Burma's dissent
October 1, 2007 9:46 PM   Subscribe

B U R M A [Via Crikey] and "M" link quite disturbing

As the internet has been shut down, bloggers are still managing to get the story out. Officially sanctioned publications are refusing to publish the official line.
posted by mattoxic (48 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Anyone have any background or narrative on this?
posted by null terminated at 10:00 PM on October 1, 2007

The Crikey piece

"Burma is blacked out now!" writes ablogger Nyein Chan Yar, whose nom de guerre is Ancient Ghost. S/he links to a fellow blogger who has posted recent images of blood on a monastery floor. Online reporting may not be correctly named the New Journalism. It is, however, the country's only form of journalism.

Burmese reporters disabused themselves of hope long ago. In fact, many privately held media outlets simply ceased production rather than reprint officially sanctioned twaddle. The profit margins of propaganda were just too slight.

As an inert press down tools, so-called "citizen journalists" stepped in to fill the void. The work of Burmese bloggers has been widely reported and reprinted. From internet cafes and mobile telephones, users have emerged as the world's principal source for news from Burma. Monks have facebook pages. Wikipedia, needless to impart, is constantly amended.

Flickr and Blogger feature scores of images, ruminations and eye witness accounts. Here, between spectral images of popstars and puppies, you can view Buddhist protest.

Here, if you've the stomach for it, you can see something I can't elicit words to describe. And, even though the web has been cordoned by the Junta, there are youtube instants that demand your attention. This peculiarly chilling item shows the wedding of General Than Shwe's daughter. Complete with low pop soundtrack and extravagant flounces, this coarse display of wealth leaves Imelda looking rather wan by contrast.

"Say cheese," writes a youtube user. Come the Saffron Revolution, we'll know which meringue bride to intern.

I've discussed the unstuck amateurism of citizen journalism until I'm quite blue in the face. Obviously, such reflection has no place here. Without the geeky valour of these bloggers, "legitimate" press would have nothing beyond junta feint to report.

Named the "third pillar" of the revolution by the Times of London these firewall dodging reporters risk a lot more than ISP access as they upload.

What we have is an amateur patchwork. What we have is a democratised journalism. And, until history allows "neutrality" to emerge, thank goodness for that.
posted by mattoxic at 10:02 PM on October 1, 2007

this post will probably be deleted as this one is still open, but yeah, the whole Burmese situation really sucks.

I'm not sure, but I think the worst part is that nobody will do anything because Burma sits on some grade-A natural resources. Natural gas, oil and minerals matter more than human lives. Of course, we already know that.

Boot stomping on human face forever, etc. etc.
posted by Avenger at 10:03 PM on October 1, 2007

Avenger, after reading Confessions of An Economic Hitman, it wouldn't surprise me if we somehow were sponsoring the regime. According to that author, we have quite a number of CIA 'operatives' that are designed to get small countries with lots of resources into crushing debt, ensuring that they remain chained to the American Empire forever... and we've been doing it since the 1950s.

Apparently, the normal MO is to convince the ruling junta to take on debt for construction of projects that will never pay for themselves, by giving them unreasonably rosy economic projections for building roads and huge power plants. This leaves the country in massive debt, which they can't escape. We can trade debt relief for things we want, like all their resources.

We do this by making a few people in the country very rich, and destroying the lives of everyone else.

If he's right -- and he claims to have been recruited by and worked for the CIA to do exactly this -- I'd say it's working.

I don't know if Burma is one of our 'client states', but it wouldn't shock me. The pattern is too familiar.
posted by Malor at 10:14 PM on October 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

(note: the operatives are found, groomed, and trained by the CIA, but then work for companies like Bechtel; the private sector pays their salaries.)
posted by Malor at 10:15 PM on October 1, 2007

Malor, I think it would be more accurate to say that Burma is alot of people's client state. The "village whore" or something like that. We musn't do anything to get her arrested.....otherwise the low-cost handjobs will be gone forever!
posted by Avenger at 10:18 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know if Burma is one of our 'client states', but it wouldn't shock me. The pattern is too familiar.

Burma is China's client state, as far as I know. They like to play China and India off against each other, but it's mainly about China.
posted by homunculus at 10:58 PM on October 1, 2007

Client States
posted by hortense at 10:59 PM on October 1, 2007

I hate my government (the Australian) with a passion, but I was quite happy to see that Australia has refused- some months ago a general as Burmese (sorry Myanmarnese) ambassador.


The story on ABC radion this morning said the decision was taken some months ago- which seems unlikely somehow.
posted by mattoxic at 11:15 PM on October 1, 2007

So, with heavies like the CIA, India, China & Bechtel probably involved, does this mean individual protest by means of a personal tourim boycott is tilting at windmills?
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:19 PM on October 1, 2007

Do boycotts even work? Unless it's rugby & cricket of course
posted by mattoxic at 11:26 PM on October 1, 2007

Blood and Treasure has had a number of good posts on Burma, including on complicity or complacency from Singaporean investors. His current post quoting Orwell's Shooting an Elephant is a reminder that the monks have a history of getting under their master's skin.
posted by Abiezer at 11:27 PM on October 1, 2007

Do boycotts even work? Unless it's rugby & cricket of course

disclaimer: i had my flights to/from burma this xmas period booked before the current unrest broke out, and still intend to go as long as the situation looks safe enough. this is in spite of burmese lobby groups and Aung San Suu Kyi's exhortations not to visit. i simply fail to understand how me staying away will help the common people, or harm the regime. it just seems to me like a way for certain kinds of people to give themselves a pat on the back for being politically aware, or something.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:37 PM on October 1, 2007

Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler writes [in Crikey]:

Don’t go to Burma – say some Burma activists, who then whack us for publishing a book on the place.

We’re on a "dirty list" of supporters of the Burmese military regime according to The Age this morning. Our book "encourages" people to go to Burma and going to Burma puts money in the regime’s pockets is the connection.

Excuse me, who is it that’s phoning back and emailing the stories from within the country? Who is sending back the images of what the military, urged on by the medal-dripping goons who run place, is up to? Would we be hearing about this if it wasn’t for travellers visiting Burma?

Yes, some of the money a visitor spends in Burma will indeed end up in the junta’s grubby pockets, but if you’re careful only a small percentage. Most of it can end up directly in everyday people’s hands and that’s something we tell you how to do in our book. Plus visitors are an incredibly important contact with the outside world. Go to Burma, travel around, talk to people and I guarantee you that what you will hear is "come", not "stay away."

I am not going to encourage people to go to Burma. If you feel that staying away is more appropriate, then follow your conscience, stay away. But here’s a paragraph from an email sent just a couple of days ago by a Burmese contact:

People will suffer a lot if they don't want to discuss on table. Those who have power already fill up their pockets so if the other country try to block us, it will be only our people who will pay the price for it. It would be better not isolating us.
posted by mattoxic at 11:40 PM on October 1, 2007

My friend was there a week ago.
posted by Lucie at 11:42 PM on October 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler writes [in Crikey]:

i always find the LP writers rather smarmy when it comes to discussing most controversial political or social issues & assume there's a definite set of guidelines on how to editorialise issues like this. i'd be a lot happier if they did just stick to the facts of how to get from a to b, where the cheap hotels are found, etc, without all this holier-than-thou crap.

and that "here's what a contact in burma wrote" is just plain disingenuous. most of LP's market is tourists, who might indulge in a bit of cultural exchange, but who generally fall far short of witnessing or reporting atrocities. the people who are on the ground in situations like this would be NGO reps, journalists, photographers & so on, who have budgets, organisational support, contacts and guides, sometimes decades of experience in living as expats in these kinds of places, not to mention possible language skills & cultural knowledge, and are therefore the very people probably least in need of touristic guidebooks.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:07 AM on October 2, 2007

Pretty damned sad.

This helplessness I sometimes feel, standing witness to things like this, from afar, is really hard to shake.

It's like imagining yourself lying on the side of the road, mortally wounded, and watching everybody just walk or drive by you without so much as slowing down to look.
posted by rougy at 12:13 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Has this been posted?
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 12:19 AM on October 2, 2007

i simply fail to understand how me staying away will help the common people, or harm the regime.

Well, as well as being smarmy, the LP guides have resulted in the incarceration of most of the people mentioned in the Burma guide. A friend of mine went there recently and found all the places where the LP said 'friendly local' X had been shut down and the owners arrested.

So to answer your question, if you go to Burma do not speak to anyone about anything remotely related to the political situation, economy, world politics, religion or any subject other than chit-chat. You could be putting their lives in danger.

If you can cope with travelling through a place that is as oppressive as that, then please enjoy yourself.
posted by asok at 3:09 AM on October 2, 2007

Reminds me of Katrina or the invasion of Baghdad, in a way. The only real 'news' getting out came from the people who were living through it.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:00 AM on October 2, 2007

So to answer your question, if you go to Burma do not speak to anyone about anything remotely related to the political situation, economy, world politics, religion or any subject other than chit-chat. You could be putting their lives in danger.

well, as my father never fails to advise when i set out on yet another trip, "steer clear of women & politics"

If you can cope with travelling through a place that is as oppressive as that, then please enjoy yourself.

well, that's the thing. it's a slippery slope. i've been to a number of other oppressive or undemocratic regimes, eg soeharto's indonesia, iran, syria (at the time of the second infitada), and i could also throw in - at a pinch - egypt, and one or two indian states ruled by ultra-corrupt governments. on one hand, you have people getting on with their lives under sub-ideal conditions, who are apparently very appreciative of external visitors, and in the case of syria & iran, simply the most awesome people on the planet.

it's hard to say how much of it is inherent awesomeness, and how much is a reaction to a shitty regime, but i've always found people living under relative oppression to be just that much friendlier & more willing to engage with foreigners than in your standard tourist havens. also, having been to a number of other south-east asian countries, i have no doubt that the burmese people are wonderful, and will, as you advise, do my best not to incriminate anybody.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:08 AM on October 2, 2007

rougy wrote:

It's like imagining yourself lying on the side of the road, mortally wounded, and watching everybody just walk or drive by you without so much as slowing down to look.

Spot on. The saddest thing is that so many people will simply tune out because they don't want to concentrate on anything depressing.

We could all sign this. Not that petitions mean a lot :-(
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:08 AM on October 2, 2007

intifada, or intafada, whatever.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:09 AM on October 2, 2007

I see lonely planet has been bought by the BBC's commercial arm (wtf that is). So smiles all round I suppose. I listened to the interview on ABC radio yesterday (mp3) regarding the sale, and Tony Wheeler's recommendation that people tour Burma, and I did think, "well its just about the book sales really". I mean, one isn't going to say, "don't go to Burma, and since you're not going, you'll need this excellently comprehensive guide book"

It is all about the book sales, the oil, the gemstones, the opium... It's pretty fucking sick really.
posted by mattoxic at 6:36 AM on October 2, 2007

I hope the mods do not delete this thread. This is the best of the web, as horrible as it is -- everything we hoped the web might do to act as an instrument of common truth. We should have a Burma thread every day until the regime topples.

Sickening, sickening . . .
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:01 AM on October 2, 2007

Burma! (too soon?)
posted by schoolgirl report at 10:11 AM on October 2, 2007

I don't think the tourist ban is a good idea. The more people who visit Burma the more they will care about it and get involved. I can't imagine the amount of tourism money that ends up in the regime's pockets is at all comparable with the money they get from selling off their gas and timber. It was only after visiting Burma, meeting the people, learning the history that I got involved with an aid group. More people should go and learn -- the Western policy of isolation clearly isn't working.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:38 AM on October 2, 2007

I just wanted to say, Im absolutely appalled and disgusted by the fact that my nation's government has soft-pedalled on Burma. Burma is one of India's closest neighbours; our respective cultures go back many centuries. India's last great emperor died in Rangoon, and Burma's last great king died in India.

Till 1956 (or whenever it was that the military took control), Rangoon was majority-Indian; you apparently could speak Hindi on the streets there. While it is not immediately obvious to most Indians or Burmese, our mutual mother-tongues are actually very inter-twinned; I believe anybody with a decent-ish education in Kannada or Telugu can read the Burmese and Old Peguan script very easily indeed. Rangoon and Mandalay are the only two non-Indian cities listed in traditional Indian almanacs that get published every year.

Even in 1988, India was one of the first nations to swing into action; while the Irrawaddy was burning for days at a stretch, we converted our high commission into a first-aid center. When pro-democracy activists were attacked, we treated them. Daw Aung Sang Syu Kyi is a Delhi University alumnus.

There is nothing more stomach-churning than to see my nation's soul-less government to go back on all this, and instead invest millions of dollars in petroleum ventures controlled by that disgusting military regime. This is a regime, I keep pointing out to Indian friends otherwise unmoved by the violence and repression, is racist enough to discourage, and even disallow, Burmese students of Indian descent from pursuing tertiary education.

There is absolutely no justification whatsoever for India to involve itself with the regime at all; we're a frigging democracy, not an empire. We don't have to play the Great Game with China, let them get all the military deals they want. Get the fuck out of the country. Fund the democracy movement. Turn cell-towers or whatever on the porous international border into the country. Hell, just saying, Stop you motherfuckers! would have clinched it.

Burma's military regime has blood on its hands. It will die, it will wither, it will crawl back into its hole in the ground. And when its history is written, India's role in 2007 with could-have-been's and should-have-been's. As an Indian with a protracted love-affair with Burmese culture, and a much more deeper respect for the Burmese peoples' suffering, I'm deeply frustrated and sickened by the Indian government's masterly inaction and inept coyness.
posted by the cydonian at 10:48 AM on October 2, 2007 [8 favorites]

posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:02 PM on October 2, 2007

It is all about the book sales, the oil, the gemstones, the opium... It's pretty fucking sick really.

Somewhat ironically, Nationwide protests in Burma began over one month ago when the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) raised the price of fuels, including a 500 percent increase in the price of natural gas. Led by Buddhist monks, protests climaxed last week with hundreds of thousand of protestors taking to the streets in Rangoon and other cities
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:23 PM on October 2, 2007

if you go to Burma do not speak to anyone about anything remotely related to the political situation, economy, world politics, religion or any subject other than chit-chat. You could be putting their lives in danger.

For godsakes, if you're going to go, and trade your USD for FEC (thus effectively paying the regime) and, as one monk put it to me, "legitimize this illegal government with a stamp from your democratic country" DO talk politics. Don't just go take a canal ride and eat pancakes. However, don't bring up the topic. There will be plenty of people who want to talk to you.

The thing about Burma is, before you go, you wonder whether you'll see state apparatus everywhere. You don't. It's been in operation too long, and the locals will tell you that spies are everywhere. So pay attention, talk, learn, but otherwise keep your mouth shut until you get home. And if you publish, change the names, obviously. (way to go, LP)
posted by dreamsign at 11:29 PM on October 2, 2007

That's AUD, thank you (although, bugger! - i'll probably need to convert it to USD first...).

And I just don't buy the argument that visiting a country legitimises its government, sorry. If the regime chooses to feel that way, then that's their pigeon. As far as I'm concerned, a visa is not a vote; it's just something that gets you across a border.

Otherwise, thanks for the advice. A few months to go & I haven't switched into research mode yet. I assume the chitchat thing will be similar enough to Syria, what with secret police & informers & all. Don't criticise the government, don't invite others to comment, play by ear, same sorta deal, I guess...
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:43 PM on October 2, 2007

(completely hypocritically, i have zero interest in visiting america, due to its foreign policy. do i contradict myself? well, then, i contradict myself. i am immense. i contain multitudes)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:45 PM on October 2, 2007

(i even misquote whitman! ha!)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:46 PM on October 2, 2007

Nicest people, anywhere, UbuRoivas.
Make sure you get to Bagan/Pagan.

I bribed my way out of the FEC exchange but it wasn't easy.

And do be careful.

The local paper today is reporting that the monasteries of Rangoon are empty.

posted by dreamsign at 12:37 AM on October 3, 2007

Demons from the underworld will haunt those who dare attack the monks. They will be driven mad, perhaps, to turn their bloodlust against the junta itself. All the while, the flowers will continue to bloom, and the jewel will still remain in the lotus.
posted by Goofyy at 2:27 AM on October 3, 2007

"Greed is the emotion of the hungry ghost realm. The hungry ghosts are beings with huge, hungry bellies and tiny mouths and throats. Some inhabit parched lands where there is not even a mention of water for hundreds of years. Others may find food and drink, yet if they swallow even a little through their tiny mouths, the food bursts into flames in their stomachs.

Generosity unties the hard knot of greed.

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:57 AM on October 3, 2007

Burma's Prime Minister dies.


Fri Oct 12, 9:40 AM ET YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's incumbent Prime Minister Soe Win, a hardliner best known for allegedly orchestrating an attack on democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has died at age 59, state media said Friday.

He had already handed over his duties in May to Lieutenant General Thein Sein, who ranks fifth in the military junta, and who has been referred to as acting prime minister in state media.

His death was not expected to have a major impact on the government because all real power lies with Senior General Than Shwe and the military junta, which launched a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in late September.

At least 13 people were killed and more than 2,000 arrested in the crackdown on the largest pro-democracy demonstrations the country has seen in almost 20 years, drawing international outrage expressed in a statement by the UN Security Council on Thursday.

posted by nickyskye at 7:19 AM on October 13, 2007

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