Friday, January 14, 2005

Burmese Political Exiles, Their Thoughts and Actions: A Reflection

Burmese Political Exiles, Their Thoughts and Actions: A Reflection

Zarni, Free Burma Coalition

Quotes of the Day:

“We only ask that the international community stay away from the military junta. Then, when the military junta recognizes that they have no friends … they will come to the dialogue table.”
- Aung Din, Policy Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma"

(W)e like to see things in black and white in Burma. We like to say the military is bad, the democracy movement is good. But in reality all the generals feel that they are trying to do good."

- Harn Yawnghwe, Founder and Director, Euro-Burma Office"

"I believe in the democracy taught by the Lord Buddha that is very same with that how the western democracy is all about because people decide for good, not a brute decide for all!"
- Lwin Aung Soe, from Concern to the Buddhists gathering in Burma on Maykha Burma listserver

"(W)e , NLD supporters e-mail group can do a little action to be effective for our movement . Of course because of this alone won't help our movement to remove dictators tomorrow. But it will be effective as one of our actions.It's Just to make thousands of postcards for this coming new year ( great greeting cards ) with our beloved leader Daw Suu's picture."
-Dr. Aung Chun, a subsriber on the NLD and CRPP Supporters' listserve

Compiler's Reflection:

A sad combination of the military's determined effort to make sure the opposition can not become a serious threat and the choices made by the opposition leadership inside Burma has reduced oppositional politics to mere symbolism.

Over the past decade, the country has seen no rock-throwing mobs on the streets, no sabotage, no anti-military protest demonstrations, no acts of peaceful civil disobedience, no serious party or organizational activities - and the list (of no serious action) goes on.

This politics of symbolism has led to the rise of the exiles' voices, and consequetntly the exiled supporters of the NLD within the Burmese diaspora have come to play an important role in influencing Burma policy among mostly Western governments.

Most Asian governments, especially the ones whose policies matter in Burma's internal politics - such as China and India - are impervious to public lobbying on Burma because Burma is part of both countries' longer term strategic visions.

Burma is a structural/national interest policy issue, and as such not mutable through internal/democratic process. In this posting I am including different pieces that demonstrate what the exiles are thinking and doing.

Not unlike other demographic categories, Burmese exiles do not come in as cooker-cutter products. So some are naive beyond remedy. Some are intelligent. Some are well-intentioning, but completely dogmatic. Others are wrong-headed while some are simply cultists.

Establishing unity or consensus among the exiles from Burma will take more than one's life time. There are no democratic processes or deliberations among the Burmese exiles. Nor is the Burmese culture in general and more damaged exile sub-culture in particular conducive to democratic thinking or practice.

But nonetheless, it is important to know what disparate voices demand or beg from the international community, given that they have become de facto mouth pieces for the NLD and other political organizations inside Burma, serving as political cheer-leaders from afar.

As far as the average Burmese living under the military rule in Burma, they are extremely unhappy living under the authoritarian rule of the generals. But at the same time, they are totally uninspired by either the political symbolism of the NLD or the fragmented exiles and their disparate agendas. To be sure, they love Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's democracy icon - but idolizing a human icon and being inspired to action - are two categorically different things.

By and large, judging by the criteria of moral, political, material and financial support, the disproportionate number of Burmese diaspora have prettymuch written off any effort to either topple the regime in Rangoon or bring about change as "a lost cause."

A parrallel case of Burmese exiles exists.

Cuban exiles in New Jersey and Florida have long maintained a political symbiosis with politicians in their adopted country of the United States. The Americans get the votes they want from the powerful Cuban exile communities, especially the older generation of Cubans who fled Castro's successful Marxist revolution which ended the rightwing Cuban government in Havana.

Fidel Castro has outlasted at least 10 American presidents most of whom love to hate this sole surviving international icon on the Left, and worked toward the latter's demise, short of direct invasion of Havana.

Regardless of the demonstrable absence of any impact whatsoever in terms of its stated policy objectives, the U.S. has maintained pro-isolation and pro-sanctions policy toward its irritating neighbor since early 1960s, and the European Union has lifted its travel and trade restrictions only recently.

Castro is still kicking and alive, and still delivering 3-hr non-stop marathon speeches.

The Burmese generals have studied different models of regimes which have successfully stood up to what they see as U.S. imperialism or Washington's bullying of the rest of the world.

Castro's Cuba is most definitely one of the systems that have attracted the Burmese' attention - or so it has been speculated. For those who believe that a multipolar world where there are checks and balances in international relations is categorically and empirically preferrable to the world that is dominated by a single nation, especially the one that lacks fundamental respect for other cultures, civilizations and sovereignty, - be it Eastern or Western or Left or Right, standing up to any big nation that attempts to impose its prefered solutions and political will on smaller nations is not a bad thing.

However, if the generals are looking at Cuba as a model of self-reliant economy set up by visionary intellectuals-cum-revolutionaries, they ought to realize that Castro's rule has done some really positive things for average Cubans, the rights abuses of the pro-West opposition elements notwithstanding. For instance, public health and education services, especially the former, are envies of the rest of the world, including the American neighbors.

At the moment, both Burma's public health and education sectors would rank either at the bottom or almost at the bottom of any worldwide ranking. The mainstream opposition's calls for isolating Burma and the generals will boomerang and further hamper the stated objectives of the pro-NLD opposition, within the country or in exile, which include the betterment of the country's human resource infrastructure.