Friday, January 14, 2005

Generals' Fear: The Urkrain Scenario in Burma?

The Urkrain Scenario in Burma?

Zarni, Free Burma Coalition

Several days ago I wrote a "Compiler's Remark" on what the generals in Rangoon would most definitely see as Washington's finger prints re: the hotly contested and controversial election outcome in Ukraine.

Obviously, Moscow considers Ukraine a component of the former USSR, which continues to serve as a stratgic building block in its geo-political and economic power base. It is conceivable that our country, Burma, will be caught in the similar tug of war between the existing global power Washington and the rising China, and perhaps even India.

The longer we as a nation remain locked in this internal power struggle, open or simmering - between the Burman political elite and minorities and between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her followers and the military leadership - the greater the prospect for serious external involvement.

Independent Burma was deeply rooted in the leftist ideologies of various brands from the very beginning. All governments in Burma had been red - from 1948-88. The difference was in the degree, not in kind. Some write off Ne Win's rule as a sham leftist rule. But the truth was Ne Win was staunchly anti-capitalist and installed doctrinaire socialist advisors to key positions. The imprisoned NLD co-founder U Win Tin (and his peers and comrades in the Upper Burma Literary Roundtable - known as Saturday Literary Roundtable -) were the critics who critiqued Ne Win's policies against the yardstick of what they considered "real socialism."

Both Premier U Nu and General Ne Win cleverly steered Burma out of the Cold War - for different personal and political reasons.

Nu served as an intellectual founding father of the Non-aligned movement of the newly independent states in the then emerging Third World, working with Nehru, Shkarno, and the like in the 1950s. His foreign policy was activistic neutralism. He was personally involved in facilitating many secret negotiations among parties in conflict in Asian region caught in the Cold War power struggles. Domestically, Nu was using Buddhism as the best defense - after a fledgling-army supported by Nehru's India - against domestic the Chinese-backed communist armed resistance and pro-independence armed movements of ethnic minorities.

General Ne Win, by contrast, completely shut down the country and actively pursued isolationist policies as a way to shield Burma from what he saw as external influences and threats - from both left and rightist camps of the Cold War. His reign was attractive to Washington because they were both pursuing the Containment strategies toward the Communist-inspired rebellions in Burma (and for the latter, around the world). Washington gave him millions in aid and invited him on a state visit to the White House during President Johnson's Administration.

As a result, over the past 50 years since Burma's independence, successive governments in Rangoon escaped being drawn into any serious power struggle between powerful nations with political ambitions beyond their national boundaries. Of course, there is always a price the people of a given nation pay for the choices their leaders, elected or self-appointed, make.

Reasonable people can disagree what is the best course of action for Burma. But one thing is clear - the responsibility to steer clear of - or, to be blunt, to make the best national use - of these geo-political conflictsamong the global existing and emerging powers lies with every politically minded citizen of Burma.

To be sure, the ruling military regime has to bear the greatest responsibility to address the geo-political realities; but the NLD leadership is not without its share of responsibility in this regard because it has come to serve as one of the two hooks for the West as far as our country's internal politics. The other is ethnic nationalities or minority groups with access to the West.

Burma could not simply be the worst case scenario while we have countries such as Congo where over 30,000 people die a month as a result of internal conflict or Sudan where there is a serious humanitarian and political crisis. There are no free lunches in politics, domestic or international. No nation on earth conducts its foreign policy or offer humanitarian assistance out of sheer humanism or altruism.

It risks extreme danger to our nation's long-term national interest for any Burmese, especially the mainstream Burmese, to think that outsiders, far or near, Western or Asian, democrats or autocrats, have answers to our nation's problems or are better positioned to solve our country's internal problems. The mess in Burma is ours and ours alone.

Crying wolf for so long has created the twin-mentality of dependency and victim mentality. And neither is conducive to freedom.Solving our country's political impasse will take more than crying wolf or wishing Mr. Kofi Anan, whom the UN-bashing American conservatives are attempting to oust from his post, to come and mediate the domestic conflict in Rangoon or facilitate tri-partite dialogue which some of us in the opposition want.

Although Burma is not a stratgic priority, Washington has led the external push for reform and has given the NLD the leverage of econimic sanctions and diplomatic wrangling.

Almost all the key U.S. institutions named in the article on US involvement in Ukrainian elections have been involved in various pro-NLD, pro-Aung San Suu Kyi-initiatives.

Within Burma's domestic politics, China is said to have given security guarantees to the Wa, the current drug-producing ceasefire minority group which used to make up the rank and file of the Beijing-backed Burma Communist Party of Thakhin Than Tun, Thakhin Ba Thein Tin and Brigadier Kyaw Zaw, one of the several remaining members of the mythologized Thirty Comrades.

At the same time, internationally and regionally, China is also believed to serve as the Burmese regime's protector. Historically, Beijing has considered many neighboring Asian states its vessel states. The Burmese have had roller coaster relations with China over the past 1000 years. The country has a very long border with China's economically underdeveloped interior province of Yunan.

We should do well to remind ourselves that Beijing's tacit view of Burma may not differ much from that of Moscow toward Ukraine - Rangoon as its Southern most key strategic building block. We would not wish our country an intense American-Indian-Chinese-and-Japanese contest of will on our soil in the foreseeable future.

What would complicate the Burmese equation is the pent-up resentment - and outright hatred toward the Burmese majority in certain cases certain minorities. The longer the ethnic conflict remains unresolved to everyone's satisfaction, the deeper and more explosive the ethnic conflict will get. There is already a widespread suspicion that despite whatever the current policies of Thailand or China toward Burma, once there is a balkan scenario in Burma fueled by latent pro-independence aspirations among many ethnic minorities, some of Burma's neighbors will gleefully embrace any splintering minority groups into their nations. National boundaries are not eternal and nation states are fictions jealously guarded and fiercely protected.

The desire for power and greed may be what primarly compel the Buddhist generals in Rangoon to hold onto what they have. But we must not miscalculate their strategic equations based on the intense ideology of nationalism - the one they appear to feel genuinely, however it may sound serving to us 'self-styled' democrats. Whether delusional or genuine, the greatest concern for them is national disintegration. Whether conceited or sincere, no military leadership, pragmatist or hardline, internationalist or traditionalist, believes that the democratic opposition can ever hold the country together.

In the eyes of the generals, the opposition, leadership or rank and file, can't even get its act together. To them, the opposition has become nothing but a strategic and policy tool for Brussels, Washington and London. While the generals have not shown any aptitude toward nation building tasks, our opposition has not demonstrated that we are capable of finding resolution to our 14-years old political deadlock.

Short of asking them to return to the barracks, there still exist opportunities for the opposition leadership, as well as the rank and file, to establish common ground with our oppressors, beyond calling them murderers or thugs or accusing them wildly of exporting HIV/AIDS, refugees or drugs. Some opposition may be generous with their attitude toward the generals when they publicly say they will accept the military's role in politics.

But the truth of the matter is the generals do not need our generosity or liberal attiude toward them. They are the national politics, like it or not. We need to wake up from our dreams.

It seems categorically futile to keep trying the failed approach of condemning and cursing at the generals, shouting on top of our lungs the ever-elusive unity among disparate opposition groups with no viable common agenda, and adopting this fundamentalistic "My-Leader-Right-or-Wrong" attittude.One thing is clear.

The generals in Rangoon will do anything in their power to avoid the Ukraine scenario when they hold elections - whenever. Legitimate or not, they will grind through this chapter in our country's historical development. Putin may bend his way and accept the new political realities in Kieve if the re-election costs him pro-Moscow ally in its neighborhood. Neither Beijing nor Rangoon appears prepared to live with the opposition party in power which they consider little more than Washington's puppet.

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U.S. Money Helped Opposition in Ukraine
34 minutes ago, December 10, 2004AP

By MATT KELLEY, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has spent more than $65 million in the past two years to aid political organizations in Ukraine, paying to bring opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to meet U.S. leaders and helping to underwrite exit polls indicating he won last month's disputed runoff election.

U.S. officials say the activities don't amount to interference in Ukraine's election, as Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) alleges, but are part of the $1 billion the State Department spends each year trying to build democracy worldwide. No U.S. money was sent directly to Ukrainian political parties, the officials say.

In most cases, it was funneled through organizations like the Carnegie Foundation or through groups aligned with Republicans and Democrats that organized election training, with human rights forums or with independent news outlets.

But officials acknowledge some of the money helped train groups and individuals opposed to the Russian-backed government candidate — people who now call themselves part of the Orange revolution. For example, one group that got grants through U.S.-funded foundations is the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, whose Web site has a link to Yushchenko's home page under the heading "partners."

Another project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development brought a Center for Political and Legal Reforms official to Washington last year for a three-week training session on political advocacy. "There's this myth that the Americans go into a country and, presto, you get a revolution," said Lorne Craner, a former State Department official who heads the International Republican Institute, which received $25.9 million last year to encourage democracy in Ukraine and more than 50 other countries.

"It's not the case that Americans can get 2 million people to turn out on the streets. The people themselves decide to do that," Craner said.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, "There's accountability in place. We make sure that money is being used for the purposes for which it's assigned or designated." Since the Ukrainian Supreme Court invalidated the results of the Nov. 21 presidential runoff, Russia and the United States have traded charges of interference.

A new election is scheduled for Dec. 26. Opposition leaders, international monitors and Bush's election envoy to Ukraine have said major fraud marred the runoff between Yushchenko and current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who was declared the winner.

Yushchenko is friendlier toward Europe and the United States than his opponent, who has Putin's support as well as backing from the current Ukrainian government of President Leonid Kuchma. Putin lauded Yanukovych during state visits to Ukraine within a week of both the Oct. 31 election and the Nov. 21 runoff.

Yushchenko's backers say Russian support for Yanukovych goes beyond Putin's praise and includes millions of dollars in campaign funding and other assistance. Putin has said Russia has acted "absolutely correctly" with regard to Ukraine.

Documents and interviews provide a glimpse into how U.S. money was spent inside Ukraine. "Our money doesn't go to candidates; it goes to the process, the institutions that it takes to run a free and fair election," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The exit poll, funded by the embassies of the United States and seven other nations as well as four international foundations, said Yushchenko won the Nov. 21 vote by 54 percent to 43 percent. Yanukovych and his supporters say the exit poll was skewed.

The Ukrainian groups that did the poll of more than 28,000 voters have not said how much the project cost.

Neither has the U.S.

The four foundations involved included three funded by the U.S. government: The National Endowment for Democracy, which gets its money directly from Congress; the Eurasia Foundation, which gets money from the State Department, and the Renaissance Foundation, part of a network of charities funded by billionaire George Soros that gets money from the State Department. Other countries involved included Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.


Grants from groups funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development also went to the International Center for Policy Studies, a think tank that includes Yushchenko on its supervisory board. The board also includes several current or former advisers to Kuchma, however. IRI, Craner's Republican-backed group, used U.S. money to help Yushchenko arrange meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites), Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage and GOP leaders in Congress in February 2003.

The State Department gave the National Democratic Institute, a group of Democratic foreign policy experts, nearly $48 million for worldwide democracy-building programs in 2003. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (news - web sites) chairs NDI's board of directors. The NDI says representatives of parties in all the blocs that participated in Ukraine's 2002 parliamentary elections have attended its seminars to learn skills such as writing party platforms, organizing bases of voter support and developing party structures.

NDI also has been a main financial and administrative backer of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election watchdog group that said the presidential vote was not conducted fairly. NDI also organized a 35-member team of election observers headed by former federal appeals court Judge Abner Mikva for the Nov. 21 runoff vote. IRI sent its own team of observers.

The U.S. Agency for International Development also funds the Center for Ukrainian Reform Education, which produces radio and television programs aiming to educate Ukrainian citizens about reforming their nation's government and economy. The center also sponsors press clubs and education for journalists.