After chairing ASEAN in 2014 many things have changed in Burma. It is a different country than four years ago (2011) when the newly sworn in civil government still used its propaganda to hide atrocities, a civil war, the suppression of ethnic minorities and the press and the vast body of old military cronies that ran the country and filled their own pockets rather than the country’s.
But I’ll have a look at the development step by step. In 2012,dialogue started with the opposition and the ethnic minorities. The civil war, which raged for decades, stopped after the government committed to end launching attacks on these ethnic groups in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country. As commitments by the government weren’t trustworthy at all back then, the ethnic groups called on the UN to observe the dialogue and also step in as a consultant in certain cases. Aung San Suu Kyi who was given more attention and consideration by the government after her release in 2011 led the opposition. She called on the minorities to reconsider their desire for independence and promoted the idea of a unified Burma where all ethnic groups live together on the territory of Burma. The talks ended with no solution.
2012 still brought many changes. Burma freed itself from being a Chinese colony that was used as resource supplier in a manner that had no advantages for Burma as a country – “Friends without benefits”. The economic ties with the country were redesigned and the projects that were initiated under the sino-colonial rule progressed. Sanctions by the international community were lifted as the country enormously improved its human rights record and the progress towards democracy and peace took an important step forward. International corporations were given permission to start building factories and therefore started to provide jobs to the unfortunately still impoverished population.
By the end of 2012, the UN launched another round table to discuss the further roadmap for Burma’s development and as the stalemate from the first round wouldn’t ease without strong commitments by the government, the UN suggested new elections in 2013 – also to improve ASEAN as an interregional body of democratic nations. Than Shwe, the former military dictator, was arrested and accused of atrocities along with other military figures. He and his cronies were given free accommodation in The Hague.
Thein Sein, the first President after the 2010 elections won the internal battle against Than Shwe and also laid out the roadmap for Burma towards a more open and freer society and country. His focus on education and reconciliation gained major support from all sides – on the national level as well as internationally. He was also the leading politician who accepted the suggestion by the UN – the elections were to be held by June 2013. His involvement in the atrocities is still discussed and a decision on his charges is to be made soon. Still, his collaboration is greatly appreciated by the opposition as well as the international society.
The elections brought the opposition another landslide victory (as after 1990) and a former lawyer and supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi’s ideas took over duty of leading the country over the next four years. Suu Kyi had no intention to run the country as she saw more potential in a younger version of herself, which she saw in the lawyer. But as she dedicated her life to the well being of Burma and its citizens, she stood by the newly elected government with her knowledge and advice. By the end of 2013, economic relations with the international community flourished and made it the fastest growing economy in the South East Asian region. Profits that were made by selling its natural resources (in a sustainable way of course) were reinvested into infrastructure projects, education and developing a system of governance. The World Bank as well as the Asian Development Bank supported the initiation of most of the infrastructure projects financially. As one of the poorest countries in the world, the conditions of the loans were favorable to the nation.
As of 2014, Burma took over the Chair of ASEAN and led the community into rounds of economic talks that should foster prosperity throughout the whole region. The global economy had recovered after the 2008-2013 struggles of the financial system and global trade intensified yet another time. Amongst the biggest winners of the recovery was the ASEAN region, which compared to the West had still distinctive advantages in producing goods (e.g. cheaper labor, vast resources).
As Burma was the latest example of change towards democratic values, the academia throughout the region started to analyze the reasons for this development. Main reasons for the change were the longstanding battle of the ethnic groups, that brought the then leading dictators a major headache. Forces had to be used and money invested, that otherwise were to be spent on the well-being of the military crony society. Also the ageing leading rulers became to old to keep up the system and the strength to run the country. From this dissatisfaction arose the internal struggle between Than Shwe, Thein Sein and others that contributed to the fall of the military rule as the forces were not united anymore and hence could also not control the soldiers and the country anymore. Those who fought against their own people for such a long time were amongst the first that laid down their weapons in order to state their intention of creating a unified nation.
Today, 2015, it is still a long way to go for Burma. Several groups within the country are still not satisfied and call for more and rapid improvements. But as we all know, you can’t change a country over night. The population is still very poor although their standard of living has improved extensively. Educational facilities are starting to become organized and provide the youth of the nation with a worldly education that will bring the country prosperity in the future – maybe 10 years from now, maybe 20 or 30. We will see. But the roadmap that brought Burma as far as it is now is a promising charter of ideas, innovation and collective collaboration that will bring the country a future full of bliss and peace. One thing that hasn’t changed in the country throughout the whole course of change is its people – still smiling, joking and embracing the flow of life.
=====now it’s time for the latest news on the way to peace and prosperity=====
Something to watch first
This is a story which dates back to the Second World War, where (under British rule) African soldiers fought Japanese soldiers on Burmese grounds. This is a very moving documentary about one African soldier who was saved by Burmese locals, who hid him, took care of him and made him survive.
Al Jazeera is asking: “Is Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi the best hope for freedom in Myanmar?”
During the conversation she also shared a joke with South African campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, after he said he would like to visit to see her inaugurated as the head of government.
A recommendation to Aung San Suu Kyi
Burma and the international community
“All those who care about the rights and dignity of the citizens of Burma should support the call for a commission of inquiry. Without accountability, allegations of grave human rights violations will continue to poison the development of Burma and Asean.”
“We know that there are now agents for change. There are people who are genuinely reform minded they want to see the country included. But we also know that there are many who don’t want this to happen that divested interests that are going to be affected by change. So therefore how this power struggle would go will be to watch in the months to come.”
(unfortunately they just watch the development – but hard to do anything else anyway)
“There still are human-right abuses, don’t get me wrong. But there’s a chicken-or-egg issue,” said Andrew Yates, head of sales for international equities at Asia Plus Securities in Bangkok. Myanmar officials “have made a step in the right direction, or at least are looking to make steps in the right direction,” he said. “At some point you’ve got to actually give them something.”
Burma and China
The latest news on the dam project (you can read about it more below) – they stopped the construction work to respect the will of the ethnic minorities. Don’t know how to interpret this move but we have to see what is going to happen the next days (dialogue or violence are two options):
“China has colonized Burma without shooting a gun and has sucked the life of the people of Burma with the help of the Burmese regime and its cronies,” wrote U Aung Din , a former democracy advocate who is now in exile in the United States. “Now, they are killing the Irrawaddy River as well.”
Aung San Suu Kyi on this issue: “We believe that, taking into account the interests of both countries, both governments would hope to avoid consequences which might jeopardize lives and homes,” Suu Kyi emphasized. “To safeguard the Irrawaddy is to save from harm our economy and our environment, as well as to protect our cultural heritage,” she added.”
“Foreign Direct Investments, mainly in oil, natural gas and hydro power dams, are designed providing finances for the function of the strong military power to oppress the citizens rather than doing anything to get better social standard of the people.”
Burma and Thailand (this story is a little bit older already – Nov, 2010)
“You have to think of Myanmar as Thailand 50 years ago,” said Surin Vichian, the project manager in charge of engineering. “There’s nothing in the country but wilderness and cheap labor.”
Burma and its human rights record (issue)
“Rights groups and the AP have gathered testimony from victims confirming that even under the new government, the army is still subjecting citizens to forced relocation, forced labor, gang rape and extrajudicial killings. Amnesty International says troops have used civilians as human shields and minesweepers.”
“I replied that even if it is just one poem, just one truth, it is one life-sustaining rain drop. All rain falls in droplets. It does not matter where these atrocities take place, the human experience is universal. To the more than 2000 political prisoners I sent regards to be strong and to value their humanity. We are not to be shattered because one authoritarian oppresses us.”
Burma and its press freedom
Sad that this development had to stop in 1962 – such a promising post-WII country:
“Burma was at the forefront of press freedom in Southeast Asia before the 1962 military coup. There were around three dozen newspapers, including English, Chinese and Hindi dailies under a civilian government. Journalists were free to set up relations with international press agencies.”
“Coincidentally, Sithu Zeya was sentenced to the extra 10 years on the day Mr. Derek Mitchell left Burma. The US special envoy and policy coordinator for Burma concluded his first Burma visit on Wednesday with a call on the government to take “concrete” steps to lessen the international community’s doubts about its commitment to genuine reform and reconciliation.”
…but they are easing tensions, or at least try to (although unblocking websites does not compare with freeing imprisoned journalists…)
“Censors this week unblocked the websites of international media outlets including the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corp., as well the Democratic Voice of Burma, Radio Free Asia and the video file-sharing site YouTube.”
Burma and its transition towards democracy, peace and prosperity
“Four truckloads of riot police and two prison vans were nearby Monday but did nothing to interfere with almost 60 activists who held a prayer vigil at Sule pagoda in Yangon. However, they stopped marchers in other parts of the city.”
Well peace is on it’s way, or what… ?!?!?
“Now, the soldiers are doing nothing. They have new uniforms and better guns, the officers have more money to spend than anyone could dream of in the old days. They have new cars, new golf clubs, mistresses, everything – except professionalism,” says a disgruntled former Myanmar army officer who requested anonymity. Meanwhile, the morale among the rank-and-file is reported to be low while desertion rates are high.
“Myanmar’s newly recruited infantry may lack combat experience, and the quality of the weapons produced in its defense industries may be of poor quality due to bad coordination between the various ka pa sas. But it is clear that the Myanmar regime is in no hurry to change its priorities, as defense spending still accounts for as much as 50% of the central government’s budget.”
“Regime survival has always been the main prerogative of Myanmar’s generals and thus a loyal and well-supplied officer corps is still of utmost importance, regardless of their weakness on the battlefield.”
“At the same time, the government is looking outward and trying to legitimize its regime to the international community. In this direction, the government has expressed its desire to take up the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014, a prestigious position that would bolster the country’s credibility not just among regional neighbors but also the wider international community as well.
Now that its political party has been nominally elected, the previous junta is bidding to normalize its behavior in regard to both internal and external issues. Even if these changes prove more cosmetic than substantive, the fact that Suu Kyi has been liberated, that her son has been allowed to visit her, and that she is holding political meetings means for now change is in the air.
If Myanmar’s “democratic developments” continue to gain international credibility and legitimacy, then the positive momentum could eventually push the country towards genuine democracy. If Myanmar manages to establish a democracy that can bring peace and stability within its own borders, the governments of the world will have no other choice but to recognize and accept Myanmar’s unique roadmap toward democracy.”
Those articles show a different Burma – more violent, divided and the only thing left seems to be hope…