Saturday, June 18, 2005

Common Mission of "Burma Change", Different Approaches

Quote of the Day:

"Western supporters of Daw Suu have not failed her; but their policies have failed the people of my country."

- Zarni, In "Isolating Burma will not help Aung San Suu Kyi", The Independent, UK, Sat, June 18, 2005

This FBC Posting contains:

1). Desmond Tutu: Together, we can join forces to make Burma the new South Africa
2). Zarni: Isolating Burma will not help Aung San Suu Kyi

Desmond Tutu: Together, we can join forces to make Burma the new South Africa
18 June 2005

In 1988, Nelson Mandela reached his 70th birthday. He was languishing inprison, having already spent 26 years locked up by the apartheid regime inSouth Africa. In Wembley Stadium some of the world's greatest entertainers -Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Sting, Annie Lennox and George Michael performed for a political prisoner whose face the world hadn't seen for a quarter of acentury.

The apartheid regime was left in no doubt that Mandela and the struggle here presented were in the ascendant. At the same time, on the other side of theplanet, an uprising of epic proportions was taking place - but with no global audience to bear witness.

In Burma millions were taking to the streets in a massive display of defiance against a brutal military dictatorship. The regime reacted. It killed thousands in an orgy of violence against its own people.

From this political landscape emerged Burma's own Mandela, in the form of the powerfully charismatic woman Aung San Suu Kyi. She will be 60 tomorrow. On that day she will have spent nine years and 238 days in detention.

In Mandela's Rivonia trial, he said a free South Africa was "an ideal for whichI am prepared to die". Suu Kyi, a fellow Nobel Peace laureate, has the samedetermination. In May 2003, during a brief period of freedom, she toured Burma. Despite massive intimidation, thousands gathered to hear her talk. She was arrested and has been in detention ever since.

As with the ANC in South Africa under apartheid, the NLD has called for economic sanctions against the regime. Only the US has responded. The EU has imposed a few symbolic measures.

During the struggle against apartheid,musicians, trade unionists, churches, teachers and students showed what we cando here in the UK against tyranny miles away. South Africa is now a democracy.

We can make Burma the next South Africa.

If such a coalition could be mustered for Suu Kyi, the result could be as glorious. Burma would have a leader whosecommitment to her people is unwavering. Asia and the world would have one ofthose rare leaders whose integrity and vision is already proven by her courageand sacrifice.

I make a direct call here, to the friends who fought against apartheid SouthAfrica, to help support the people of Burma. Suu Kyi says: "I have stopped hoping for anything for myself - but I certainly hope for a lot of things forBurma. I hope for the kind of change that will enable our people to realise their full potential. I hope for the sort of change that will make Burma atruly happy and progressive place and a country that can actively contribute towards the betterment of the world.

"My life," she says, "is the cause for democracy and I'm linked to everyoneelse in that cause." I think that means you, and that means all of us.

Zarni: Isolating Burma will not help Aung San Suu Kyi

18 June 2005, The Independent, UK

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the world's most famous political prisoner, turns 60 this Sunday, under house arrest in her lakeside villa since 2003, with only two maids to keep her company and infrequent visits from her personal doctor, himself a former political prisoner.

The best birthday present her supporters could give "Daw Suu" is to help tore-integrate her country, both the regime and the society, into the world's community and economy.

An impressive collection of luminaries, Hollywood celebrities, rock stars and politicians have sent their birthday wishes through the international media.They all offer a common birthday gift: a promise further to isolate Burma "until the regime reconciles with its people".

Daw Suu's supporters are well meaning and their heart is in the right place.But in any country under prolonged sanctions and isolation, the people are the ones who pay the heaviest price, not the generals.

No one denies that my country's conditions - human rights, poverty,long-standing and political conflicts, just to name a few - are deplorable. The regime is responsible for many, if not all, of its ills. But the causes godeeper than lack of good governance, transparency and accountability. They are intergenerational, ethnic and deeply structural. It will take a painfully long evolutionary process to address them. And it will need a lot of assistance, intellectual, political, economic, and, last but not least, patience.

Daw Suu's supporters must evaluate the impact of the isolationist policies. Formany around the world, especially in the West, "Free Burma" has become just another "Free Tibet". Changing a society deep in conflict and poverty requiresa bit more thought and effort than burning one's Triumph bra. (Triumph pulled out of Burma under consumer pressure, leaving hundreds of women jobless.)

There is no one-size-fits-all policy model. Burma under military rule is not apartheid South Africa. What worked in Tutu's South Africa - or Havel's Czech Republic - may not work in Daw Suu's Burma.

The departure of Western corporations extracting Burma's natural resources hasnot disrupted revenue flows to the regime, since Asian investors, especially those from the two fastest growing economies, China and India, are quick tofill the vacant seats. The generals have shrugged their departure off, ratherthan feeling pressured to open a dialogue.

Worst still, thanks to its policies toward Burma, the West has marginalised itself, if not made itself entirely irrelevant, in terms of its ability to influence domestic developments. Conversely, the West's policies have failed to strengthen Daw Suu's democratic opposition. Among the dissidents, both in exile and inside my country, it is now an open secret, if taboo to say it, that the NLD has been in a revolutionary coma since its iconic General Secretary waslocked up. This is a reality unlikely to change.

My coalition and other citizen activists around the world worked hardadvocating these policies in the past 10 years. We were truly inspired by DawSuu's fearless words and her exemplary sacrifices. It is now a bitter pill for me to swallow to witness that the campaign has failed. Western supporters ofDaw Suu have not failed her; but their policies have failed the people of my country.

For their survival, the generals don't need the West. The generals have China and India, on each side of the borders. They don't even much like Westerners coming in with their universal standards. But it is the Burmese people and the country that need the West. They need it for progressive ideas and ideals, for education, for technologies, for greater exposure, and for the growth of democracy.

Pro-isolationists among my fellow dissidents abroad and Daw Suu's Western supporters alike have argued that "constructive engagement" pursued by the ASEAN has not worked either. They are right because it engages with only thegenerals and doesn't address real substance or sensitive issues. So what then is my prescription? The answer is, in a word, evolution. Evolutionary in the backdrop of the successively failed revolutions, including Daw Suu's fearless "revolution of the spirit".

Asia is going through rapid and powerful evolutionary changes. The surest, if slowest venue for social change is to ensure that the country - yes, "the evil regime" as well - gets integrated into the trans-Asiatic current of change through trade and security, cultural interactions and intellectual cross-fertilisation.

I know that Daw Suu herself would say her movement is all about people, not about her. It's past time that policy makers and my fellow dissidents abroadput people back in their policy advocacy and formulations.

That would be the best 60th birthday gift her supporters around the world cangive this extraordinary human being.

Dr Zarni is founder of the Free Burma Coalition, and currently a Visiting Fellow at the University of London Institute of Education. He was born inMandalay.

He may be reached at or