The IUSB Vision Weblog

The way to crush the middle class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation. – Vladimir Lenin

Myanmar: A Country Which Has Many Names

Posted by iusbvision on October 22, 2007

On September 24, Buddhists monks lead a demonstration march with an estimated 100,000 people through Burma’s former capital. They protested the high price of oil—in last two years, their government raised it  more than nine times and the government has recently increased prices by 500%.

The monks and citizens in Myanmar have been perplexed by the gasoline prices; they decided to march against their government, the Junta, which has been in power for 19 years. According to CNN News, more than 200 people have died and the death toll is expected to increase; however, each media reports a different number of deaths.  Numerous others have been arrested by the government.

In addition, many international journalists and activists have had difficulties reporting on the political situation.  A Japanese journalist, Kenji Nagai (50), was shot when he reported on the march. His documents, including some notes and memory cards of his digital cameras, were completely erased when his relics came back to Japan.  

He entered Myanmar with a sightseeing visa. According to the official report from the government in Myanmar, he should not have been reporting and that he joined in the protest march.   

Immediately after Nagai’s death, parts of his visual reports and documents were made available through the internet by other journalists. However, the government shut down all internet access in the country. The government dislikes free internet access, activists such as the daughter of General Aung San (a Nobel Peace Prize winner), and international journalists.

Behind this political situation, there is a complex history. Even the country’s name is complicated. Historically, Myanmar or Myanma is the name of the country. When the British first arrived, they heard Bamar which became Burma. The Bamar is the main ethnic group with 134 groups, including the Junta. The ruling military Junta changed its name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989. One year later, thousands of people were killed in the suppression of an uprising. 

In 1947, General Aung San, who had agreed to honor the agreement between the states in Myanmar, was murdered, and a year later the British departed. The new government did not honor the agreements; therefore, the disagreements between the main ethnic groups of 134 continuously caused many civil wars. Most groups wanted independence for political reasons.  

With all those political conflicts, such as disagreement with oil prices, the monks and Buddhism are very important cultural icons in Myanmar. The citizens mostly support the monks and they are diligent in learning Buddhism. Citizens provide the monks with food, money, and even their doctor appointments as a symbiotic relationship.  Therefore, if one person strikes at the monks, the person strikes at the spiritual heart of the country, and striking at a monastery, effectively strikes at a village.  

Some of the citizens are escaping from Myanmar and working in neighboring countries such as Thailand. Most of them have not received an official educational degree, so they work in factories and restaurants. Some of them become housekeepers like servants. Their payment is extremely low; for example, a Thai worker would be paid double for the same work. 

According to The Age, more than 1 million Burmese are living in Thailand and most of whom do not have identity papers. When the government finds them, they are repatriated to Myanmar. In any of the surrounding countries, the citizens live with police harassment. Moreover, if they use the term Burma and are overheard by the wrong people, it is considered  a political act worth 3 years in jail.    

The Junta has a practice of “Not just taking the tree, but taking the seed too,” which means that if one person commits a political act, their whole family, extended family and friends are targeted for punishment and imprisonment. Therefore, many people hesitate to be active in changing this situation.

The citizens still live under unstable situations and will have sleepless nights until they can safely walk on the street and freely speak upon what they think.

References:

Asahi News  http://www.asahi.com/english

BBC News  http://news.bbc.co.uk

CNN News  http://cnn.com

Irrawaddy.org  http://irrawaddy.org

The Age http://www.theage.com.au

Naoko Fujimoto

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