To Hopeland and Back (Part IV)

Day 3 (23 September 2013)

As reported by Democratic Voice of Burma, the Shan-Kayah-Mon Trustbuilding for Peace forum was attended by a total of 331 individuals and representatives from 21 political parties, 17 armed groups (3 of which were Burma Army-run People’s Militia Forces) and 3 civic groups. They had called for:

  • Nationwide Ceasefire
  • Abolition of laws that do not meet democratic standards, including the Unlawful Associations Act
  • Genuine federal Union
  • Holding of convention representing all national races based on the Panglong spirit
  • Amendment/rewrite of the constitution

Which were essentially no different from earlier forums that the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) had organized.

Organizers (Photo: SNLD)

Any objective observer would be able to conclude that the 5 resolutions could be taken as genuine wishes of the people. Indeed, both the government and the opposition have succeeded in sounding off what the people want (that is not to forget better health care, education, food and lodging conditions).

All the same, it is obvious that if future forums are to be held in the same style — reading out presentation and drawing conclusions from them — the results will be essentially the same.

In fact, same participants, including one SNLD insider, were already complaining that the forums were just “talkshops” and “not action-oriented.”

I asked Col Saw Lwin, one of the organizers, what the organizing committee’s future plan was. “This time we will, together with like-minded Burman political parties and civil society organizations, hold workshop to work out how we are going to respond to these common demands.”

I therefore hope we will be witnessing interesting developments in the quest for a federal democracy.

Talking to both participants and non-participants on the sidelines, I also received several fascinating comments:

  • Senior Gen Than Shwe is still directing the affairs through the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC), regarded as the most powerful state apparatus. As long as he’s around, there isn’t a hope in heaven either for Aung San Suu Kyi or Shwe Mann to become president
  • Dr Min Zaw Oo says it’s liberalization not transition. I agree with him. What I wish to add is that the democracy we’re getting is one on a leash. It can be tightened or loosened anytime the powers that be want.
  • What do these people know about the constitution to rewrite it? Don’t they realize that without the 2008 charter, they wouldn’t be speaking how bad it is today?

Of course, I myself couldn’t avoid being asked whether I preferred amendment or a new constitution. My answer was that: People who are thirsty with only polluted water to drink should dig a well. But while they are digging, they should also do something about the polluted water at hand so they could stay alive while waiting for clean water from the well.” (I later found out Marcus Brand had called it “a bird in hand.”)

“Before you throw away a system that’s worked for so long, be sure it’s not because you see only problems. Be sure you know what’s to replace it,” reads Water Margin, a famous Chinese revolutionary classic.

The Water Margin Book
Also I thought that people in Burma have only one identity: Burman or Shan (or Karen, Chin, and so on) but never a dual one: French-Canadian, Catalonian-Spanish, Mizo-Indian, etc as in other federations:

  • If you are a Shan, it's never easy to think of yourself as being someone else also
  • If you are a Burman, you think being a Burman and a “Union-man” are one and the same

A lot of education, the right kind, will be needed to change these mindsets. Count me in, if such education comes to the country, I told my friends. “And I’ll show you the adage ‘It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks’ is just a joke.”

Then, once more, I returned to Thailand, a land that is fine but not home.


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