Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2676

A Charge to the People of Burma Residing in Canada

Keynote speech by Prof. B T Win*

On March 2nd. 1962, the day the military takeover Burma, Eugene’s Younger brother Sao Myee Myee Thaike was deliberately shot on that night as the Burmese army raided the President’s home. Since then more than half of the past-century, the various military administrations of Burma, was one of the worlds' most repressive and isolated.

Then, eager to escape international sanctions and fear of losing its independence to China, which was dominating its economy, and international political agenda the regime“chose another path,”

But which path has the regime chosen: true democracy or window-dressing? Full elections are scheduled for 2015 but they will be meaningless unless the nation's 2008 Nargis Constitution changed.

That is not only because the charter was written to exclude Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency, though barring the nation's most qualified, competent, sincere, dedicated and popular politician would in itself make any vote illegitimate. It's also because the existing constitution preserves the military as untouchable, reserving for itself 25 percent of the seats in parliament, which is not compatible with democracy at all. But a critical question is whether the ex-generals will get their goal of installing a soft authoritarian rule instead of a hard core dictatorships with the tactic support of the West including Canada and join in the pretense? As a Burmese now in Diaspora what can you do in our own little way to stop this carnage?

Today is also the 67th Anniversary Martyr’s Day. It was declared a holiday following the official independence of the country, and was publicly celebrated until the popular uprising of 1988, at which point the military junta, tried to wipe out Aung San family including the Union spirit from the Burmese scene. It is only now just two years it was recognized as a holiday, and the political spirit that accompanies, is coming back. So as we remember the Martyrs, including the ethnic leaders such as Saopha of Mong Pawn (Minister of Hill Regions) Karen Christian ethnic leader Mahn Ba Khaing (Minister of Industry) and Rakhine Muslim leader U Razak, (Minister of Education and Planning,) the Chairman of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom Party, the leading political party, fighting for independence from Britain. The Martyrs policy is to reject the partitioning of the nation along ethnic community or religious lines. Aung San principles and his government advocacy thus remain relevant to the most pressing issues the country faces today, which also coincide what Eugene Thaike has been doing throughout his whole life.

It is our historical task is for the prevalence of democracy, human rights and genuine federalism as envisage not only by our ethnic leaders but also by Aung San. The country that was born only in 1948 and we ethnics nationalities are equal partners and not under the yoke of Myanmar imperialism. If the concordat inked in Panglong in 1947 is not implemented or not recognized then every ethnic has the right to fight back.

It was in this paradigm that the world especially the self-style Burmese scholars should look at, if they are desirous to help solve the Burmese gridlock. Burma is not a monolithic whole dominated by the ethnic Myanmar race. The Non Myanmar and the Myanmar came together willingly and if it is not working well, they will have to trash it out and if they can’t do it they have the right to go their own way as Malaysia and Singapore did way back in 1965. That is why the country ranks as the longest running civil war in the world. Why is there a civil war? It indicates that something is very, very wrong. We ethnic nationalities must continue to work and fight for our inalienable birth rights not only for us but for the younger generations.

As Burma opens up to the forces of the global market at an accelerating rate, we are reminded of Aung San’s anti-imperialist views that strongly opposed economic exploitation. Before his assassination, he spoke openly against the British and accused them of destabilizing the region in order to protect their interests, a position that many suspect got him killed. Today several foreign companies have benefited immensely from the country’s perpetual unrest, and so have the handful of Burmese cronies. The problem is that the benefit has not trickled down.

Appealing business opportunities are hard to resist. To establish good relations with Burma’s former generals, essential for investment, the Western governments including Canada now focus on providing them with encouragement and support. They always put it in nice words like, “Our objective is to support and accompany Burma in the transition process. We believe that this can be done more effectively through engagement and support than continued sanctions,” Superficial reforms have been rewarded at the risk of reinforcing the old, authoritarian power structures.

The quasi-military government has quietly returned to its old habit of arresting political dissidents, including journalists, while the West continues to hand out rewards. Conspicuously not included in the benchmarks for the human rights dialogue is the inhumane treatment inflicted on the Rohingya, Kachin, the Shan and other ethnic nationalities.

After years of punitive measures against the Burmese’s generals the Western governments now favor the carrot over the stick. With a massive potential for investment in Asia’s “last frontier economy,” while it has toned down its advocacy for human rights in a competition to win over the country’s quasi-civilian rulers.

Did the world knows that no former Generals now in mufti, have never admitted their mistakes, nor asked for forgiveness, let alone punishing them, this explicitly means that they will repeat the same atrocities, as they had done for more than half a century, if things doesn’t go their way. Cronies still control the economy. While the army continues to justify its repressive rule as essential to keeping the fissiparous country together.

This is because Burma’s reforms are often measured against the practices of dictatorial times and, compared with the relentless oppression of the past, the reformist generals come off well. On closer inspection, however, the reforms appear to lack the depth needed for the development of a democratic union, and power remains with the army. In this current structure the whole country is ruled by the military chief, not the president.

Significant power is also vested in the bureaucracy, which consists mainly of former military officials in civilian clothes and civilians appointed under preferential treatment. These officials have acted with impunity under decades of military rule and often lack the willingness, as well as the knowledge, to act in accordance with new laws and regulations. The obvious conclusion is that as long as the foundations of military rule remain in place, the large Western funds flowing into Burma carry the heavy risk of supporting authoritarianism, instead of democracy. It also help to assist creating poverty through corruptions: while the fundamental principle of Business Ethics, Corporate Responsibity, Sustainable Development – are not incorporated in the new concept,planet +people +profit.

The Western countries including Canada, are involved to do this peacebuilding, they’re talking about development, when in fact the ethnic nationalities are not fighting to establish a free-market, they’re fighting to establish their own identities, to gain full recognition as political communities.

When the West comes in and says that economic development will help de-escalate the conflict, actually the total opposite is what is happening. Maybe 20 years from today, anyone who does the history of development in Burma will write about the war in Kachin as the world’s first war driven by developmental calculations. It’s a war for development. It’s a war about development. And this development is not about people, this development is about capital interest. People say, the process in Burma is not perfect, but everyone who uses that phrase – I like to ask is it better than what we had before – No! no, this is not better. Before we did not have genocide, we did not have a full-blown war against the Kachin. We did not have thousands of Burmese people displaced by mega-development projects. There is no land grabbing from the working people working on the land. Ethnic cleansing particularly the Rohingyas of the minorities is clearly connected to economic projects

Our focus should be on the people without the people being involved in any change process it’s just elite power deals. So there are two processes going on, one is the elite pact and the elite deals that is portrayed as the opening up of Burma with commercial and strategic interests, and then you have ethnic and religious minorities fighting back for their survival. They are fighting out of liberal principles, 99% of these people don’t know what the word liberal means, but they fight back. When your land is taken away, the next thing you know you don’t have any plot of land to grow rice or vegetables or for your chickens to go, so this isn’t over. This is never over.

Because we dread a reversal of the modest progress of the past few years, we are afraid to boldly speak out for more meaningful changes to the political system. To conceal their own timidity, some intellectuals have even tried to rationalize acceptance of the status quo by arguing that letting the supposed “moderates” among the ex-generals hold on to power indefinitely is the best way to ensure that the country doesn’t fall back into the hands of the hardliners.

Will we allow ourselves to be influenced by such weak reasoning, which is no more than a cover for cowardice? We all know the fear of speaking our minds in a country where that has long been a crime. We know what we want: a democratic constitution, free and fair elections, and a government that is truly chosen by the people. What we don’t know is how or whether we can achieve these things. And in our self-doubt, we may be tempted to do what we have always done: accept lies as truth and simply hope that we will one day enjoy the freedoms that other countries take for granted.

But we must all admit that Business always overrules the conscience, last month Canada welcome a Burmese tycoon Steven Law (Son of Opium king Lo Hse Han) with deep ties to the drug trade. His Burmese name is Htun Myint Naing, Managing Director of Yadana Taung Tan Gems, part of the Asia World Company, which is Burma’s largest conglomerates. He was travelling under the Chinese name “Lo Ping Zhong”, was traveling with Burma’s Minister of National Planning and Economic Development U Kan Zaw during a four-day “Asean Economic Ministers Roadshow”. Whatever justifications have the Canadian authorities it is a fact the Canadian authorities in BC has warmly shook hands with the Burmese drug war lord.

It was against this backdrop that Seng Zin, a well-known Kachin human – rights activist from Kachin Women Association of Thailand applied for a Canadian visa to attend a human-rights training program in Ottawa, as she was sponsored by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which offered to cover all her expenses. Despite having received a visa to visit France the immigration officials at the Canadian embassy in Bangkok denied her a visa on the ground that she lacked of financial resources. This is the real Canada but you will have to sing Oh Canada, the true North Brave and strong.

I am just comparing these two cases and am not tarnishing the image of Canada which has open its door to refugees or accusing any persons or department, lest I will be in trouble, (once I have been kick off from Singapore). What I am just advising my Burmese lesson that residing in Canada is tha Business always over rules the Conscious.

Now the second lesson is that more or less we Burmese are previously refugees or asylum seekers i.e. we are being forced to run away by the Juntas and have no choice but to come and eke out our living in this alien environment. Whether you are a white color or blue color worker you will have to remember that the unwritten Constitution in Canada isIf you don’t know anybody you are out. And as new comers there is very little chance of knowing any VIPs. This is the situation we are facing here.

So my advice to you today is that you all must be united and try very, very hard and educate yourselves, especially if you are an ethnic nationality of Burma and be united. The least we can do as is that we should develop the list for those products which are produced in Burma especially private contracts with the ruling quasi-military government. We will have to study sanction list, boycott list of products, services which are contracted, manufacturing, production from Burma…. Executethe campaigns, and watch dog monitor & control. We must be able to compile the list of military family members and relatives, and submitted to the Canada government, and have a web-list for public-knowledge (in English) for the public to know.

• A Speech given by Kanbawza Win to the Burmese Ethnic Community in Surrey, BC, Canada

- Asian Tribune -

Prof. T.B. Win
diconary view
Share this


.