Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lectures of Prof. Win : In Response to Burma Digest - Part 1

Asian Tribune - Sun, 2008-11-30
Part 1

This is the gist of lectures given to the various universities and locations in North America and Europe. These lectures are published in response to the request of Dr Tay Za of Burma Digest, whose publication is considered is one of the most balanced reporting for the ethno democratic publications. Only relevant and intelligent questions are inserted. The lectures and all answers are Prof. BT Win’s (Kanbawza Win) personal omissions and commissions and did not represent any university, organizations or movements.

In order to understand Burma one will have to know its history and the history of Burma is quite complicated. Several ethnic groups have lived in the region, the oldest of which are probably the Mon or the Pyu. In the 9th century the Bamar (Burman) people migrated from the Tibeto Burman tribe residing in Kansu in China and migrated along the valley of the Irrawaddy River.


Humans lived in the region that is now Burma as early as 11,000 years ago, but the first identifiable civilization is that of the Pyu. The Pyu arrived in Burma in the 1st century BC and established city kingdoms (Binnaka, Mongamo, Sri Ksetra, Peikthanomyo, and Halingyi). During this period, Burma was part of an overland trade route from China to India. Chinese sources state that the Pyu controlled 18 kingdoms and describe them as a humane and peaceful people. Since then Theravada Buddhism has penetrated into the customs and culture of the people. In the 9th century it was sacked by the power kingdom of Nanzhao ending the Pyu's period of dominance.


The 6th century Mon kingdom of Dvaravati in the lower Chao Phra valley in present day Thailand extended its frontiers to the Tenasserim Yoma (mountains). With subjugation by the Khmer Empire from Angkor in the 11th century the Mon shifted further west deeper into present day Burma. The Mons adopted Indian culture together with Theravada Buddhism and have founded kingdoms in Lower Burma including Thaton in the 6th or 7th century and Pegu in 825 with the kingdom of Raman'n'adesa (or Ramanna) referenced by Arab geographers in 844–8. Their last kingdom was Hanthawaddy which is pronounced as Oaktha Pegu. (Now the Myanmarnization word is call as Bago)

Bamar (Mranma/Myanma)

To the north another group of people, the Bamar (Mranma/Myanma), also began to settle in the area. By 849, they had founded a powerful kingdom centered on the city of Pagan filling the void left by the Pyu. The kingdom or Pagan grew in relative isolation until the reign of Anawrahta also known as Anuruddha (1044-77) who successfully unified all of Burma by defeating the Mon city of Thaton and founded the first Burmese empire. In the mid-12th century, most of continental Southeast Asia was under the control of either the Pagan Kingdom or the Khmer Empire.

The Pagan kingdom went into decline as more land and resources fell into the hands of the powerful Sangha (monks) and the Mongols threatened from the north. The last true ruler of Pagan, Narathihapate (1254-87) felt confident in his ability to resist the Mongols and advanced into Yunnan in 1277 to make war upon them. He was thoroughly crushed at the Battle of Ngasaunggyan, and Pagan resistance virtually collapsed. The king was assassinated by his own son in 1287, precipitating a Mongol invasion in the Battle of Pagan; the Mongols successfully captured most of the empire, including its capital, and ended the dynasty in 1289 when they installed a puppet ruler in Burma.

Shan Dominion (1364–1555)

After the collapse of Pagan authority, Burma was divided. A Burman/Myanmar Ava Dynasty (1364–1527) was eventually established at the city of Ava by 1364. The kingdom was overrun by the Shan in 1527.

The Kingdom of Ava was involved in continuous warfare with Tai (Shan) Saophas to the north on the frontier with Yunnan. There were repeated Tai raids on the capital of Ava and Ava sent military northwards to attack Tai fiefdoms such as Mong Mao. The Ming dynasty that ruled China from the late fourteenth century often tried unsuccessfully to put an end to this warfare through traditional Chinese diplomacy. Ava occasionally became involved in the warfare between the Ming and Tai in Yunnan such as in the Luchuan-Pingmian Campaigns (1436-49).

To the south in Lower Burma, a Mon dynasty established itself first at Martaban and then at Pegu. During the reign of king Rajadhirat (1383–1421) Ava and Pegu were involved in continuous warfare. The peaceful reign of Queen Baña Thau (Burmese: Shin Saw Bu;1453-72) came to an end when she chose the Buddhist monk Dhammazedi (1472-92) to succeed her. Under Dhammazedi Pegu became a centre of commerce and Theravada Buddhism.

Taungoo Dynasty(1486-1752)

After the conquest of Ava by the Shan in 1527 many Burmans/Myanmar migrated to Toungoo which became a new center for Burmese rule. King Tabinshwehti (1531-50) unified most of Burma. By this time, the geopolitical situation in Southeast Asia had changed dramatically. The Shan gained power in a new kingdom in the North, Ayutthaya (Siam), while the Portuguese had arrived in the south and conquered Malacca. With the coming of European traders, Burma was once again an important trading centre. Tabinshwehti's brother-in-law, Bayinnaung (1551-81) succeeded to the throne and launched a campaign of conquest invading several states, including Manipur (1560) and Ayutthaya (1569). Bayinnaung's grandson, Anaukpetlun, once again reunited Burma in 1613 and decisively defeated Portuguese attempts to take over Burma.

The Konbaung Dynasty (1752-1885)

Also called as Alaungpaya Dynasty was founded by U Aungzayya was a village chief who successfully rebels against the Mon and founded the last Burmese dynasty. Burma owes its existence as a nation state to this monarch. In 1760, he briefly conquered Tenasserim and on to Ayutthaya, but was unsuccessful His second son Hsinbyushin (1763-76) returned to Ayutthaya had conquered it before the end of the next year. Even China began to fear expansion of Burmese power in the East and sent armies to Burma, but Hsinbyushin successfully repulsed four Chinese invasions between 1766 and 1769 stretching its limits within Chinese borders. Another of Alaungpaya's sons, Bodawpaya (1781–1819), lost control of Ayutthaya, but added Arakan (1784) and Tenasserim (1793) to the kingdom. In January 1824, during the reign of King Bagyidaw (1819-37), a Burmese general Maha Bandula succeeded in conquering Assam, bringing Burma face to face with British interests in India. The last Burmese king was Thibaw abducted by the British.

British Burma

The expansion of Burmese empire had consequences along its frontiers. As those frontiers moved ever closer to British India, there were problems both with refugees and military operations spilling over ill-defined borders. In response to the continued expansion, the British and the Siamese joined forces against it in 1824. The First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26) ended in a British victory, and by the Treaty of Yandabo, Burma lost territory previously conquered in Assam, Manipur and Arakan. The Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, which ended in the British annexation of Pegu province, renamed Lower Burma. Thibaw Min (ruled 1878–85) was a tyrant intending to side with the French to regain the lost territories. Taking advantage of France's recent defeat of China, and confident that China would not intervene to defend its tributary, the British declared war once again in 1885, conquering the remainder of the country in the Third Anglo-Burmese War resulting in total annexation of Burma.

History of the Ethnics

As said earlier the ethnics in Burma or rather the non Myanmar tribes has been living peacefully side by side with Burman/Myanma tribes but they soon discovered that the British administration is far more better than the Burmese kings and the leaders of the ethnic tribes began to give allegiance to the British administration. The British also discovered that the ethnic tribes were simple, obedient and make better soldiers and began to recruit them into their fighting forces.

Britain made Burma a province of India in 1886 with the capital at Rangoon. Traditional Burmese society was drastically altered by the demise of the monarchy and the separation of religion and state. After the opening of the Suez Canal, the demand for Burmese rice grew and vast tracts of land were opened up for cultivation. The civil service was largely staffed by Indians, and Burmese were excluded almost entirely from military service. Though the country prospered, the Burmese people failed to reap the rewards. (See George Orwell's novel Burmese Days for a fictional account of the British in Burma.)

In the meantime a new generation of Burmese leaders arose in the early twentieth century from amongst the educated classes and belief that the Burmese situation could be improved through reform. Progressive constitutional reform in the early 1920s led to a legislature with limited powers, a university and more autonomy for Burma within the administration of India. There were many strikes initiated by the University students.

World War II and Japan

Some Burmese nationalists saw the outbreak of World War II as an opportunity to extort concessions from the British in exchange for support in the war effort. Other Burmese, such as the Thakin movement, opposed Burma's participation in the war under any circumstances. Aung San co-founded the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) with other Thakins in August 1939, thought that it was an opportune moment to work for independence. Marxist literature as well as tracts from the Sinn Féin movement in Ireland had been widely circulated and read among political activists. Aung San also co-founded the People's Revolutionary Party (PRP), renamed the Socialist Party after the World War II. He was also instrumental in founding the Bama htwet yat gaing (Freedom Bloc) by forging an alliance of the Dobama, ABSU, politically active monks and Ba Maw's Sinyètha (Poor Man's) Party.. After the Dobama (Not Domyanmar) organization called for a national uprising, an arrest warrant was issued for many of the organization's leaders including Aung San, who escaped to China. Aung San's intention was to make contact with the Chinese Communists but he was detected by the Japanese authorities who offered him support by forming a secret intelligence unit called the Minami Kikan headed by Colonel Suzuki with the objective of closing the Burma Road and supporting a national uprising. Aung San briefly returned to Burma to enlist twenty-nine young men who went to Japan with him in order to receive military training on Hainan Island, China, and they came to be known as the "Thirty Comrades". When the Japanese occupied Bangkok in December 1941, Aung San announced the formation of the Burma Independence Army (BIA) in anticipation of the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942.

During the war in 1942, the BIA had grown in an uncontrolled manner, and in many districts officials and even criminals appointed them as the BIA. They now take the law into their hands and began to ill treat the ethnics and the minority which sow the discord between the Karen and the Myanmar. It become to such a point that it has to be reorganized as the Burma Defense Army (BDA) under the Japanese but still headed by Aung San. While the BIA had been an irregular force, the BDA was recruited by selection and trained as a conventional army by Japanese instructors. Dr Ba Maw was afterwards declared head of state, and his cabinet included both Aung San as War Minister and the Communist leader Thakin Than Tun as Minister of Land and Agriculture as well as the Socialist leaders Thakins Nu and Mya. When the Japanese declared Burma, in theory, independent in 1943, the Burma Defence Army (BDA) was renamed the Burma National Army (BNA).

Independent Burma

The surrender of the Japanese brought a British military administration to Burma christened as CASB ( Civil Affairs Service Burma) used out of the military budget. A rift has appeared in AFPFL that is the vanguard of the independence movement. It was between the Communists and Aung San together with the Socialists over strategy, which led to Than Tun being forced to resign as general secretary in July 1946. Aung San began negotiating with the British and successfully concluded the Aung San-Atlee Agreement on January 27, 1947. Most of the ethnics want to have independence of their own. The ethnic’s army which had served faithfully under the British especially the Karen, Chins and the Kachins, the Shans and the Karennin are happier to stay under the British and was quite suspicious of the Myanmar/Burmese army who had bullied their tribes when ever there was a chance. But General Aung San was able to convince some of the Shan Saophas, Kachin Duwars and the Chin leaders and finally succeeded in concluding an agreement with ethnic minorities for a unified Burma at the Panglong Conference on February 12, celebrated since as 'Union Day'. The Karen refused to attend, the Arakanese and the Mons were considered as part of the Burma/Myanmar tribe having being subdued since the Burmese kings and was not consulted, the Karenni was an independent states and not invited.

Then a momentous event stunned the nation on July 19, 1947. U Saw, a conservative pre-war Prime Minister of Burma, engineered the assassination of Aung San and several members of his cabinet including the ethnic leaders attending the cabinet.

The first years of Burmese independence were marked by successive insurgencies by the Red Flag Communists led by Thakin Soe, the White Flag Communists led by Thakin Than Tun, the Yèbaw Hpyu (White-band PVO) led by Bo La Yaung, Arakanese Muslims or the Mujahid, now called Rohingyas and the Karen National Union (KNU).

[2] Remote areas of Northern Burma were for many years controlled by an army of Kuomintang. Burma generally strove to be impartial in world affairs and was one of the first countries in the world to recognize Israel and the People's Republic of China. By 1958, the country was largely beginning to recover economically, but was beginning to fall apart politically due to a split in the AFPFL into two factions, one led by Thakins Nu and Tin, the other by Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein.

The situation however became very unstable in parliament, with U Nu surviving a no-confidence vote only with the support of the opposition National United Front (NUF), believed to have 'crypto-communists' amongst them. Army hardliners now saw the 'threat' of the CPB coming to an agreement with U Nu through the NUF, and in the end U Nu was forced to 'invite Army Chief of Staff General Ne Win to take over the country which some took it as the 1st military coup. Ne Win's caretaker government successfully established the situation and paved the way for new general elections in 1960 that returned U Nu's Union Party with a large majority. The situation did not remain stable for long, when the Shan Federal Movement, started by Yawnghwe Saopha Sao Shwe Thaik (the first President of independent Burma 1948-52) and aspiring to a 'loose' federation, was seen as a separatist movement. Staged a coup d'etat on March 2, 1962,

2nd Military Coup

Soon after seizing power, a peaceful student protest on Rangoon University campus was suppressed by the military, killing over 100 students on July 7, 1962. Peace talks were convened between the RC and various armed insurgent groups in 1963, but without any breakthrough, Ne Win quickly took steps to transform Burma into his vision of a 'socialist state' and to isolate the country from contact with the rest of the world. A one-party system was established with his newly formed Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) in complete control. Commerce and industry were nationalized across the board, but the economy did not grow at first as the government put too much emphasis on industrial development at the expense of agriculture. A new constitution was promulgated in January 1974 that resulted in the creation of a People's Assembly

Beginning in May 1974, a wave of strikes hit Rangoon and elsewhere in the country against a backdrop of corruption, inflation and food shortages, especially rice. In Rangoon workers were arrested at the Insein railway yard, and troops opened fire on workers at the Thamaing textile mill and Simmalaik dockyard. In December 1974, the biggest anti-government demonstrations to date broke out over the funeral of former UN Secretary-General U Thant.

On March 23 1976, over 100 students were arrested for holding a peaceful ceremony (Hmaing Yabyei) to mark the centenary of the birth of Thakin Kodaw Hmaing who was the greatest Burmese poet and writer and nationalist leader of the 20th. Century history of Burma. He in 1978, a military operation was conducted against the Rohingya Muslims in Arakan, 250,000 refugees to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

3rd Military Coup

The economy began to grow as the government relaxed restrictions on foreign aid, but by the late 1980s falling commodity prices and rising debt led to an economic crisis. In September 1987 demonetization and Burma applied for Least Developed Country Ne Win retired as president in 1981, but remained in power as Chairman of the BSPP until his sudden unexpected announcement to step down on July 23, 1988, the nation erupted in demonstration what we called the 8888 pro democracy movement.

Another military coup was initiated by the General Saw Maung and the military government announced a change of name for the country in English from Burma to Myanmar in 1989. Particularly after Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, and also faced economic sanctions. In April 1992 the military replaced Saw Maung with General Than Shwe.

U Nu was released from prison and relaxed some of the restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest, finally releasing her in 1995, although she was forbidden to leave Rangoon. Than Shwe also finally allowed a National Convention to meet in January 1993, but insisted that the assembly preserve a major role for the military in any future government, and suspended the convention from time to time. The NLD, fed up with the interference, walked out in late 1995, and the assembly was finally dismissed in March 1996 without producing a constitution.

During the 1990s, the military regime had also had to deal with several insurgencies by tribal minorities along its borders. General Khin Nyunt was able to negotiate cease-fire agreements that ended the fighting with the Kokang, hill tribes such as the WA, and the Kachin, but the Karen would not negotiate. The military finally captured the main Karen base at Manerplaw in spring 1995, but there has still been no final peace settlement. Khun Sa, a major opium warlord who nominally controlled parts of Shan State, made a deal with the government in December 1995.

After the failure of the National Convention to create a new constitution, tensions between the government and the NLD mounted, resulting in two major crackdowns on the NLD in 1996 and 1997. The SLORC was abolished in November 1997 and replaced by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), but it was merely a cosmetic change. Continuing reports of human rights violations in Burma led the United States to intensify sanctions in 1997, and the European Union followed suit in 2000. The military placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest again in September 2000 until May 2002, when her travel restrictions outside of Rangoon were also lifted.

Reconciliation talks were held with the government, but these came to a stalemate and Suu Kyi was once again taken into custody in May 2003 after an ambush on her motorcade reportedly by a pro-military mob. She remains under house arrest today. The government also carried out another large-scale crackdown on the NLD, arresting many of its leaders and closing down most of its offices. The situation in Burma remains tense to this day. In August 2003, Kyin Nyunt announced a seven-step "roadmap to democracy", which the government claims it is in the process of implementing. At that time there was no timetable associated with the government's plan, or any conditionality or independent mechanism for verifying that it is moving forward. For these reasons, most Western governments and Burma's neighbours have been sceptical and critical of the roadmap.

On February 17, 2005, the government reconvened the National Convention, for the first time since 1993, in an attempt to rewrite the Constitution. However, major pro-democracy organisations and parties, including the National League for Democracy, were barred from participating; the military allowing only selected smaller parties. It was adjourned once again in January 2006.

In November 2005, the military junta started moving the government away from Yangon to an unnamed location near Kyatpyay just outside Pyinmana, to a newly designated capital city. This public action follows a long term unofficial policy of moving critical military and government infrastructure away from Yangon to avoid a repetition of the events of 1988. On Armed Forces Day (March 27, 2006), the capital was officially named Naypyidaw Myodaw(meaning Royal City of the Seat of Kings).

Analyzing the Background

Burma is a textbook case of arrested development, Burma falls more in the pattern of post-colonial Africa than it does Asia. From nearly a century of British colonial rule it inherited the structures and institutions of free market parliamentary democracy, but like many countries in Africa, was not able to translate these into an enduring foundation for sustainable democratic governance. The quasi self-rule that obtained in the latter colonial years produced a functioning parliamentary system after independence, but did not succeed in developing a sense of national identity and common interest for Burma’s multi-ethnic society as a whole. Furthermore, preferences within the ethnic Burman ruling elite for socialist, centrally controlled economic structures derailed the
development of a vibrant market economy. The underlying political ferment and discontent within the non-Burman ethnic groups and the deep political divisions among those elected to government created fertile ground for the country’s strongest institution – the military – to grasp the reins of power in the name of bringing order to the country’s chaos.

Saffron Revolution

Despite its increased global interaction since 2000, Myanmar remained hampered by international sanctions—including intensified U.S. and EU sanctions in 2003 after the SPDC again detained Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. It was clear that Myanmar’s prospects for further economic growth and acceptance by the international community were contingent on democratic progress and an improved human rights record. When in September 2007 the monastic community staged a large-scale demonstration calling for democratic reforms, the harsh response from the military drew widespread international criticism. In the wake of this unrest, the National Assembly finally approved a draft of a new constitution to be ratified or rejected by public referendum in May 2008. Assuming the adoption of the fake constitution, the Burmese Junta promised elections in 2010.

The referendum, although held as scheduled, was disrupted by natural disaster. On May 3, 2008, a powerful cyclone (Nargis) struck the Irrawaddy delta region of south-central Myanmar, obliterating villages and killing tens of thousands of people. The hesitation of the government to accept foreign aid or to grant entrance to foreign relief workers elicited harsh criticism from the international community, as disease threatened to increase the death toll significantly.

This is the history of Burma or rather that of Myanmar. The Shan, Karen, Mon, Arakan, Kachin, Chin, Karenni and all have their own intricate histories which are intermingle with the Myanmar history. In other words Burma is a place where all the migrants meet. The Tibeto Burma tribe, The Tai Chinese and the Mon Khmer migrants meet.

The Two Problems

Currently, Burma has two major problems, one is for the prevalence of genuine democracy and the other is the ethnic problem. They are two sides of coin as one cannot stay without the other. One of the most stumbling blocks in the Maha Bama attitude which most of the Myanmar tribe harbour i.e. to rough ride shot over the ethnic nationalities. This was fanned by the Burmese army who really implemented the Maha Bama scheme by making one country called Myanmar, one religion Theravara Buddhist and one race the Myanmar. This is the crux of the problem for in order to have one race, they have to implement the ethnic cleansing and many tribes have been vanished from this earth. One religion also means the persecution of the other faiths particularly the Christians where most of the ethnics like the Chin, Kachin, Karenni and some Karens worship. The Burmese army also persecute the Muslim and the majority of them are the Mujahids/Rohingyas. Obvioulsy the Burmese army headed by the Junta does not want the Union of Burma but rather a monolithic states like France. Spain and England. That is why the word Federal is anathema to the Burmese Junta and anybody who uttered the word is considered as a traitor.

The other is the struggle of democracy more or less; spear headed by the Myanmar tribes led in inside Burma by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD and in the Diaspora by a conglomerate of UB groups. These Diaspora Myanmar groups shared the Maha Bama attitude with the Junta and construe that once democracy is achieved all problems will be solved something like that of the pre coup days when they cajoled the ethnics. So until and unless these two problems are solved by any means, Burma will be a basket of problems in Southeast Asia.

This is the gist of the history of Myanmar and the non Myanmar and now the floor is open. Ask any questions regarding Burma and if I don’t know how to answer I just say I don’t know.

(Ed Note. Prof. Win has given special lectures at the Simon Fraser University of Vancouver on 1st Nov, at the University of Winnipeg Women’s club on the 6th Nov. in Manitoba. At 9 rue Courat, Paris 75020 on 13th Nov and at the Burmese Buddhist Monastery in London, UK on the 22nd Nov.

(To be continued tomorrow)

- Asian Tribune -

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