Sunday, May 01, 2005

Confronting Burma's Ghosts: The Minority/Secession Question

Quotes of the Day:

“(A)lthough it is true that sovereignty stands in the way of nationalself-determination, such self-determination is not the unequivocal moral goodit first appears. In a world where there are some two hundred states but manythousands of often overlapping entities that might eventually make a claim to nationhood, blind promotion of self-determination would have highly problematic consequences.”

- Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Redefining the National Interest, Foreign Affairs, 78: 4,(Jul-Aug, 1999), p. 31.

“(T)he various demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not absolute, but are a small part of the general democratic world movement. Possibly in individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if soit must be rejected.”

- Aung San, AFPFL Preliminary Preparations Conference, 19 May 1947, from "Speeches by General Aung San (1945-47)", Sarpei Beikman Press, Rangoon, p. 307.

Compiler's Remark:

Confronting Burma's Ghosts: Minority/Secession Question
Zarni, Free Burma Coalition

It appears that the ghosts of our country's past continue to haunt us all evenwhen the new issues have popped up. For instance, entirely new is the WaQuestion - the best armed and most ethnocentric - meaning here they have absolutely no internalized conception, feeling or allegance whatsoever to what has become a highly contested notion of 'federated union of Burma or Myanmar.'

At least, most of you seem to care enough about our country as a whole and thusfeel emotional about the sorry state of Burma as a multi-ethnic state. But the Wa care about no one else or no country other than their own ethnic or tribalissues. This is in spite of whatever the pronouncements they may have made publicly about their relations with the then SLORC and now SPDC.

1996 National Convention stalled not because the NLD was deciding to boycott(and in the process, the SPDC preempted the NLD by kicking it out and claimingthe latter to have walked out permanently), but because the Wa drug-lordsopenly pressed for a separate Wa autonomous State backed by 20,000-strong mono-ethnic army, fluent in Chinese, being able to operate across Sino-Burmese borders, and sitting on one of the largest narco-economies in the world.

The Burmese nationalists in uniform were incensed by this demand for a newmono-ethnic state, and they shut the Convention down. Having acted on the"advise" of the then 'retired' boss (General) Ne Win to pursue separate ceasefire deals, DDSI chief Major General Khin Nyunt and all of his strategic advisors/deputies had opted for a more flexible approach toward the Wa problem.

It remains to be seen how the Wa question will be resolved by the die-hardnationalists in Rangoon, backed by 350,000-strong army, especially since the Wa no longer served the support role in General Khin Nyunt's power equations vis-a-vis his rivals and the civilian opposition. In other words,the SPDC new management doesn't need the Wa for the regime survival. Not now.Not in the future. The United Wa State Army and its mono-ethnic aspirationsand demands - not the Shan State Army or Shan secession claims - appear to be the biggest headache for the Tatmadaw or Burma's Armed Forces.

Meanwhile, if my compatriots wish to continue with this important discussionre:mono-ethnnic secession/independence vs multi-ethnic modern political state, it might be helpful to confront the ghosts of our collective past.

Given the complexities of issues - primodial ethno-centrisms, Burmesenationalism, tortued and distorted histories, broken promises, apparentnon-Burman hatred toward the dominant Burman and Burmese or those who identifywith the political state - , it would be fruitful to do our home work so thatwe can have some intelligent and grounded, if impassioned, conversations.

There are also non-Bama ethnic histories constructed by proselytizing Christianmissionaries and British colonial administrators of the by-gone era. Mostnon-Bama histories are intertwined, it should be reminded, with the rise ofevangelical Christianity in Burma, most specifically in certain parts of Kawthoolei or Karen, the Chin and the Kachin States.

(In spite of the distorted portrayal of the Karens as predominantly Christianby Western Christian missionary groups, less than 25% of the Karens areChristians, and overwhelming numbers of Karens are Buddhists, with a tiny percetage of animists. It is not that Christians should be treated as second class citizens; but it is important to get the facts right or the errors getrecycled.)

As such, these constructions of mono-ethnic histories can be found in thedepartment archives at theological seminaries and divinity schools largely inthe West.

A disproportionate number of these works, including in the field of missiologyleave much room for scholarly improvement. Because their attempt appears to beto justify apriori the case for mono-ethnic independence, many of these constructions have chosen to draw on sources that confirm their ethnic mythsand convictions.

It would also be helpful to examine not just the past but the current ideological climate and political economic relations which have given rise to the current world order, the only really existing - not utopian -international system of independent political STATES (not nations).

The late Ernest Gellner of Cambridge University wrote there are 8,000 (EIGHTTHOUSANDS) identifiably separate cultures - or nations, if you prefer - in today's world, and only less than 200 independent STATES.

Something to sleep over, isn't it?

But again faith is always hostile to analysis.