Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest yesterday. I thought this would be an appropriate time to post part of an article I wrote back in 2007 at the time of the monks’ uprising. There are many lessons and hurdles to engage with for those interested in democracy. I was in a cafe today and one man remarked to his friend that ‘this is Burma’s Mandela moment as Suu Kyi might be negotiating the generals out of power.’ I thought to myself, ‘for the sake of the Burmese people, I hope not.’
What is going on in Burma is really disheartening. It looks like the despotic government, at least at the present, is getting the better of people who are striving for freedom. I have heard people exiled from the country say that fear of the government is deeply entrenched in the culture. In this context, the monks are extremely brave. Imagine a government which could be so callous as the shoot at a monk carrying, not a gun, but a banner which extols the virtues of peace.
I am not optimistic about a drastic change there unless there is a coup by more moderate generals or the people start some kind of mass uprising. China does not want to place too much pressure on the regime as it is more interested in stability and prosperity rather than democracy. This is not surprising since Tiananmen Square happened not long after the last major uprising in Burma. It would set a dangerous precedent for external intervention. Moreover, many countries in the region are fearful of what the Chinese economic ascendancy means for their security. Not only does the US have bigger problems to manage (read IRAQ), but the US’s diplomatic machinery seems to be adrift under a Ms. Rice who has thoroughly disappointed.
How should the West respond? Sanctions? Those only hurt the poor people and prop up the regime. Can you say Cuba or North Korea? When you have a paranoid state, cutting average people off from the outside world, just strengthens the regime. Mr. Bush, Mr. Brown and Mr. David Miliband sound tough, but how will their statements translate to actions that help to dislodge the Burmese government? The vast majority of the generals do not want to go to Britain or the US anyway. They are free to go all over Asia including China to conduct business and take holidays. Much of the sanctions that will be ‘tightened’ have been in place for nearly 2 decades and do not seem to have any perceptible effect.
What the world needs to do encourage is the children of Burmese people to come, study and see how diverse democracies, as imperfect as they are, constitute the best way for organizing our affairs that humanity as yet devised. Think E. M. Forster, ‘So two cheers for democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism.’
- Aung San Suu Kyi and Burmese Sanctions (kristof.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Brown plans to visit Burma democacy leader (news.theage.com.au)
- Behind The Wall: Progress, but little change in Myanmar (behindthewall.msnbc.msn.com)
- Aung San Suu Kyi: The generals think they have sidelined her. They are wrong (guardian.co.uk)
- Betwa Sharma: India and China Greedy in Burma; Obama Scolds (huffingtonpost.com)