that country a couple more years than I have.
In 1988, the people of Burma launched a nonviolent struggle for democracy and were met with gunfire. I was working for Sen. Pat Moynihan, about the only prominent American to notice then what was happening in that isolated country. One day, after the Senate passed its first-ever resolution on Burma, a photo arrived in our office showing a column of Burmese marching with a banner reading: "Thank you Senator Moynihan." We were proud but profoundly sad. We knew that our meager words could not keep those brave people from being killed or their movement from being crushed.
And of course their sadness was well placed, for they were exactly right about what was to happen next. But the Burma of 2007 is not the Burma of 1988. There is more that we can do to help this time.
But the government also has reason to worry. By attacking monasteries, it has created a problem it cannot solve: These sacred spaces cannot be shut forever (any more than Poland's communist government could have closed its Catholic churches); when they reopen, dissent will reemerge. Through the Internet, Burma's dissidents are more connected to each other and the world than ever before. The leadership is more disconnected from its people, and from reality, holed up in a bizarre new capital in the jungle...

Diplomats and foreign policy experts sometimes discount sanctions because -- like most of us -- they don't understand the arcane world of global finance. But targeted financial sanctions have become highly sophisticated. For example, decades of generalized trade restrictions against North Korea had little impact -- but when the United States, acting alone, caused one foreign bank to freeze one account belonging to North Korea's leaders, Kim Jong Il came to the nuclear negotiating table pretty fast. Even hermit kings can't afford to have their credit cards frozen, as Burma's rulers may soon learn.
This seems to me to be important. Many people do discredit sanctions, even targeted ones, as more likely to hurt the ones they intend to help, and for being ineffective against the ones targeted. That's not necessarily so.

The cashflow to the junta leaders begins with the resource companies and the factories providing jobs to people, moves up the chain through payoffs to local and regional SPADCO divisions, and continues all the way to the top where its placed into international deposits through Singapore and Dubai, laundered through international banking system from which the Generals can retrieve their clean money. If foreign investment is sanctioned out of business, the jobs dry up and people suffer even more. Intercept the funds farther along the food chain, while it's in the international banking system, and the ones who suffer are the dirty hands at the end of the chain rather than the sweating ones at the start of it.

The New York Times has a new photo slideshow about conditions in Burma today. I would guess they're from Choe Sang-Hun, the Korean journalist previously mentioned. Notice particularly the third slide, showing a street banner declaring the "People's Desire." This is seen on billboards and banners all over the country, and is frequently inserted into television programming.
People's Desire
  • Oppose those relying on external elements, acting as stooges, holding negative views.
  • Oppose those trying to jeopardize stability of the State and progress of the nation.
  • Oppose foerign nations interfering in internal affairs of the State.
  • Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy.
Orwell. Say no more.

The democratic world can help, we all can help. Funds are being gathered by a group of young Burmese freedom lovers in northern Thailand, to be directly channelled to those in Burma who need it most. Thousands of families have been deeply affected by what took place last month, and this is one way to help where it really counts. The link is at the top of our menu bar.

Democratic governments can continue to explore what further measures could be taken against the ruling bullies, while being careful not to cause more harm to the innocent citizens. The Bush administration is energized to action, and this is the best news of all. The only thing that can impel the Generals to the negotiating table with Daw Suu Kyi is a freeze on their credit cards.


Powered by Blogger

blogspot counter