Burma : The struggle continues
Giles Ji Ungpakorn: Thailand
While the mainstream media concentrate on the pronouncements of foreign governments and the role of the U.N. in stopping the bloodshed perpetrated by the Burmese junta, the real struggle is on the streets and in the cities around Burma . The idea that the Chinese government, responsible for the Tiananmen Square Massacre, or the Thai military junta will somehow restrain the Burmese military is laughable. The West has a long history of supporting military juntas in South-east Asia and never lifted a finger to stop massacres in Indonesia or the Philippines . It is most ironic that in fact, the present demonstrations that we are seeing in Burma , arise from a realisation by Burmese pro-democracy activists that they cannot rely on Western powers or anyone else to bring about a change and they have to act themselves.
Until the military started its latest round of bloody crackdowns, the mainstream media were claiming that the wide spread use of the internet meant that the watching eyes of the world would prevent a massacre, “unlike in 1988″. In fact we could see pictures of the 1988 crackdown and we were all aware of what was going on. The great uprising which started on 8th August 1988, was initiated by student protests over economic issues. Soon it developed into demands for democracy. On the morning of the 8 th a general strike started in the docks and spread to government offices. All sections of society, including priests, marched to demand the end to military rule and despite the bloody brutality of the regime, the movement showed signs of winning. Ne Win, the old military dictator was forced to resign and the junta changed its name and promised elections. However, instead of pushing forward with the struggle, which would have toppled the military completely, the movement was deflated. Aung San Suu Kyi told demonstrators to disperse. The reasoning was that they should trust the army and not push them “too far”. The energies of the democracy movement were channelled into electoral politics. After Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy ( N.L.D.) won 392 seats out of a total 485 in 1990, the junta refused to accept the result. Suu Kyi and N.L.D. politicians were arrested, but the movement had already been weakened. Some student activists joined the armed struggle in the countryside, but they soon became demoralised.
For years after the defeat of the 1988 movement, demoralised activists had hoped that the United States would put pressure on the Burmese junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi and negotiate a road map to democracy. Despite the understandable pessimism of many Burmese exiles, lessons have been learnt by many activists. Earlier this year a loose network of activists decided to start open protests in the form of “prayer marches” at temples. This was followed by the large demonstrations of monks after fuel price rises of 500%. Thousands of ordinary people gained confidence and joined the monks’ protests. Hundreds of politicised young men have become monks in recent years, partly due to the fact that the junta closed down or restricted entry to colleges and universities. The temples were safer places for people to gather and talk, much like the Mosques in Iran during the revolution or the Catholic Church in Communist Poland before the uprising there.
The pro-democracy movement today has more experience than in 1988. Twenty years ago they were prepared to allow Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy to lead the movement. Today there are debates about the way forward. While everyone agrees that Suu Kyi and all political prisoners should be freed immediately, the radicals are wary of leaving the leadership of the movement in the hands of the N.L.D.
Freedom and democracy can only be achieved by also dealing with the ethnic conflict. The non-Burmans, who make up more than half the population, have never been happy with a unified state and many groups have been in a state of constant armed struggle against the central government since independence. It is encouraging to see that the Karen National Union has come out very clearly on the side of the pro-democracy movement and has urged Burmese soldiers to turn their guns on their officers. It is to be hoped that the democracy movement responds to this act of solidarity by taking up a position allowing ethnic groups self-determination. In the past Burmese independence leaders such as Aung San (Sui Kyi’s father) or U Nu were not that enthusiastic about allowing different ethnic groups to have autonomy. The 1947 Panglong conference to discuss the future of Burma was boycotted by the Karen, Karenni, Mon, Arakan and Wa. Sui Kyi herself has been unclear on this issue and is not fully trusted by non-Burmans.
While many of the activists trace their roots back to 8-8-88, thousands of young people on the protests are too young to have taken part back then. This means that a whole new generation of people have become radicalised. There are signs that they are prepared to resist the army with great courage and sacrifices. One woman, interviewed by Reuters, summed up the present situation by saying “it is good but it is dangerous”. Democracy can only be achieved by overthrowing the junta. There is no room for compromise and the junta can never be trusted. We can only hope that the democracy movement inside Burma will strive to topple the regime, like in Manila in 1986, Bangkok in 1992 and Jakarta in 1998. This will involve fighting back and also winning over ordinary soldiers to the side of the people. It will involve strikes by the growing working class, both in the cities of Burma and also among the millions of Burmese migrant workers, especially in the factories on the Thai side of the border, such as in towns like Mae Sot. It may be a long process, but we can all act to show the necessary solidarity.
Giles Ji Ungpakorn Workers Democracy Thailand
Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Faculty of Political Science
Bangkok 10330 , Thailand
UK mobile +44(0)7817034432
WDPress Blog http://wdpress. blog.co.uk/
Burma – Memories from Rangoon and Bagan in 2000
Junya Lek Yimprasert
Thai Labour Campaign
For nearly twenty years human rights groups around the world have organised protest after protest in their attempts to pressure world leaders to take action to restore democracy in Burma. But it seems their voice has never been loud enough – especially in the ears of Asian governments. For instance, the Chinese and Japanese governments have major interests in Burma and conduct their business ignoring totally the fact that the Burmese people are oppressed by one of the most ruthless military juntas on the planet.
The raw violence of the Burmese military against their own citizens in 1988 – and continuously ever since then, has pushed millions of Burmese to take refuge in neighbouring countries. In Thailand there are now about 150,000 political asylum seekers and about 2 million Burmese working in the lowest paid jobs, some documented some not, at about 2 USD a day [40% of minimum wage].
These political immigrants are very exposed and vulnerable to all kind of abuse from both the employers and Thai government authorities. Many get arrested and deported back to Burma and must pay money to completely corrupt military authorities all down the line.
For the 20 years that millions of Burmese have been taking refuge in Thailand they have never been granted any rights of citizenship and can receive no social welfare. They have always been obliged to live, as in a trap, in poverty, having to run and hide like animals when their factories and campsites are raided by Thai police.
We have let 50 million Burmese people suffer far too long.
After observing first hand (short article below) conditions of absolute poverty along the Irrawaddy, one of the richest rivers in Asia, in 2003 the Thai Labour Campaign (TLC) established a programme to fight for the rights of Burmese workers in Thailand . This work has been supported by Norwegian Church Aid ( Norway ) and Diakonia ( Sweden ). To facilitate this work TLC has established an office in Mae Sot, a refugee town on the Thai-Burma border.
Memories from Rangoon and Bagan in 2000
Junya Yimprasert, Coordinator, Thai Labour Campaign
“We will go to demonstrate for Democracy in Burma at Government House” my friends told me in Sydney during a 2-month exposure programme in Australia in 1990. The action was organised to mark 2 years since the day of the military crack-down in Burma and to remember the thousands of people who were killed on 8th August 1988.
Since then I have participated in many protests and actions for democracy in Burma .
Missions to Burma for Altsean-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma ) in 2000 and 2001 brought me face-to-face with the awful reality of the living conditions of the Burmese peoples. Going to Rangoon on both trips, I soon began to understand what ‘the absolute poverty of the people in Burma ’ meant in real terms, and also what the expression ‘business has no boundaries’ can mean in practice.
Every hotel was hung with pictures of military officers, and my companion Steve Beeby and myself learnt that the military authorities have made it their custom to demand a free stake in hotel ownerships. On the second trip we stayed at a hotel popular among Asian businessmen – from Singapore , China , Korea and Japan . Thai are most visible as the organisers and managers of hotel and service business.
In Rangoon we were approached by a skinny Burmese boy: “Do you like to take a tour to Bagan?”. After following us for half a day he finally succeeded in convincing us that we could go by taxi to Bagan, 350 kms to the north, and return to Rangoon within two days.
About half-way to Bagan, on a terrible road, we realized that neither our guide or taxi driver knew what they were doing. The promised 6 – 8 hour drive became 14. We went through endless check-points at which our poor guide, muttering that ‘everyone has to pay’, had to keep forking out Kyat.
At one stop he received information that his brother had died. He was very sad, and we sad for him. We suggested we return to Rangoon , but he refused. His need of money was now even greater than when we started the trip.
Travelling back to Rangoon we visited 2 roadside villages. In one, the villagers took us on a tour of their community. They were very poor, each family living in a shack made of bamboo and any materials that could be scavenged. They were short of everything: blankets, medicines, healthy food and future.
A member of one of the families we visited was sick: “We have to look after him as best we can here. We can’t take him to the hospital it is too far away and we don’t have any money”. We were told that it was not just this family, but that more than 100 kilometers from Rangoon there is no village along the whole Irrawaddy that has any means to get their sick to a hospital.
Although many years have now passed since those trips, my memories of the living conditions in Burma remain vivid.
I hope for change in Burma . I hope that all of us, the whole world, will focus the attention that is required to bring peace and democracy to Burma – NOW.
We may not permit the shedding of yet more innocent blood in Burma . In the past 20 years the Burmese have lost far, far too many of their loved ones.
The peoples of Burma have suffered enough.
Junya Lek Yimprasert Thai Labour Campaign
P.O. Box 219, Ladprao Post Office Bangkok 10310 Tel: + 66 1 617 5491 Fax: + 66 2 933 1951 www.thailabour. org
meistra budiasa” <meistrab@yahoo. com> writes from Indonasia
During this week many activist pro democracy in Indonesia make solidarity action for people in Burma, on september 28 action by coalition organization like NGO, Womens group, leftist, Student movement, Religious, and Buddhis group in jakarta protest to the embassy Burma and today around 50 people from trade union make protest in front Burma Embassy for demand military regime step down. More picture protest during September 28 and October 1 you can look at http://mediabebas. blogspot. com
Statement by the Partido ng Manggagawa (Party of Workers) Philippine
September 27, 2007
Filipino workers support the Burmese people
The Filipino working class joins the peoples around the world in condemning the brutal suppression by the military junta of the protest movement in Burma . We add the voice of the workers in the call for democratization in Burma , freedom for political prisoners and an end to the military rule.
We express our solidarity for the people of Burma especially our Burmese brother and sister workers. The working class of Burma suffer as much or even more as other sectors and classes of Burmese society under the heel of the military junta.
The Burmese military dictatorship may be a throwback to the Dark Ages of old but under its iron fisted rule the new paradigm of globalization is being forced down the throats of Burmese workers. Multinational corporations are extracting super profits from the blood and sweat of Burmese workers who are denied the most elementary labor rights by the brutal dictatorship.
The Filipino workers sympathize with the situation of their Burmese brothers and sisters for we suffered the very same exploitation and very same abuse under the Marcos dictatorship. In fact the burgeoning protest movement in Burma against price increases recall to mind the welgang bayans (nationwide public strikes) of the ’80′s and ’90′s
against economic hardship during and after the Marcos dictatoship.
The Burmese military dictatorship hope to nip in the bud the protest movement against the economic crisis and scuttle its maturity into a political movement for democracy in their country. But the tables may yet be turned and instead the bloody repression may still incite the beginnings of a new uprising against military rule.
Despite the forced isolation of Burma under the dictatorship, international solidarity has a significant role to play in sustaining and strengthening the protest movement in Burma against economic hardship and for political freedom. Thus the Partido ng Manggagawa will educate and mobilize the Filipino workers as vanguard fighters or democracy to stand as one body and speak with one voice in support of the Burmese people and workers in their struggle for political freedom and social emancipation. ##