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Like millions of my fellow Buddhist Burmese, I grew up as a proud racist. For much of my life growing up in the heartland of Burma, Mandalay, I mistook what I came to understand years later as racism to be the patriotism of Burmese Buddhists. Our leading and most powerful institutions, schools, media, Buddhist church and, most importantly, the military, have succeeded in turning the bulk of us into proud racists.

Around the world, supporters of democracy in Burma have been shocked to learn of the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Muslim Rohingyas in Western Burmaand the attendant popular racist venom that is being spat at these most vulnerable stateless people[1].

President Thein Sein has characterised the events as ‘communal violence’[2], a deliberately misleading term designed to conceal the State’s involvement in the massacres of the Rohingyas. The damning new Human Rights Report states emphatically:

“Burmese security forces committed killings, rape, and mass arrests against Rohingya Muslims after failing to protect both them and Arakan Buddhists during deadly sectarian violence in western Burmain June 2012. Government restrictions on humanitarian access to the Rohingya community have left many of the over 100,000 people displaced and in dire need of food, shelter, and medical care” [3].

For nationalists, the cliché “to be Burmese is to be Buddhist” is still a given, especially those in the ruling military clique. While having deep roots in our turbulent history, the current resurgence of Burmese racism, both official and popular, is, no doubt, a direct result of half-century of racist military rule.

Largely due to the country’s international isolation under military rule, Burmese society as a whole remains deeply illiberal and potently ethno-nationalistic, in spite of the ritual pronouncements of democracy and human rights by an elite class of dissidents. Even a quarter century after Aung San Suu Kyi called for the ‘revolution of the spirit’, nothing spiritually progressive has taken root in the popular Burmese psyche[4] – including among the country’s noble dissidents. Burmese human rights defenders who spent half of their lives in military jail houses, Buddhist monks and the Burmese Buddhist diaspora are all singing from the same song sheet on issues of race. On this issue, they all stand alongside the country’s Neanderthal generals and ex-generals.

One wonders what has resulted from the loud liberal rhetoric of human rights coming from noble dissidents when it comes to the persecuted Rohingyas? Where has the loving kindness of monks gone, who only five years ago flooded the streets of Rangoon and other urban centres of Burma chanting Loving Kindness for all sentient beings?

As a former racist who grew up thinking that any individual and any group deemed to pose a threat to national sovereignty and our Burmese “Buddhist” identity should be “gassed”, I feel a deep chill in my spine thinking about what my society is in effect evolving into.

First, President Thein Sein reportedly told the visiting head of the United Nations High Commission for the Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres, that his government is prepared to either expel the 800,000 Rohingyas en masse to any third country willing to take them, or segregate them in camps where entire Rohingya communities, on the basis of their ethnicity, religion and citizenship status, could be quarantined, clothed and fed by the United Nations.[5]

Second, despite the presence of many educated presidential advisers, the country’s reformist generals and ex-generals aren’t being called on, not even nudged, to rethink their anachronistic nationalism. Quite the opposite is happening. According to the New Yorker, Burmese presidential adviser and writer Thant Myint-U said:

“Abstract moral arguments weren’t going to cut much ice. And they were deeply cynical of Western rhetoric on human rights. The argument we made that got the most traction was: ‘We’re falling so far behind our neighbors economically— China and India—that, unless we change, politically as well as economically, it’s going to be disastrous’” [6].

This unholy alliance between liberally-educated presidential advisers and the Burmese junta is cemented by economic nationalism – not human rights, nor liberal humanitarianism.

Last but not least, key international players in Burmese politics, such as the country’s former ruler Britain and the United States, looked the other way for two full months while Burma’s state-sanctioned racial violence against the Rohingya was raging on. For instance, British Foreign Secretary William Hague waited until 13 August to speak out, whereas the ‘communal violence’ broke out in early June[7]. It took another 10 days for the United States Ambassador to follow suit. The West’s primary interest in the full scale re-engagement with the ‘reformist’ military is primarily for their own strategic and commercial interests vis-à-vis a fast rising China.

It is still the primary responsibility of the Burmese themselves to resolve Burma’s long-standing and emerging challenges including ethno-religious conflicts, be they the war against the Kachin in Northern Burma or the state-sponsored violence in Western Burma. There is an urgent need to explain, expose, disrupt and eventually end the toxic merging of Burma’s governmental and popular racism against the Muslim Rohingya.

Burma’s military strong men have demonstrated neither the political will nor intellectual vision or capacity needed to resolve our post-colonial problems. Instead, they have shown time and again their sinister resolve to continue exploiting society’s ethno-religious differences, be it against the Chinese – as in the case of state-induced anti-Chinese riots of 1967 – or Muslims in general, and the Rohingya Muslims in particular.

There are pockets of Burmese citizens, of all different faiths and ethnic backgrounds, who fully appreciate our cultural, religious and ethnic diversity to be our strength. Their voices, inside Burma and in the diaspora, calling for ethnic peace are currently being drowned out by the loud chorus of ethno-racial fanaticism which pervades Burmese and English-language social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Burmese chat rooms and, not surprisingly, the state media itself.

It is all the more important that conscientious Burmese in the diaspora and within the country work hard and together against the troubling ideological merger between popular racism with the military state’s closeted fascism. If racism and fascism are learned behaviours, we must create civic educational initiatives that will enable our less informed citizens sedated on a ground-swell of racism to unlearn their racism.

Racist majoritarian democracy is no longer a viable design for our democracy.

Maung Zarni is a veteran Founder of the Free Burma Coalition and Visiting Fellow (2011-13) at Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, the London School of Economics and Political Science. He will be participating in an event on “Burma in Transition: Minorities, Human Rights and Democratic Process” on September 14 2012 at Colombia University

[1] See New York Times “Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar”, 12 July 2012

[2] Exclusive Interview with President Thein Sein, The Voice of America Burmese Service, 14 August 2012.

[3] “The Government could have stopped this”, 1 August 2012

[4] See Sanitsuda Ekachai, “This is racism, not Buddhism”, op-ed, The Bangkok Post, 5 September 2012 &

William McGowan, “Burma’s Buddhist Chauvinism”, op-ed, Wall Street Journal, 3 September 2012

[5] “UN refugee chief rejects call to resettle Rohingya”, Associated Press, 12 July 2012

[6] “Burmese Spring”, 6 August 2012

[7] See British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “Foreign Secretary stresses need to end violence in Burma”, 13 August 2012 . And also see See Wall Street Journal, “U.S. Ambassador in Myanmar Speaks Out on Rohingya”, 24 August 2012.

Source here 

Demonstrators and monks march in support of a plan to deport the country’s Rohingya population in Mandalay on 2 September 2012. (DVB)

As a Mandalay-born dissident with deep roots in Buddhism, I find it revolting that thousands of Buddhist monks, human rights dissidents and the public in my hometown of Mandalay staged an anti-Rohingya rally this past weekend.

They mimicked the regime’s discourse that promotes “national security” and “national sovereignty”, while espousing an anachronistic view of blood-based citizenship as opposed to the notions of multicultural citizenship.

Where has the vociferous human rights rhetoric gone when it comes to the persecuted Rohingyas?

We listened in vain for the metronomic chants of the saffron-robed monks who defied threats and flooded the streets of Rangoon and other towns proclaiming their “loving kindness” for all sentient beings in 2007. Now the very same monks chant mantras supporting exclusive citizenship. When a mob protests against an ethnic group then, it is no longer a citizens’ protest. It is a Nazi rally.

Around the world supporters of democracy in Burma have been shocked by the “ethnic cleansing” of the Muslim Rohingyas in the impoverished settlements of western Arakan (Rakhine) state. These are the latest killing fields in a troubled land. Both perpetrators and victims tell of hundreds of Rohingyas, including women and children, being killed, raped, assaulted, detained and driven out by Burmese security forces.

In a typical self-serving reaction, President Thein Sein characterized the events in June as “communal violence.” By focusing exclusively on tensions between the Rohingyas and ethnic Arakanese Buddhists, the government is deliberately trying to conceal the role its own security forces played in the violence.

But the findings of a damning new Human Rights Watch report reveal a different picture. The language is unambiguous: “Burmese security forces committed killings, rape, and mass arrests against Rohingya Muslims after failing to protect both them and Arakan Buddhists,” states the report.

Of course, this doesn’t sit well with the Burmese regime’s new “reformist” image. Moving quickly to quell the international furore, a presidential adviser claimed that the government responded to the violence as quickly as it could. Human Rights Watch speaks of a different reality — of government restrictions on humanitarian access to the Rohingya community that have left “many of the more than 100,000 people displaced and in dire need of food, shelter, and medical care.”

To make a bad situation worse, the authorities in neighboring Bangladesh have now told international humanitarian agencies to stop providing aid to Rohingya refugees who fled Burma. It is precisely these provisions of emergency food and medicine that local Arakanese Buddhists are violently opposed to. As far as Arakanese extremists are concerned, “these animals must not be fed or allowed to exist on Burmese soil.”

While the government tries to shed its pariah status, the violence meted out to the vulnerable, stateless Rohingyas — and the populist, racist venom it has unleashed — should give pause to the rest of the world as to the true nature of the Burmese regime. Underneath the trope of “democratic reform” lie some unpalatable truths. Not content with reserved military powers in government, parliament, and national budgets and untrammelled executive control of national security, the regime has mobilized the full arsenal of a self-serving repressive junta to deny ethnic minority communities not just their rights to self-determination but also to their fundamental humanity. Fascism and militarism are the enduring handmaidens of this “new era” of politics.

So what does the ongoing violence against the Rohingyas tell us about the nature of political power and the men who still rule the country?

And, in turn, what does it herald for the prospects for real change, the rule of law, the expansion and consolidation of human rights, and the quality of public life?

There’s no denying that ethnic and political cleavages have deep roots in our turbulent history. But it is equally true that the current resurgence of racism — both official and popular — is a direct result of a half-century of despotic military rule.

The regime’s iron fist policies and its systematic rule by terror are now well enough known, even though there is already selective amnesia about the recent past. Equally important has been the careful construction of an iron cage — a monolithic constellation of values, an ethos — that locks in and naturalises a singular view of what constitutes Burma’s “national” culture. For Burmese society as a whole remains illiberal and potently ethno-nationalist.
“Burma has always been multiethnic and multicultural over the course of the past millennium.”

Deeply troubling is how popular, everyday forms of racism and the state’s fascism seem to be mutually reinforcing. This serves the generals’ interest very well. They have fully grasped the atavistic fears and instincts that drive great fault lines into the heart of society and politics. The dominant Burmese worldview continues to rest on an enervating combination of pre-colonial feudalism, religious mysticism, belief in racial purity and statist militarism. This is a potent and poisonous combination.

The military rulers have effectively preyed on this ethno-religious conservatism of the public at large, most specifically in times of political and legitimation crises. And the same appears true today even as they are praised for their cautious “opening up” of the country.

A full quarter of a century since Aung San Suu Kyi called for the “revolution of the spirit,” nothing spiritually progressive has taken root in the popular Burmese psyche. Sadly, this is the case even among many of the country’s noble dissidents. Burmese human rights defenders who spent half their lives in military jails, mantra-reciting Buddhist monks and the Burmese Buddhist diaspora all sing from the same song sheet on issues of race and minority rights.

Ironically, ethno-religious mobilization offers the military junta and its allies the chance to refashion themselves as the “defenders of the faith” and “protectors of Buddhist communities”— at least in the eyes of most Buddhists.

Never mind that these ex-generals were part of the very ruling clique who, during the saffron revolt, slaughtered hundreds of Buddhist monks and raided thousands of monasteries across the country in military-style operations only five years ago. Ethnic minorities continue to be the age-old enemy within. As always the justification for their repression is couched in the jailer’s language of ethno-cultural chauvinism and national security.

Of course, Buddhist privilege and embedded ethnic chauvinism bears little semblance to the country’s historical reality. Like most modern nation states, Burma has always been multiethnic and multicultural over the course of the past millennium.

Lying along trade routes between the great Indian and Chinese civilizations, the country has attracted a steady flow of settlers throughout its history. Even our predominant belief system, Buddhism, was a settler religion, which arrived on our soil centuries ago. Our pre-colonial feudal courts, farming communities, merchant classes, cultural teachers and scholars have always come from many different cultural and ethnic groups, both indigenous and foreign.

There are pockets of Burmese citizens, of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds, who fully appreciate our cultural, religious and ethnic diversity and consider it a great strength. But the voices — both inside Burma and in the diaspora — calling for genuine ethnic peace and reconciliation are currently being drowned out by the loud chorus of ethnic fanaticism.

It is no surprise, of course, that this reactionary refrain is constantly articulated in state media and the presidential office in Naypyidaw. But it is equally pervasive in the Burmese and English language social media where the language of hatred has even fewer constraints.

These are troubling times. Despite the rush to embrace the “reform” process and the optimism surrounding a “new era” of politics, the deepening of sectarian strife is a very real possibility. The drumbeat of everyday forms of populist racism and the state’s carefully calibrated ideology of closeted fascism is becoming louder and louder. The direction in which the country is currently heading remains both uncertain and disquieting.

The time is opportune for progressive voices to speak out. Beyond the unequivocal denunciation of all forms of racism, chauvinism and violence that targets Burma’s minorities, far-reaching solutions are urgently needed. In part, this will entail the creation of civic educational initiatives that will help people unlearn their default acceptance of all forms of racism. Beyond this, peace and reconciliation talks with all ethnic minority groups must be put in motion. These must tackle longstanding grievances such as the crushing of legitimate claims to political autonomy, the territorial distribution of power, and people-centered socioeconomic development.

In other words, there is a need for developing a new “big tent” model of democratic politics —beyond the understandable focus on institutional and electoral reform — in order to create a genuinely multicultural democracy.

Burmese people have survived several historical periods of oppression and depredation. Burmese society will outlive the half-century of tin pot dictatorship. We need not fear national disintegration as the result of cultural and ethnic diversity. The only thing we, as citizens, ought to fear is presence of racism and intolerance in our society, deliberately modulated and whipped up by an unreformable state. Only a society that reimagines itself as an inclusive, multicultural democracy—in which diversity is celebrated as a strength — can escape the iron cage of oppression.

- Dr Maung Zarni is one of the veteran founders of the Free Burma Coalition and a Visiting Fellow (2011-13) with Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit at the London School of Economics

Original Source here

It's great that US Ambassador to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell, has finally spoken out on the ethno-religious riots between Rohingyas and Buddhist people in the Rakhine state. 

He points out racism in Myanmar society at large, something some of us have been saying for so long.

But the problem with shifting the new focus onto popular racism is that it lets the real culprits - the generals and their troops - off the hook.

The Myanmar regime has a direct and immediate hand in the recent communal riots between the Rakhines and the Rohingya - who it only refers to as "Bengali Muslims" - by sending the message that these people do not belong in Myanmar, even though they were born on Rakhine soil and have been in the country for generations.

For the record, I place the ultimate responsibility for the outbreak of ethno-racial violence squarely on the Thein Sein government. Successive military regimes since Ne Win's reign (1962-1988) have used the tactic of ethnic and religious divide and rule. Precedents and contemporary cases abound. In 1967, Ne Win reportedly diverted attention from the failings of his socialist economy - which resulted in rice shortages across the country - by blaming "greedy Chinese merchants". That sparked anti-Chinese riots. When the mob in Yangon stormed the Chinese Consulate, the generally trigger-happy Burmese troops (when it comes to "restoring law and order") simply stood by and watched the mob kill the deputy chief of mission on the Chinese Consulate's premises. The regime is pursuing a scorched-earth military operation against the Kachins in the north while offering ceasefire deals to the other armed ethnic resistance groups.

This is the regime that has specialised in "law and order" for the past 50 years, since 1962. It deliberately let all hell break loose in western Myanmar because it suited the regime in multiple ways for the Rakhine and the Rohingyas to slaughter one another.

Burmese generals have never liked the Rakhines people, especially those who are ethno-nationalistic and want to push for genuine political autonomy for the Rakhine state.

Troops and all other security units stationed in western Myanmar, on the other hand, have turned all kinds of severe restrictions - in place for at least 30-40 years - into the basis for extorting and abusing the Rohingyas. For instance, the Rohingyas' physical movements and their ability to marry and have children were restricted, requiring permission from the authorities and security units. In effect, the Rohingyas were turned into cash cows by the local security units in western Myanmar.

For their part, the Rakhine people felt angry that the government security troops and authorities were benefitting economically from the Rohingya. (The Rohingya population in general are very poor, while there are a handful of wealthy Rohingya business families. Many Rohingyas who work abroad, however, remit money back to their families in western Myanmar.) Also, forced labour among the Rohingya population is disproportionately higher than in any other ethnic community including those in Myanmar's active war zones in the eastern and northern regions of the country. So, the authorities extract both cash and labour from the captive Rohingya population.

But the Rakhine people felt powerless in the face of the overwhelming might of the security forces on their soil, despite their perception of the regime's favouritism to the Rohingyas, whom the Rakhine have come to consider as "animals" on their soil.

So, naturally, the Rakhine people grew more hateful of the Rohingyas and the state security apparatus, and finally took it out on the weaker of the two - the Rohingyas.

When violence broke out, not only did the security forces not intervene to keep order and nip the initial violence in the bud, but troops - some Burmese and some Rakhine themselves - in places like Maungdaw decided to turn against their cash cows and forced labourers - the Rohingyas.

This time it wasn't the greed of the troops, who had long milked the Rohingyas for their money and extracted labour that led them to directly participate in the slaughter of the Rohingyas. Rather it was the Burmese and Rakhine people's general dislike of Muslims that finally compelled the troops in Maungdaw to machine-gun the Rohingyas in large numbers.

Evidence of the attacks keeps surfacing from various independent eyewitnesses. According to one local researcher in the country - whose account of the Rohingya slaughter at the hands of the Burmese and Rakhine security forces was published in Al Jazeera English ("Mass graves for Myanmar's Rohingya, August 9) - the troops that he interviewed openly talked about "how much they hate Muslims" and described coldly the manner in which they machine-gunned down the Rohingya.

This directly corresponds with the policies of Nay Pyi Daw. This is not simply troops in local areas shooting without orders from above and getting away with mass murder. In fact, the widespread view within the military is: "the bottom line is, we do not want more Muslims in our country". So there is not simply popular racism but vertical and official hatred of Muslims in general and the Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar in particular.

To deny this is to add insult to injury. The focus of the current riot inquiry by the presidential commission and the international media coverage needs to focus on this direct connection between popular racism and the regime's racist and violent policies and practices of the last 40 years since Operation Snake King (or Nagamin) killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Rohingyas and drove hundreds of thousands more out of western Myanmar into Bangladesh in the 1970s, under the Ne Win-Sein Lwin regime. Ne Win was the godfather, and Sein Lwin was the butcher.

Muang Zarni is a visiting fellow at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, the London School of Economics. A veteran founder of the Free Burma Coalition, Zarni advocated "principled and strategic engagement" with the regime as early as 2003. @

Sources Here:
Beware! NGOs that came here to assist Benghali Kulars[1]!

Rakhine people are not protecting Rakhine State as such. You have to understand that we are protecting our mother land’s beautiful map from being distorted and its dignity, in addition to race and religion. Not only Rakhine but also all the people know that Kulars have grown up thanks to UN and NGOs that have watered poisonous plants. We recognize those, who work for the further development of Kulars by earning dollars, as traitors. We will no longer sit and watch you stay in our country and work for the Kulars’ development. If you want to continue, open your offices in Kular places to be able to wash Kulars’ buttocks closely. We cannot stand seeing you lick Kulars’ buttocks, opening offices in Sittwe, wearing pants and enjoying your stay in luxury hotels. We believe that the people who rent their houses to those organizations are indirectly supporting to lick Kulars’ buttocks. We recognize all of those, who are directly or indirectly working for the development of Kulars, as traitors and thereby our enemy. We will also attack landlords. All Rakhines are responsible. For all Rakhines to know, we will tell you how disgusting and terrifying the UN and NGOs are.

1) UNHCR – Kular United[2] that works for the Kular’s economic and social development, education, child protection and social discrimination, and help them achieve their so-called rights. A real Kular United, that protects Kular from being called Kular, based in Geneva, Switzerland. It’s been 30 years since they have introduced the term ‘stateless people’ and supported them to establish a Rohingya country. Kular United that’s waiting sneakily for a time to support the Rohingya by providing minimal assistance to Rakhine such as a pot and a blanket. We have to attack them.

2) WFP – Another Kular United that works closely with the UNHCR to provide rice to Kular for their food security and continued education. The organization now cleverly waiting to support Kulars while assisting Rakhines with a small portion of rice. It’s a Rome-based organization, working through a Rakhine officer and other Rakhine staff who are licking Kulars’ buttocks. We will attack them all.

3) AZG – A Holland and French NGO that is importing arms for Kulars to occupy Rakhine State.

4) ACF – A French Kular NGO, feeding nutritious food for Kulars’ future generation to become stronger. We have seen them trying to reopen their office by paying their Rakhine staff double.

5) AMI – A German NGO who is supporting Kulars’ health with medicines (Which was cracked down by the people in Buthidaung in 2010). Buthidaung fulfilled their national obligation just as Tunggup[3].

6) Malteser – A German NGO working 90% for Kulars and 10% for Rakhine. The real culprit that systematically cracked down the Buddha Wihara Monastery in Sittwe in 2010. They continue working by paying their Kulars’ buttock-licking Rakhine two-fold of their salary. We have to target those who earn double.

7) Save the Children – Save the Muslim organization that is providing daily update on the Kular and Rakhine situation so that other Kular NGOs can come in. Their office is busy every day. Stop now!

8) Solidarites – A Kular French NGOs cunningly waiting by opening half of their office door to support Kular.

9) NCV (Muslim Karuna group) – They have been here less than a week. Nothing assisted to Rakhines. A Muslim group directly supporting Kulars by using a huge amount of money. Using a logo of open palm and the youths organized by 88 generation student leader Ko Mya Aye (a Muslim), they are being active in Sittwe. We will eliminate them.
(Group of Wuntharnu Ethnic People)

[1] A derogatory term for Rohingyas (A derivation from the Myanmar word “People who crossed border”.)
[2] United Nations in Myanmar is pronounced “Kula Thamaga”. If the first word is changed from Kula to Kular, it becomes “Kular United”.
[3] The town where unidentified angry mob attacked a bus and killed 10 muslims on 3 June.

Source : Dr. Maung Zarni

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Myanmar on 1st December. Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy is participating in elections. Leaders of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) have formally approved Myanmar's chairmanship of the regional grouping in 2014. Prisoners have been released in the country, there have been some liberalisation and easing up. Is Myanmar, therefore, about to be welcomed back as a respectable member of the international community? What is happening inside the country? Enough for the international community to embrace Myanmar again, and sufficiently committed for there to be no turning back?

credit here

Dr Zarni (Speaker) Dr Munir Majid (Chair)

7 December 2011, Wednesday, COL 2.01 (aka B212) 11am to 1:30pm

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Myanmar on 1st December. Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy is participating in elections. Leaders of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) have formally approved Myanmar's chairmanship of the regional grouping in 2014. Prisoners have been released in the country, there have been some liberalisation and easing up. Is Myanmar, therefore, about to be welcomed back as a respectable member of the international community? What is happening inside the country? Enough for the international community to embrace Myanmar again, and sufficiently committed for there to be no turning back?

listen here


A long-time Burmese activist, Dr Zarni is a Visiting Fellow (2011-13) in the Civil Society and Human Security Unit, Department of International Development, LSE. He taught and/or held visiting and tenure-track appointments at various universities including Oxford, Institute of Education London University, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand and National College of Education, Chicago, USA.

Credit here

Inside Story with presenter James Bays discusses with guests: Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics; Richard Weitz, a Senior Fellow and the director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute; and Maitrii Aung-Thwin, an assistant professor of Southeast Asian History at the National University of Singapore.

It is something many expected never to see, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, setting foot in Myanmar. It is the first visit by a US secretary of state in more than 50 years.

Barak Obama, the US president, said he sanctioned the visit - because of what he described as "flickers of progress" by Myanmar's new leadership.

Recent reforms in the country - the release of some political prisoners, the easing of press restrictions and the lifting of a ban on trade unions - have surprised many observers.

Analysts say Clinton's trip comes at the time when the US is turning its focus to Asia, a move that is widely seen as an effort to counter Chinese influence in the region.

In this show we ask: Will Clinton's trip encourage Myanmar's rulers to continue down the path of democracy? Do the reforms in the long-isolated country indicate a real willingness to change or are they just window dressing? What are the challenges ahead?

Credit :Aljazeera News

By Dr.Maung Zarni

The military leadership in the country has never been keen on a lasting peace with ethnic resistance movements.

London, UK - In his Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), Karl Marx wrote: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." Such an assessment is only half-right when it comes to Myanmar's internal conflicts, of which ethnicity is of equal importance to class. Whether ethnicity is largely a matter of "political choice", as many academics suggest today, has little relevance in the lives of these ethnic peoples. The Karen, the Kachin, the Mon, the Shan, the Karenni and other ethnic groups have chosen to hold on to their AK-47s or M16s to continue their fight. The unappealing alternative is surrender and subjugation at the feet of their uncompromising enemy in Rangoon and, since 2005, Naypyidaw.

With varying degrees of ferocity, intermittent waves of ethnically mobilised wars have flared up since independence in 1948. Most of these were triggered by the non-Bamar communities' perception and experience of being denied a fair share of state power and control over resources by the Bamar-dominated governments, both civilian and military. Like the colonial Burma, the military-ruled Myanmar is in effect a garrison state; unlike British Burma, the generals' Myanmar remains so after a half-century of their monopoly rule. Under the Raj, Burma was the lucrative "rice bowl of the world", exporting nearly half of the total global output; the Myanma generals, on the other hand, have succeeded in turning Myanmar into the region's "basket case", worse off than post-genocide Cambodia.

Suu Kyi's NLD party reentering politics
Whether under General Ne Win or Senior General Than Shwe, the military leadership has never been keen on just and lasting peace with ethnic resistance movements, always attempting to dictate the terms of the "peace". In 1963, a year after the military coup that laid the foundation for military rule, Ne Win launched a series of highly publicised, but half-hearted "peace talks" with non-Bamar resistance groups, as well as the armed Bamar communist movement. When little came of these, Rangoon adopted a zero-sum policy of "annihilation" towards any dissent. Just a year ago, Gen Than Shwe reiterated the military's institutional mission - not of peace and reconciliation, but rather of the reconsolidation of the central government's power vis-à-vis the non-Bamar ethnic communities, the power that was presumably fractured by the century-plus interval of British rule. "I would like to urge you to build on the national reconsolidation that has been achieved," he told the graduating class of a military medical academy, "and avoid all thoughts and notions that might lead to the disintegration of the union".

Consequently, some 60-plus years after independence, the armed conflicts still smoulder. The anti-Naypyidaw armed resistance organisations - 21 as of January 2011 - vary significantly in both size (from 500 to 30,000 troops) and degree of political significance. The expansive conflict landscape encompasses Myanmar's Kachin highlands below Tibet, the 200-mile stretch of landlocked Pegu Yoma; from the Chin Hills due east from Mizoram and the Arakan Yoma that divides the Rakhine coastal region from the rest of Myanmar's; the Wa Hills near the Sino-Shan frontier and the Naga Hills across from Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland to the northwest.

Furthermore, the ethnic armed groups - including the Shan State Army, the Karenni National Progressive Party, the New Mon State Party, and the Karen National Union - continue to dot the nearly 1,500-mile-long Thai-Myanmar border, from the Shan plateau in the east and the tiny Karenni state bordering northern Thailand, down to the Karen trans-Salween River region adjacent to the Thai provinces of Tak and Kanchanburi and the 500-mile Tenasserim coastline.

"Upon independence, the non-Bamar communities... found themselves being released from the clutches of the British Raj into the grip of the dominant Bamar nationalists."

Upon independence, the non-Bamar communities (who make up around a third of the population) found themselves being released from the clutches of the British Raj into the grip of the dominant Bamar nationalists. On the eve of independence, the latter promised their minority brethren ethnic equality and cultural and administrative autonomy, as the basis of the independent federated Union of Burma. But the nationalists, both civilian and soldiers, broke this foundational principle for the post-independence Burma. Instead of the agreed-upon federation and a federal Constitution, they were forced to accept a new state and Constitution, which were for all intents and purposes unitary.

The original aims of the armed ethnic groups included secession, an option that the Constitution of 1947 allowed the Shan and Karenni to exercise 10 years after independence, should they become unhappy being part of the Union of Burma. From the 1980s onward, however, new developments in and out of the country forced the anti-Rangoon armed movements to reassess their original missions. Among the external geo-political equations that helped to sustain the civil war in Myanmar were the west's Cold War-era support for the Burmese military's fight against the armed Burmese communist movement, The politically hostile and commercially predatory policies of Thailand (a historical enemy) towards the country, Beijing's substantial military and ideological support for the Communist Party of Burma during the 1970s, and Burma's domestic black market during Rangoon's failed socialist military rule, and the resultant cross-border smuggling, including one of the world's largest narcotics industry.

The economics of Myanmar's ethnic conflicts are not just about the struggle over controlling means of production, wage disputes and working conditions. In fact, they have a far more ominous dimension; these battles are far more primitive than that. Today, the aspiring capitalist state in Myanmar, under a new generation of generals, wants - perhaps needs - nothing less than complete and effective control over all commercial or strategic lands. Worse still, the problem for the anti-Rangoon ethnic rebels such as the Kachin Independence Organisation and Karen National Union was not simply that external support from Beijing and Bangkok dried up; since the 1980s the crucial neighbourhood powers, namely China under Deng Xiaoping and the Thai military, under Supreme Commander General Chaovalit Yongchaiyudh, decided to court Rangoon for highly lucrative commercial deals in resource extraction, arms sales, crossborder trade, and bilateral strategic and commercial cooperation towards market creation within ASEAN.

Not only do the non-Bamar ethnic regions account for up to 60 per cent of the country's total land area; but as "frontier" states, these lands, where much of the battles have been waged, are strategically and commercially crucial for the new post-Cold War priorities. These areas are also home to much of the country's lucrative natural resources, both above and below ground. It is simply not possible to know where the ideological parameters of the military's nationalism (or for that matter those of the non-Bamar ethnic nationalisms) end and where the desire for control of land and other economic resources begin.

"It is simply not possible to know where the ideological parameters of the military's nationalism... end and where the desire for control of land and other economic resources begin..."

If the absence of clarity among Myanmar's domestic ethno-nationalists is an issue, pro-market external players are crystal clear about their priorities. In the eyes of venture capitalists and corporate investors in London, Paris, Zurich, New York, Tokyo, Seoul and so on, or development agencies such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), EU and EU-based development agencies, Myanmar's war zones have come to be seen as strategic yet virgin lands waiting to be penetrated by international business interests. Meanwhile, ASEAN is determined to transform itself from the region's Cold War-era, anti-Communist China bloc to a pro-market competitor of the emerging state-run capitalist system of China. As the largest mainland southeast Asian land-bridge between south and southeast Asia, Myanmar is indispensible for ASEAN as it pursues its grand commercial design.

It may not be going too far to suggest that the commercial stakes are too high for these external players to allow Myanmar's conflict-ridden communities such political luxuries as peace, ethnic reconciliation, basic human rights and some semblance of popular sovereignty. For instance, over a quarter century, a projected $550bn (according to the Asian Development Bank) would change hands in the ongoing scheme of the ASEAN alone, backed by an assemblage of Western institutions to create a single energy market across much of Southeast Asia. In the new single energy market, electricity would be generated in a least-industrialised economy such as Myanmar's, and exported to the fast industrialising economies of China and Thailand. Imagine the windfall from the two-dozen similar schemes currently under discussion.

Ethnicity and guns

For the past two centuries at least, Myanmar has been seen as a strategic venue by outside powers, from Europe to Japan to the US. For outside powers, the country has always been a commercial backdoor to China and India, for mainland Southeast Asian economies, a military launching pad for fascist Japan, a mid-point safe harbour for the mercantilist European powers, a lucrative resource stash for everyone and a virgin export market. From its inception in the military coup of 1962 till the collapse of Ne Win's dictatorship in 1988, Rangoon's military regime fenced off those territories under its direct control and fought myriad ethnic independence-seekers. In those Cold War days, neighbouring powers such as Thailand, India and China allied themselves or supported these anti-Rangoon forces in exchange for serving the interests of the home capital.

As for the ethnic armed resistance movements, reeling from the unexpected loss of their commercial and strategic advantages resulting from China and Thailand's reversal of their strategies, both legitimate resistance movements (such as the Kachin Independence Organisation) and those that are originally drug producers and traffickers (such as the United Wa State Army), opted for ceasefire deals with Rangoon. Bangkok and Beijing replaced their strategy of using anti-Rangoon rebel groups and their bases as military buffers, and in the case of Thailand as lucrative smuggling zones, to courting the central government in Rangoon. But the Karen National Union, the oldest and perhaps only movement to have stayed clear of the narcotic industry, and several others (the Karenni National Progressive Party, the Shan State Army factions and so on) decided to keep up their armed resistance rather than accept Rangoon's ceasefire offers immediately following the popular uprising in central Myanmar of 1988. They saw the ceasefire as not designed to be a step towards lasting peace and reconciliation, but rather as a part of the junta's longstanding policy of "divide and rule" along ethnic lines.

"... when Ne Win's socialist one-party state collapsed in the midst of near-bankruptcy, every military officer was more than happy to move away from socialism towards capitalism."

The rebels' longstanding ties with the Thai and Chinese governments were quickly cut when it became clear that, post-Cold War, the new focus would be on business. The logic of and zeal for economic growth - and the resultant two-fold needs for reliable flows of natural resources and energy and new consumer markets - has subsequently come to dictate the behaviour and priorities for virtually all national governments. Despite Myanmar's ostensible socialist setup, Ne Win and his deputies never actually trusted any entity, or socialist civilians, other than the military. Thus, when Ne Win's socialist one-party state collapsed in the midst of near-bankruptcy, every military officer was more than happy to move away from socialism towards capitalism. Immediately after the bloody crackdown on the popular uprisings of 1988, the new crop of generals decided to open up the country to international capital as a way of shoring itself up - and filling its empty coffers.

The country's new road to capitalism began with the Myanmar military signing away $120m worth of logging concessions to 35 Thai companies with close ties to the Thai military under Supreme Commander Chaovalit Yongchaiyudh, as early as December 1988. Additional concessions were given away for gems and fishing rights, and facilitating Thai-Myanmar cross-border trade. China was allowed to produce and export over more than commodities designed for Myanmar's markets, while importing teak, minerals, forest and agricultural products from Myanmar. The move to open up the country to international businesses has turned out to be the single most important decision for Myanmar's generals, having since precipitated a major windfall in terms of commercial gains, strategic advantages, new international alliances and class-based politics at home - all to the near exclusive benefit of the military.

The military remained cohesive despite the government collapse of 1988. At that time, the leadership decided to pre-empt any inter-ethnic alliance between an Aung San Suu Kyi-led Bamar ethnic majority in "mainland" Myanmar and about 20 armed ethnic movements across the frontier territories. Between 1989 and 1999, some 17 ethnic resistance groups agreed to ceasefire deals with the junta, reasoning that these agreements would at least bring some development benefits - as well as lucrative personal business for the ethnic leaders.

Three new developments characterise this period for Myanmar's ethnic resistance. First, the loss of military, ideological and material support from their neighbourhood backers, and in the case of the Kachin Independence Organisation some military defeats in the battlefield, had forced some of the staunchest foes of the Myanmar regime, to strike ceasefire deals with Rangoon in the early 1990s. Second, because the deals included concessions for the upper echelons of the resistance leaders to do business in their own areas - and get rich quick - these agreements created and deepened the new class division within the individual ethnic resistance communities. Eventually, this led to a fracturing among these movements, to the regime's strategic advantage. Third, these deals also created two new schisms: between the existing inter-ethnic alliances among the anti-regime forces and between the ceasefire groups and the emerging opposition movement of the majority Bamar, led by Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy.

Since the crackdown in 1988, and after having been condemned and shunned by the West for two decades following the Cold War as a consequence, the generals have successfully primed Western interests in Myanmar's economic and strategic potentials, including those of the country's frontier areas. Thanks to Asian commercial interests and global oil corporations, the regime has succeeded in filling its once-empty coffers with billions of dollars. Apparently, Naypyidaw has decided that it is in its best interest to invert its strategic logic in dealing with dissent and rebellion at home. From 1989 till earlier this year, it went on to crush the Bamar mainstream opposition while neutralising the non-Bamar ethnic armed movements with temporary ceasefire deals.

Now, the generals have decided to zero in on any ethnic resistance groups, ceasefire or active, that refuse to accept peace on Naypyidaw's terms. In August 2009, the Burmese military attacked the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance in the Kokang region, a local ethnic Chinese ceasefire group, causing the eventual exodus of 30,000 Kokang Chinese refugees fleeing into China. In June 2011, the regime broke the 17 years of ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organisation by provoking the latter in order to flush any KIO units from the billion-dollar Sino-Burmese hydropower projects on the Irrawaddy River in Kachin region.

New strategies of old

This new strategic logic underlies the regime's moves following the election of November 2010, including the limited political liberalisations that are meant purely for the Bamar majority. The regime's strategic measures both before and after the election were designed to further weaken the non-Bamar ethnic voices and fracture whatever inter- and intra-ethnic alliances that were emerging in the ethnic political scenes. Between 1993 and 2008, the military regime brought ceasefire groups and other non-Myanma ethnic representatives into the National Convention, which laid down the principles and guidelines for the military's Constitution of 2008, with the lure of the "legal" opportunity to present their federalist ideas.

In reality, their concerns and aspirations were uniformly ignored by the military and its handpicked delegates. Further, in the months leading up to the 2010 elections, the regime barred ceasefire groups (and leaders with ties to these groups) that refused to submit to the state military's central command. The regime also disenfranchised a large number of eligible voters in Wa and other ceasefire regions by opting not to hold elections in large tracts of these areas, on grounds of poor security.

"The military today is also replicating the old colonial pattern of divide and rule by preventing any attempts by the Bamar politicians and dissidents to reach out to the non-Bamar."

Historically, the British Raj made sure the lowland ethnic groups, most specifically the Bamar, did not get to form alliances with highlanders in Chin, Kachin, Shan, Karenni and others by restricting the freedom of movement for the Burmese by the ethnic frontiers. The military today is also replicating the old colonial pattern of divide and rule by preventing any attempts by the Bamar politicians and dissidents to reach out to the non-Bamar. Soon after her release from house arrest a year ago, Suu Kyi attempted to reignite popular interest in the multiethnic country's need to build a federal system of government on the principal of ethnic equality. As of mid-November, Suu Kyi has reiterated her offer of help on the issue of ethno-military conflicts, something that Naypyidaw has ignored, even though the ethnic minority groups have publicly welcomed her offer of mediation.

In August, President Thein Sein offered the ethnic armed resistance groups an olive branch, billing his post-election quasi-civilian government as a government for peace and reconciliation. Curiously, he urged all the armed organisations to get in touch with provincial administrations, instead of with the national government in Naypyidaw. This was clearly a move designed to signal the new regime's stance that ethnic peace and reconciliation is merely a parochial and provincial matter. However, the terrains of "peace and reconciliation" are hardly better for the non-Bamar ethnic parties, which have agreed to work within the military's political framework.

A cursory glance at the parliamentary statistics suffices. In addition to the military's Constitutionally allocated 25 per cent of the seats in all legislatures at all levels, the regime's proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP), holds 883 of 1,154 parliamentary seats (76.5 per cent); the National Unity Party, the party of military dinosaurs from the previous military government of General Ne Win, came second with 63 seats. The latter's attitude towards the country's non-Bamar ethnic communities is no less colonial and paternalistic than the USDP. Against the regime's near-monopoly of the parliamentary space, the only two ethnic non-Bamar parties - the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) and Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, with 57 and 35 seats, respectively - have absolutely no chance of their concerns and aspirations being taken seriously, let alone honoured, by the military.

These are indeed exciting days for Myanmar's generals. Having failed to vanquish their nearest enemy with domestic and Western support - namely, Suu Kyi and the NLD - they have now gotten her, along with the country's commercial and technocratic elites, on board Naypyidaw's carefully choreographed market reforms. Meanwhile, anti-Chinese Western and ASEAN commercial and strategic interests are converging nicely in the generals' favour. Since China's attempt to claim much of the South China Sea, ASEAN members, especially the maritime members, have made concerted efforts to help expand the involvement of the West (particularly Washington), in their region as a counterweight against the growing might and wealth of China. Both ASEAN and Washington deem it to be within their converging interests to ensure that Myanmar's generals do not tilt any further towards Beijing's strategic orbit. For the first time since the ethnic rebellions broke out 60 years ago, the military today finds itself in the best position to make peace deals with the non-Bamar resistance organisations. These will be offers the minorities cannot refuse.

Maung Zarni is founder of the Free Burma Coalition (1995-2004) and a visiting fellow (2011-13) at the Department of International Development, London School of Economics. His forthcoming book on Burma will be published by Yale University Press.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Here is one way to analyse the changes in Burma:
"I wonder how you assess the current events:

Do you support the re-registration of the NLD`?

NLD wrote on the wave of the popular uprisings which it did not have any part in fomenting or organizing. there is no popular revolt in Burma to speak of, except sporadic and infrequent small protests by some farmers, urban based farmers' rights advocates and a group of monks in Mandalay. In their place, the regime has launched military operations against ethnic minorities in resource-rich and strategic frontier areas.

Since there is no popular social and political wave to ride, or having no longer roots in the public, despite the Lady's rockstar-like popularity with the public, the NLD has abandoned its mass politics, in favor of only lop-sided compromise with the military elite.

So, in the absence of solid mass backing for any radical activities, the NLD had no better choice than to swallow the bitter pill and embrace the regime's "roadmap".

Of course, if there is one area where every man, and woman, not to mention those in public eyes, excels is self-rationalization and -justification.

So out of this unenviable situation it finds itself in the NLD has been articulating all kinds of justification for playing ball with the generals, more or less on the latter's terms. It has lowered its bar, and reshifted its goal post and redefining itself.

One example: the NLD said, in effect, it was good enough for the NLD leadership that the 1990 election results were recorded in the Government Gazette and ex-General Khin Aung Myint and that one of the parliamentary speakers mentioned the NLD won the election.

NLD's strategy is there for all to see: leverage US support, as opposed to the public at home, to get as much concessions as possible from Naypyidaw, and go with the military's flow into some place of influence within the emerging system.

The context in which the NLD has begun to tango at the military's choice of tune coincides, curiously, with Naypyidaw attempting to do the following 5 things:

1) bring the NLD into its quasi-parliamentary framework as a way of eliminating whatever little potential is left in the NLD to energize and mobilize the grassroots (it's easier to control one single NLD leader in an air-conditioned suite than unruly masses on the street); 2) gain international acceptability almost on its own terms (2008 Constitution, the parliamentary proceedings which are carefully choreographed and controlled from the commanding heights of the 70% USDP seats and 25% direct military seat allocation, the photo ops, the right noises about political relaxation, and a concerted media campaign aided by all manner of technocrats and outside advisers and cronies); 3) re-balance its strategic relations by striking the West at its weakest hour (its accelerated economic decline in the whole of Western capitalist world, except a few countries with strong niche markets such as Germany and commodity-export-oriented Australia, domestically increasingly unpopular US and UK governments); 4) making what it considers to be the final thrust to crush the armed resistance organizations, which are finding their backs against the international and neighborhood business interests - otherwise known as "economic development"; and 5) preempt any Burmese Spring which may be potentially precipitated by the global economic down-turn and its adverse impact on the economic life of the Burmese. (Remember Saya San and peasant armed rebellion in the least expected sector of the colonial society in 1931, 2 years after the Great Crash and the world's depression that ensued?)

Naypyitaw is in effect 1) hitting the softest spot of USA and EU, that is, business and strategic self-interests and temptations; 2) carefully packaging its implied anti-China message; 3) domestically bringing the NLD and ASSK - already tame and base-less opposition vanguard after 23 years of systematic persecution -- into its quasi-parliamentary process.

The parliamentary process and the new "democracy" in the making is 95% form and 5% substance.

The asking price by Naypyidaw in this, with the so-called international community is: its international legitimacy and acceptability of the military's political design.

To put it bluntly, the generals have gotten away with 50-years of murder, rape and loot.

Do you see any indications that parts of the *old regime* try to undermine President Thein reforms?"

There is NO "Thein Sein reforms".

To the extent there are reform measures in Burma - and there are, to be sure --they are coming from the National Defense and Security Council or NDSC, THE REAL POWER behind Thein Sein.

Thein Sein, or President-gyi Thein Sein as the typically sycophantic and slave-like mentality among Bama would compel one to address him, is the front man on the stage, the Mintha, the Prince.

This NDSC body puts him on a longer leash to give the appearance that Thein Sein is the man of the hour, "the hope of Burma" as his adviser Zaw Htay put it in "his" Washington Post article last week.

There may be, and there are, disagreements and personality conflicts - and even contests over material interests - among these guys. But it is a mafia-like organization that runs Burma's politics and economy. It remains as COMMAND A SYSTEM as it started out in 1962, as Revolutionary Council under Ne Win.

In this game Thein Sein has been made larger than life.

He is, in effect, the guy whom all sides - Naypyidaw, the NLD and outside interests - attempt to turn into their strategic proxy, a vehicle, a tool, a political drone.

But many who play along may know this drone-like nature of the reformist president. He seems like a very personable ex-general. But being nice means nothing, in the larger scheme of things especially in politics where power is the name of the game.

Truth is Thein Sein is NOT the real power. Power and control do matter.

This strategy putting Thein Sein, Mr Nice Reformer, at the center stage best suits both the military as the institutional base of the "new" government, and Senior General Than Shwe. Than Shwe and his clan who can't stand the Lady at the gut level can now use Thein Sein as their drone. They don't have to come into any face-to-face contact with her ever, despite her request to meet the top senior generals.

It also resonates with outside interests which want easy access to the highest level of the government, for their own strategic reasons. Also the typical view of "big men-and-women-make-history" compel these western players typically scramble for "big men" and "big women" in change processes.

Hilary Rodham Clinton going to Burma on 1 December for 2 days is a merry-making act. Everyone will get something. Naypyidaw will be pleased with the "halo" - and all the media attention (not to mention, Beijing's), that former First Lady and the US Secretary of State will bring to them; the "civil society" implanted in Burma with western money and behind-the-scene patronage will be happy to rub shoulders at embassy receptions; the NLD will be happy as Clinton makes a special stop and photo-op at the NLD as a precondition for her visit; the cronies on the sanctions list will be happy to be in the same room with Clinton whose government keeps them on the US visa ban list. Oh, before I forget EU commercial/governmental interests will be happy as Clinton's visit will pave the way for going beyond its policy foreplay with the generals.

But the truth is there are structures of power and interests in Burma that will not be willed away, or changed appreciably without any serious forces that are brought to bear upon them.

The language of "sincerity" in politics, popular in some quarter, and the history as products of 'big men' and 'women" don't have much empirical evidence in the long view of history and in the larger scheme of things.

But again beggars can't be choosers.

An analysis of Myanmar ASEAN Chair: BBC World News ,Zeinab Badawi, interview with Dr.Zarni on 2010 GMT, 17 Nov 2011 

For those who are worried about the Rohingya taking over the part of western Burma, a simple math may put things in perspective:

Arakan/Rakhine Area is 18,500 Square Miles (according to 1901 Burma Census. Feel free to update and check the old Rakhine-land has shrunk or expanded since 1901) . 

There are two groups that have for all intents and purposes occupied the whole of Burma and half of Burma: 

1). the Burma Army and its manager-owners in Naypyidaw: They occupy over 260,000 sq. miles. 

2). A. the Yunnan Chinese (estimated to be about 200,000 Chinese including laborers in Kachin state alone (about 46,400 square miles). None is locked up and protected by the mighty China;

B. Chinese entrepreneurs and again "naturalized" Chinese in most of the Upper Burma (which include Northern and Southern Shan States (57,900 square miles) and the Dry Zone (41, 200 square miles). 

These foreigners who "bought citizenship" don't speak a word of Burmese who have bought off the military intelligence since Gen. Khin Nyunt's DDSI time and the int-controlled Immigration authorities. 

What percentage of the country's population - all ethnic backgrounds, including Bama ethnic and non-Bama ethnic peoples of all classes and backgrounds - really feel threatened or outraged by the colonization of Burma by its own army of 300,00 - 400,000-troops? 

What percentage of the country's public feels threatened by the rising presence, domination and influence of the Chinese in the country, and China as the next imperialist power that has started the process of semi-colonization of Burma? 

Don't compare the Rohingyas with Chettiers from Tamil-nadu. Even Chetty, according to Burma's most respected historian the late Dr Than Tun, were not really that exploitative. Their money lending practices and interest rates were far more benign than the Chinese money-lenders and the urban-based Bama money lenders and absentee landlords.

But Chettiers were scapegoated, and the Kalars were scape-goated while the British and European commercial interests and colonial powers sucked the whole country and population dry. 

We the Bama even have the saying "stick your spear in the ground that is lower (than where you are)".

As a people or peoples, we are inflicted with this cancer - the mental predisposition, petty-mindedness, savage mentality of beating up the nearest weaker party each time there is pent-up outrage against the Mighty Common Enemy, whom we could not bring down, the way the Muslim Arabs in Libya recently did with Gaddafi and his sons. 

Then there is little wonder that we have always been a nation of colonized minds and spiritually and morally broken oppressed people whose fate keeps changing hands - from the absolutist delusional Buddha-wanna-be murderers and plunderers we are conditioned to refer to as "Warrior-nation-builders", then the British Thakhingyis, then the Fascists whom we called Masters, then AFPFL politicians we called "Par-li-man Amat Min" and Okka-hta, then "Bogyokes" and now "Thamadagyi".

Credit : Dr.Zarni
Even if the Rohingyas were not native to what we call Burma today, our birthplace, the inhuman and inhumane treatment of nearly 1 million Rohingya in a semi-concentration camp should be UNACCEPTABLE to any nationals from Burma, who think they have human decency and believe in the responsibility to other human beings simply out of common humanity. 

Remember "Chin" as we know it today didn't exist as such until the early 1900, and the Chin as a people, a collective, is the direct result of colonial missionaries. Within 50 years since they emerged as a people whose new core and collective identity evolves around Christianity, the Chin were recognzied as a signatory of the foundaing document of modern Burma. I am glad some Chin people are speaking out. 

It looks like not only do we have a government in power that is deeply racist, sexist and Neanderthal but many of our own fellow Bama and Rakhins drink from the same neo-fascist, racist ideological well. Adolf Hitler would certainly have a fair hearing in most parts of Burma, it seems.

Mein Kempf, Nazism's required reading written by Hitler, is known to be popular with certain dissident circles along Thai-Burmese borders.

Let's just be honest.

Who is a Bama? What is this sick notion of "purity" of blood? 

We Bama don't even really know with clarity where we came from except vaguely that we evolved from the Pyu who built early settlements from around Prome (or Pyay). 

So, there need to be more understanding, welcoming and compassionate towards the most oppressed and downtrodden is more pronounced among those of us who find our own birthplace unbearable and hence live in more humane and human places OUTSIDE of our own country. 

Further, Burma has always been a blessed country - population density, rich resources, etc. Even the old feudal kings of the old Burma were more enlightening and more strategic about handling migration towards Burma. To encourage greater increase in labor, military strength, etc. The kings in those days - I am talking about Kaungbaung Dynasty (1752-1885) had an immigration policy to attract voluntary in-migration into Burmese territories: immigrants to Burma were exempted from paying taxes to the Crown and being called to serve in the military expedition for the first 5 years. Through a less desirable means, that is, conquests, POWs from amongst Siamese,Portugeese, Assamese, Manipurans, etc were also resettled in different locations throughout the kindom and allowed them to work the land and pursue their own livelihoods. 

There were French, Armenian, and other Europeans who voluntarily settled in Burma. The invasion of Rohingya, this rather misguided and most racist anti-Rohinga campaign, is neo-Fascist. I would rather brace howls and barking from racists among my own co-nationals - racist Bama and racist Rakhines alike, than remain silent. 

We need to speak out whenever we see signs of neo-Fascist sentiment, whether from our own equally oppressed fellow citizens or from the oppressors. Otherwise don't call ourselves 'human rights defenders or democrats'. Human rights is something one shout - but one lives. I am extremely disturbed and disgusted by this deeply racist, neo-Fascist campaign coming from Rakhine and Bama racists. It misses the point: that our collective blood is sucked daily by the Bama "Buddhists" in silk skirt and generals uniform. They are the one who should be the target of mass campaign, not the most oppressed Rohinga., Shame on the petitioners ! (If you are not racist Bama or racist Rakhine, my note here doesn't apply, and you need not feel a need to howl at me or anyone who speaks in support the need to treat Rohinga with decency and compassion, as well as solidarity). 

Long live Rohingya People!


A "Bama" Buddhist from Mandalay, the heartland of Burma where many racists hail.

Credit: Dr.Zarni
Burma is undergoing top-down changes, we are being told.

Norway’s Deputy Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, after his whirlwind trip to the country, told the Financial Times on Oct 11, “I almost left the country thinking they're moving a little too fast. I never thought I would say that about Myanmar.”

Last month, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) issued its latest report on Burma, “Myanmar: Major Reform Underway,” which brims with false hopes, unwarranted optimism, and projected possibilities for Burma—so much so that James C. Scott, Yale’s renowned Southeast Asianist, felt compelled to publicly criticize the ICG’s Burma spin in an interview with the Democratic Voice of Burma.

Driven by divergent agendas and interests, both influential external players and local commercial and technocratic interests are ignoring the country’s power and economic realities while singing the praise of Naypyidaw’s reform.

Notwithstanding the new mood music in the background, Burma's generals and ex-generals cannot conceivably succeed in frog-marching the country towards peace, prosperity and democracy. A glance at their half-century-old record of failures at playing omniscient nation-builders suffices.

The country is ranked second to last, just ahead of Somalia, on Transparency International's Corruption Index. There are pockets of local communities whose socioeconomic and humanitarian conditions are closer to those of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa than to those of an Asian country about to “take off” developmentally.

State provision of health services exists only in name, and so does public education, the largest provider of schooling. But that’s good news for global bankers such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which typically insists on drastically cutting public expenditures in exchange for massive loans.

The country’s environment and communities face serious threats to their survival from some mega-development projects such as dam construction—there are still six dams being built on the Irrawaddy after the halting of the Myitsone dam—and the two major Chinese gas and oil pipelines and Thailand’s US $13 billion Special Economic Zone construction in the country's far south.

In the midst of economically rising Asia, the country produces the fifth largest refugee population in the world. The Burma Army is still waging military operations against armed ethnic groups such as the Kachin Independence Army and the Karen National Union.

For foreign policy makers and gurus who wish to convince the Burmese public and international skeptics of the genuineness of the changes underway in Burma, they must address two outstanding issues on which they have so far been silent.

First, the current top-down changes are not going to make a dent in the most fundamental power relations between the citizenry and the exclusive ruling club of generals and ex-generals, still in service or in civilian skirts. Without both the genuine acknowledgment of and putting into practice the universal democratic ethos of “We the People as Sovereign,” no government can claim to be moving in the direction of some form of democracy. There are no signs that Naypyidaw-men have stopped viewing themselves as the country’s “divine rulers.”

On the contrary, the Nargis Constitution of 2008—so-called as it was imposed on the country amid the cyclone disaster—places the military above the law and legalizes any military coup at the whims of the commander-in-chief. This clearly violates both the spirit and letter of constitutionalism.
For the military’s Constitution is not to curb the generals’ excessive powers, but to further enshrine them.
The Asian Human Rights Commission puts it thus: “The 2008 Constitution is in terms of human rights a norm-less constitution. Under its provisions, the armed forces are placed outside of judicial authority. The military, not the judiciary, is the constitution’s guardian. The judiciary is separated from other branches of government only 'to the extent possible.'”

Second, the main economic policy changes—for what is politics without the economic?—such as attempts to readjust the country’s exchange rate with the help of the IMF and “privatizing” public assets, which in reality is a Russian-style wealth transfer into the pockets of the generals and their cronies, will neither improve the public welfare nor equitably increase the people’s stake in the economy.

In the first quarter century of the generals’ rule (1962-88), the late Gen Ne Win impoverished both the military and the public through his economically ruinous “Burmese Way to Socialism.” In the second quarter century since 1988, his successor—Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his underlings—have pursued “the Burmese Way to Capitalism.” Burma now has a new class of super-rich generals and cronies, who share the massive spoils at the expense of the multi-ethnic public and the environment.

Needless to say, the global oil, gas and mining corporations—for instance, France’s Total and the USA’s Chevron—and Burma’s Asian neighbors have gleefully grabbed as much of the loot of one of the world’s “last economic frontiers” that they can lay their hands on.

For the Burmese public, by the time they have earned their civil and political rights to organize, associate and protest, there will be nothing left worth protesting for.

Upon his release from Myitkyina jail, where he was serving a 35-year prison sentence, my friend Zarganar summed up the local disbelief when he told The Irrawaddy in an interview: “I wanted to believe in these positive changes that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi [and others] spoke about. But since this morning [upon release], I lost belief in them because I found that the government does not even have a genuine desire to release all political prisoners.”

And the comedian is speaking for the Burmese public.

Daw Suu’s positive characterization of President Thein Sein and his “want for positive changes” reminds me of former US President George W Bush and his discovery of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin‘s soul in the latter’s eyes.

Again Zarganar was spot on when he pointedly said that Naypyidaw has been handling amnesties in Burma in a fashion more akin to Somali pirates than a regime that has just had a “change of heart.”

Truth is, the same old military leadership is aggressively engaged in a well-timed and well-calculated strategy designed to placate diverse target groups, both domestically and internationally, with carefully crafted multiple spins.

Furthermore, after 20 years of trying to break, eliminate and marginalize their nemesis Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the generals have finally found an effective way to clip her wings with her own discourse of “peaceful transition” towards democracy and reconciliation.

There is arising a monumental problem with Daw Suu abandoning the streets, which were her original political home as a viable political space, in her hopeful quest for reformist needles in the parliamentary haystacks. There is neither an FW de Klerk nor a Fidel V Ramos within or outside the rubber-stamp Parliament in Naypyidaw.

Unlike de Klerk, Naypyidaw’s generals and ex-generals still do not think there is anything fundamentally wrong with them and their warped worldview. Unlike Ramos, Ferdinand Marcos’ cousin and the West Point-trained reformist who headed the Philippines’ Constabulary, President Thein Sein commands neither the military nor its respect.

It is far more important to take a glance at Naypyidaw’s old designs and new maneuvers than to look straight into the president’s eyes and find sparkles of reformism.

These include the farce of checks and balances, the establishment of a quasi-autonomous human rights commission, the emerging space for pliable presidential advisers, or “useful idiots” as Lenin bluntly put it, and launching concurrently a series of diplomatic offensives at presidential, ministerial and adviser levels to Washington, Beijing, New Delhi and Jakarta.

On the international propaganda front, Naypyidaw is now engaged in well-coordinated public relations work which includes placing well-timed opinion editorials in The New York Times, Al Jazeera, and The Bangkok Post in its quest for normalization and acceptance of the quasi-constitutional military government with a civilian face through a carefully crafted narrative of Naypyidaw’s “hardliners vs reformers.”
Under the fog of trumpeted changes, even the presidential spin regarding the decision to halt the Myitsone Dam—that the new government is acting in accord with the democratic creed—sounds far less genuine and convincing after the Oct 12 amnesty and resultant release of some 10 percent of Burma's politcal prisoners than when the Myitsone decision was first announced. In fact, in a recent interview with The Voice Weekly, the regime's Burmese-language propaganda proxy, the president’s political adviser, ex-Col Ko Ko Hlaing, made it clear that halting the Myitsone Dam wasn’t a big deal for Naypyidaw because it was just a “small component” of the entire Irrawaddy dam scheme Naypyidaw is still actively pursuing.

So, modest political relaxation as opposed to meaningful democratization is a small price the regime seems prepared to pay the West in order for the Naypyidaw regime to be able to effectively fine-tune its geopolitical interests abroad and the system’s domestic safety valves.

In less than six months, whatever its façade, the military will be celebrating its Golden Jubilee as the world’s oldest dictatorship, which has outlived its world contemporaries, including the likes of Suharto, Marcos and, most recently, Colonel Gaddafi.

It would be a grave mistake for Burma’s democrats to underestimate the ruling elite’s “will to power, control and wealth” and their boundless ability to deceive their opponents and adversaries. Indeed, bypassing Naypyidaw, the real winds of change are blowing only in places like Washington, Oslo, Brussels, Jakarta, Rangoon and Jakarta, where different interests feel an urgent need to resume business as usual in the generals’ Burma.

Dr Zarni ( is Visiting Fellow, Department of International Development, LSE and columnist for the Irrawaddy.

Credit: Irrawaddy News
Rohingya Exodus