Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2040

Burma’s Union Day in the International Context

By Kanbawza Win

It is high time for the international community, especially the West led by the US and EU to know something about the Union Day of Burma. In other words, how modern Union of Burma came into being with a concordat and how this concord was destroyed, which is the basis of all the insurrections in the country.

However to understand this Red Letter day, one has to know the background history of contemporary Burma, now label as Myanmar, forcing the international community to acquiesce to the theory that dictators can change the name of the country without the consensus of the people.
Backdrop.

Burma became the British colony since 1826, where after the 3rd Anglo-Burmese War the bulk of the Myanmar army surrendered to the British but the ethnic nationalities stay on as usual under the administration of their respective chiefs, even though most of them, except the Karenni (now forcibly change to Kayah), acknowledge the suzerainty of the British colonial empire.

However, after the 2nd World War, the sun had set, not only in the British Empire but also throughout the colonial world and of most of the colonies opted for independence. It was here at a small village Panglong in Southern Shan State that Bogyoke Aung San (father of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) representing the Myanmar, Sao Shwe Thaike (the Chief of Yawnghwe, known in local language as Saopha), other Shan chiefs Kachin Duwas, and Chin chiefs and political leaders agreed to co-found the Union of Burma, on 12th February 1947. The signatories of the Panglong Accord were all equal. Each was a leader of some segments of the population, and none were national leaders because "Burma" as it exists now, has not existed before 1947.

The Union of Burma, therefore, is a joint-venture of all "races" of the Union, which means that the Union is "owned" by all "races", and certainly not by the Myanmar "race" garbed in green (military uniforms). This is the basic theory which every international community, especially the West should understand to deal with Burma/Myanmar if it wants to understand that will eventually to good relations with the people and be in a good position to reap the country’s natural and human resources under the cloak of Democracy and the prevalence of Human Rights.

Unlike, any other national holiday, the most conspicuous point of the Union Day is an event where the military cannot claim to have any role whatsoever in bringing about. As such, the powerful Tatmadaw Generals have nothing meaningful to say on Union Day, except to utter empty clichés about "national unity." The twist is that the main founder of the Union of Burma Bogyoke Aung San was assassinated even before independence by non other than a Myanmar and the section of Myanmar army label as PVO (People’s Volunteer Organization) rebelled, then followed by the Myanmar Red Flag (the Troskyist) and later by the White Flag Communists (the Bolshevists). It was only the Myanmar group that does not recognize the Union of Burma, while all the ethnic nationalities rallied behind the Union especially the Chins and the Kachin sacrificing tens of thousands of their youths to defend the Union. That part of history was hidden by Myanmar Generals Why?

The Myanmar Generals abhor democracy, human rights and federalism and want to lord it over the entire country to set up a new Tatmadaw Dynasty, (a) the 4th Myanmar Kingdom and launched a military coup on 2nd March 1962. Since then the country has been under the military dictatorships up to this day.

Opening Up of Burma

The generals' rule has resulted in policy-induced poverty, prolonged internal conflicts and international isolation, with devastating societal consequences. Despite its firm grip on power the generals never really feel either secure or confident about their reign. They have always felt they are riding on the back of an angry and wounded tiger Knowing this, the Generals open up the country in 2011 and bring on board Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, their long-time nemesis, as a last resort both for themselves and the society at large. This is the existential background against which changes in Burma need to be understood by the international community especially the West.

Paradoxically, the opening up of the country was claimed by President Barrack Obama and his Foreign Policy Success. Of course, Washington's new strategy of "pivoting" back to Asia has also made it possible for the generals to come out of their bunkers, literally and figuratively. The Americans wanted the Burmese to walk away, as much as geo-strategically possible, from Beijing's embrace. The Burmese, on their part, are grateful to Washington in helping wean them off China's international protection, ironically, against Washington's perceived attempts at regime change in Burma. This is a classic geo-strategic symbiosis that is looking increasingly promising for the Burmese and the Americans.

The European Union and Australia smiles. Every leader of both the "free world" of the West and "un-free and semi-free worlds" of the East have hurried their way to Naypyidaw, the ghost city capital replete, with North Korean-designed underground tunnels and bunkers while the West send many of its NGOs to help the country from dictatorship to democracy.

Development and humanitarian packages worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged, foreign debt to the tune of US$ 3.7 billion forgiven and official praise about Burma's changes has been thrown around in Washington, Tokyo, London, Berlin, Paris, Oslo, Stockholm, Brussels, and so on. New offices are springing up in the country. Every tourist or long-stay visitor to Burma is now involved in 'institution- and capacity-building' of one kind or another. Investors, insurers, and do-gooders alike are all elated. Full Stop.

However, through the natives' eyes, that is, the Burmese public, the country's recent history stands in the way of embracing the outsiders' rose-tinted views of Burma's reforms. They don't share the international community's "reckless optimism" about its collective future. The generals' past waves of nation-building have been nothing but national nightmares. As Dr. Zarni put it, “Since 1962, Burmese military leaders have made and re-made themselves first as "socialist soldiers" bent on building a socialist economy and now overzealous "capitalist democrats" embracing the Free Market with fist and fury.”

The ex-military officers and their active-duty brethren retain complete monopoly control over all aspects of reforms. In the new era of "democratic transition", these ex-brass in longyi or in uniforms, continue to hold all levers of state power at all levels of administration, including "people's bicameral parliament", judiciary, foreign affairs and finance, besides their legitimate domain, namely state security apparatuses. This is the picture that increasingly worries the people of Burma because the Burmese public that have borne the brunt of the military's policy, leadership and system failures, who have gone through all, these know best.

The West Sustaining Military Dictatorship

Emphatically, the generals are, however, pursuing reforms largely for the wrong reasons - for their own long-term survival, both as powerful military families and as the most powerful institution with 'a deeply ingrained corporate sense of entitlement to rule'. As a direct consequence, they remain wholly unprepared to do what is needed in terms of what will really promote public welfare and advance the cause of freedom, human rights and democracy.

No doubt the reforms are contradictory, reversible, and fragile. But they are confined to such narrow domains as freedom of speech, new business and investment law. That is, the areas important to middle class Western liberals and attractive to venture capitalists and corporations. Further, reform moves bypass active conflict zones, strategic buffer areas, and resource-rich virgin lands. But when it comes to economically and strategically important regions on the country's peripheries, that is, the ancestral homes of the country's 60% of the population, where the ethnic nationalities such as the Kachin, the Rakhine, the Shan, the Karen, the Mon, and the Karenni resides the reforms simply translate into forced displacement, a rise in militarisation, a sharp increase in war-fleeing refugees, loss of livelihoods, and so on. It is indeed no coincidence that all fresh waves of violence, atrocities and raging wars happen to be in the ethnic nationalities regions designated to be homes of virtually all mega-development initiatives, commercial projects, resource extraction, special economic zones and industrial agricultural schemes - worth billions of dollars.

Curiously, both the origin and tail of China's 2,800-plus kilometre-long twin pipeline bear witness to the unfolding violence: ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in the coastal region where the pipelines begin and the hot war against the Kachins in the Sino-Burmese highlands of northern Burma. To date, close to an estimated 100, 000 Rohingyas have been caged in new UN-financed refugee camps on the west coast while roughly the same number of Kachin in the North has fled the war on their ancestral highlands. On the eastern side of Burma along Thai-Burmese borders, donor agencies, are preparing to repatriate another 150,000 Karen and Karenni war refugees back to their regions, despite the absence there of either meaningful and functioning ceasefire or lasting peace.

The dark side of Burma's economic reforms by and large go unnoticed except for the US military's surveillance satellites, which captured images of entire neighbourhoods in the strategic deep-sea port city of Kyauk Phyu razed to the ground. The raison d'être for the regime is why pay compensation for relocating a popularly disliked ethnic and religious minority community from strategically and commercially important locations if you can drive them out to the sea and torch their homes completely? These state-orchestrated crime scenes also lie outside the purview of the growing pool of visiting dignitaries, renowned experts and international statesmen. More ominously, many international agencies and national governments by and large view this ugly side of development - ethnic, class and provincial conflicts, large scale displacement, pervasive land confiscation, absence of human and food security, growing income disparity, etc. - as the necessary cost locals must bear if they are to enjoy projected fruits of developmental reforms in some distant future. Here the prevailing two-fold ideology of unfettered development and 'sustainable economic growth' is at work.

The regime's pursuit of peace with armed ethnic organizations (EAO) warrants a closer scrutiny than has been subject to. While running the country that has not seen real peace since independence from Britain 60-plus years ago, the generals talk the talk of peace, but do not walk the walk. Hence how can the peace deal be inked? Thein Sein government is far more interested in exploiting natural resources in ethnic nationalities regions and securing strategic and commercial routes there than discussing seriously about the root cause of the country's ethnic rebellions, namely political autonomy founded on the principle of ethnic equality on the Union Day of Feb.12th 1947.

Case Study of Two INGOs

Taking EU by the horns is an impossible task and hence I have deliberately leave out the big three (Germany, Britain and France) which are actually calling all the shorts in the continent, because of their vested interested. Cowardly, I have chosen one of the few active INGOs in Burma. The first is ISDP (Institute for Security and Development Policy) of Sweden which claim to be assisting the peace process through capacity building, engagement and dialogue. In its report it claims that “ISDP is working in close collaboration with the Myanmar Government. The ISDP Director met with Minister in the President's Office, U Aung Min and his senior advisers at the Myanmar Peace Center to discuss the ongoing ceasefire negotiations and the preparation of the national political dialogue.” True to its statement it worked only with the quasi-military and never endeavour to contact the opposition like UNFC (United Nationalities Federal Council) based in Chiang Mai (Thailand) forgetting the simple logic that there are two sides in a conflict. The raison d'être was because the opposition did not contact them and instead accuse them of being bias and drew their conclusions on assumptions and suspicions, when in fact ISDP has openly sided with the winning side,( government) to get preferential treatment in return.

As a neutral NGO that is dealing with armed conflict situations there are issues on all sides of the conflict including conflict economies, existing elite structures and conflict narratives, while the Tatmadaw itself is lie-ing the very concept of truth. So it is natural that ISDP chose only to contact organizations that are working inside the country and not those toiling with the marginalised in the peripherals or in Diaspora. This tantamount to sharing the regime’s perspective that those NGOs working with the ethnics nationalities like TBBC (Thai-Burma Border Consortium) are helping the rebels and dissidents. Imagine, the government even accuse the UN Special Rapporteur Ms. Yanghee Lee to be meddling in the country’s internal affairs because she call a “spade a spade,” in other words Rohingya by its own original name?

Hence, it will be much better for the Swedish authorities not only to rely on government to government contact, but also on people’s to people’s contact in order to know the real story and will be in a far better position to judge things correctly. There are many well intentioned Swede NGOs who are working silently, while some UN and NATO war veterans witnessing the injustice and human rights violations so much have no choice but to join the resistance. At least we hope and pray that the Swede Government will heed the advice and the correct assessment of their expert like Prof. Joakim Kreutz or an internationally recognized Swede Burmese expert of ‘Bertil Lintner’, so that the result of Sweden’s International aid to Burma amounting to 750 million SEK for 2013-2017 would be better use with transparency for both the people of Burma and Sweden.

The next NGO is SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) as both President Thein Sein and the opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has visited Switzerland, which is renowned for its neutrality, federalism and of course for economic strength. According to the Swiss Foreign Ministry release “Myanmar is a choice partner in this context, notably because of its location between China and India. Its significant natural resources and large labour force give it strong economic potential,” it is clear that emphasis is on economics and not so much on the people of Burma. However it has supported the Burmese refugee camps in Thailand since the mid of 1990s and it was only in 2001 that it comes into Burma in response to Nargis cyclone victims.

Switzerland joined Britain, Norway and Australia in responding to the regime call of national census with $75 million. But the regime set the questions and implemented in such a way that even William Ryan, Burma spokesman for the U.N. Population Fund which initiated the project fund says that “UNFPA is very concerned by this apparent departure from the procedure for the census.” The $75 million, funded project was successfully turned into a discriminatory tool. Concerning this I tried to contact the Swiss concern persons and Yves Rossie recommended me to contact the Swiss Ambassador in Rangoon. But His Excellency Christoph BURGENER kindly ask me to come and see him in his office, not knowing that once I set foot in Burma my neck will fall off from my shoulder.

The end result was since the change in 2011 Burma has been receiving foreign aid and assistance from many countries, which are well intentioned, but as the implementations of the programs are based generally on incorrect assessment and understanding of the objective conditions, they result in the perpetuation of the very ills the aid givers intend to eliminate.

What I would humbly like to suggest is let the Western INGOs take a leaf out of the Japanese Nippon Foundation that work hands in glove both with the regime and the UNFC in sending food and resources to more ethnic areas especially in the War zones. Because judging from the actions of the well-meaning and good will of the Western governments, is that they did not received reports of the real situation of the peripherals and the country side and simply have little or no idea of what is going on inside the country. Correct and down to earth information is very crucial. We sadly discover that the foreign experts on Burma, the self-appointed peace brokers, (SAPS) Advisors and so on did not know the genocide against the ethnic nationalities, little or no knowledge of military experience and without any knowledge of how to monitor ceasefire are making the situation worst.

Least, but not the last is that Western governments should change their ambassadors to Burma, at least every two years because they soon become corrupted as the Burmese saying goes to win a king you have to give presents. The rubies, Jades and other precious stones, sometimes worth millions of dollars (produced in bulk inside the country) are presented to the diplomatic community’s better half influence their husband who in turn influence their respective governments at home. Sad but true. The end result was that not only the people of Burma suffered and the West got a bad reputation but it boosted the military backed regimes.

As far as the peace process is concerned the International community must realise that Tatmadaw is the custodian of the country’s 2008 Nargis Constitution and 2010 referendum, and its leaders, businesses, and power paradigm profit immensely from an opaque or quasi-democratic political system. The military has used the country’s transition period and factionalism between the country’s old guard and reformists as a means to lift international sanctions, while avoiding real institutional reform. The Tatmadaw is corrupt financially and politically, and this is undermining what could otherwise be a more transparent peace process.

The KIO (Kachin Independence Organization) has repeatedly requested U.S. observers at the peace talks. But the Burmese government has not invited the United States to participate lest the cat will be be out of the bag.

The government has rejected requests from U.S. officials to witness the talks, though China has observed the talks. The best possible scenario would be for the West both EU and US to serve as a witness like China to the peace dialogue and ceasefire agreement. The US should be able to publicly and impartially engage major stakeholders in both parties. A peaceful and prosperous Burma is in the common interest of the international community and should make an attempt on it.

The current reform movement therefore lacks real potential to result in a new democratic polity which will build, and in turn feed off, a new and sustainable economic system. Sadly, the West and the rest alike are choosing to overlook the apparent pitfalls of Burma's reforms ignoring the cries of the wretched in a new Myanmar. So, Burma’s Union Day is a perpetual reminder of the original modern Burma.

End Notes:

The first Anglo Burmese war March 1824- Feb 1826 ??? ????????? ?????? ???

Not to be confused with a Myanmarnized word of Pin Lon (yifvkH)

Yawnghwe, Chao-Tzang The Union Day, Equality and Secession 25-12-1996 Archives by Sai Ong

The mammoth statues of the founder of three Myanmar kings somewhat like Napoleon or Hitler can be found in Naypyidaw

This seems to be his only Foreign Policy success when he has miserably failed in the Middle East Afghanistan and in Ukraine

Dr. Zarni;Maung Reforms in Myanmar: hype and realities The Nation 19-2-2012

http://video.ft.com/4036015158001/Aung-San-Suu-Kyi-on-Myanmar-s-future/l...

Dr. Zarni;Maung Reforms in Myanmar: hype and realities The Nation 19-2-2012

The Chinese source say that Myanmar or Bama made only 28% of the entire population. Immigration Minister Khin Yee was lying when he declared that 68% are Myanmar (read My Observation article by David Thackabaw). In the Burma the military back regimes always lies

See BNAC Briefing No 4 of why the nationwide ceasefire agreement will not be signed on Union Day?

No nationwide ceasefire will be signed this Union Day

Germany has its Myitta Paungku (Fritz Warner armoury) projects while French Total connections is still secret. According to the Directorate of Investment and Companies Foreign investment in Myanmar has surpassed US$42 billion after companies from China, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Vietnam invested more than $253 million in the country last month? Even in isolation Britain alone invested $35.518 billion from 1988 to 2011

ISDP has several projects in the third world countries. It has also links to Telia Sonera the Swedish Telecom-company that had business in Belarus, Uzbekistan and Azerbajdzjan and, has close connection with the former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who had links with Lundin Oil Company, involved in scandals in Africa.

It was he that forbid the Chemical Weapons-experts at the FOI to the testing of evidence samples used by the Tatmadaw against the ethnic fighters especially on Kachin and Shan in 2011. From this evidence one can gauge the motive of ISDP in Burma

Letter from Bernt Berger, Senior Research Fellow/Head of Asia Program of ISDP dated 27th Jan 2015

Read ISDP Report Overview

It did not contact the NLD or the 8888 Generations movement

Last week the two young Christian missionaries were raped and killed by the Light Infantry 503

Tatmadawsoldiers and yet the Defence Ministry issue an order that any one accusing them of being a rapist army will be persecuted.

e.g. Euro Burma Office funded by EU based in Brussels

Myanmar raps UN envoy for interfering in country’s internal affairs Mizzima Niews 5-1-201
Diplomatic and INGOs contact

e.g. Varma Handen Organization

e.g. Michel

Just like EU, SIDA aid to Burma is highly classified

Swissinfo.ch Myanmar President Visit Switzerland. 7-9-2014

Read Swiss Cooperation Strategy Myanmar 2013–2017

e.g. putting all the non-Myanmar Buddhist under Myanmar, Rohingya (one of the Rakhine races) akin to Bangladesh is not accepted, minority religious adherents such as Muslims and Christians are discriminated etc.

Letter to Claude Frey and also in Time Magazine

State Secretary, Directorate of Political Affairs

The regime secret service are very treacherous, clever and cunning and can easily mechanized an accident to kill a person as they have done it so many times

Letters from David Thackhbaw

Wafley; Rachel Peace Process: Mediating Historic Distrust, 2-2-2015 An Interview with Gum Sang

http://www.nbr.org/research/activity.aspx?id=528

- Asian Tribune -

diconary view
Share this


.