To Hopeland and Back: The 20th trip

Day Three. Wednesday 25 May 2016
Only do not contend
And you will not go wrong.
Tao Te Ching (Book of The Way and its Derivative), Chapter 8
This morning I’m attending a discussion on federalism at PI Yangon. It isn’t a formal meeting, so everyone speaks what they want to. The upshot of it is  I’m learning things that I wouldn’t have learned had it not been an informal one.
Speaker 1            Things certainly have changed. Until 4 years ago, federalism was a dirty word. Now the military officers are holding workshops to study it.
Speaker 2            Most Bamars, living in central Burma, away from the states on the periphery where suffering takes place, don’t understand federalism. We need to make allowance for it and try to educate them.
Speaker 3            Most of the ethnic activists think they understand federalism. But I have found that their main focus is on self rule, rarely on shared rule, which is, like self rule, the most important component of federalism.
At the same time, I have questions about how useful federalism workshops and seminars organized by foreign experts are. Because each and every one of them are saying different things which I fear only serve to get people more confused about federalism.
Note: There is a Burmese saying, “saya-mya-tha-thay” (Too many                                                 doctors kill the patient)
Speaker 4            I agree. Federalism, to most of us, seems like an elephant to the six blindSix blind men and the elephant Brahmins. The first Brahmin touches the trunk and says it’s like a snake. The second touches the tusk and says it’s like a lance. Others touch the ears, leg, body and tail and say they’re like fans, pillar, wall and rope respectively. Each one of them is right in his own way but all of them are getting it wrong as a whole. We don’t want to become like them blind Brahmins.
“And so these men of Hindustanelephantblindmen
Disputed loud and long
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong”
John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1889)
Speaker 1            The focus on 8 states/14 states should be later. We should instead focus first on main principles and not argue over details. Only then the process can move forward.
Federalism, on the other hand, is difficult to understand when you’ve been living most of your life under a centralized system.
Speaker 4            Reminds me of the story of a turtle coming back from a visit to dry land being asked by his friend the fish. No matter how hard he tries to explain, the fish couldn’t understand “dry” or “walk,” because all he knows are “wet” and “swim.”
Note Only the Shans who had had a 25 year firsthand experience as a federation, 1922-1947, have  some understanding. But most of those who do are already gone.
Speaker 5            Speaking of which, there were several presentations on federalism during the first Union Peace Conference. We may need to rearrange them into a single text procedure.
Speaker 1            Balance between the center and states is important for a federation’s sustainability. If the center is too weak and the states are too strong, the center will inevitably collapse and the states with it. The same outcome if the center is too strong and the states too weak.
We later talk about state constitutions, merits of having them and not having them, and local government, which is considered the third tier in a federal state.
In the afternoon, I’m at the first meeting of the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST) which was established by the Second Summit of the signatory EAOs in March. They are finalizing the draft TOR for the PPST by the time I arrive at Green Hill Hotel, where the meeting takes place.
Following its ratification, the PPST, whose members are top leaders of each signatory EAO, go on to deliberate on the planned meetings in Naypyitaw on 27-28 May.
The PPST, headed by KNU leader Gen Mutu Saypoe and RCSS leader Gen Yawd Serk, passes a resolution that its continued participation on in the peace process will be based on a 5 point condition, which includes: Adherence to NCA and Not becoming a pawn (for other stakeholders)
The day’s agenda ends with a meeting with 3 foreign generals who discuss their experience in the peace processes of Nepal, South Africa and the Philippines. At the end, we ask the organizers if they can bring presenters not only from the government side but also from the rebel side too. They promise to.
After they were gone, one grumbles that we already have too many experts coming in and scrambling over each other to tell us how they did things in their countries. “I wonder if there is a conspiracy to confuse us,” he muses.
Another friend ponders over it and says, “Me too. I’m asking myself whether we should stop them from coming and just let us do things in our own way.”
In the end, we conclude that the problem is not stopping them from coming but how to manage them.
With that conclusion we part, each to his room. And I go to my hotel.


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