Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lectures of Prof. Win : In Response to Burma Digest - Part 3

Tue, 2008-12-02 02:34
Part 3

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.

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.

Q. Since, you have worked at the EU, what is the European (EU) interest in Burma?

Having a Euro Burma Office in Brussels supported by the EU does not mean that Europe is very much interested in Burma. It is just a minimal. Of course they are interested in political stability, development, and democracy. But we have to remember that EU is a soft power in Asia and seldom throw their weight around. Rather their influence is on technology transfer, trade, investment, political consultation. For reasons of geography and strategic weight, the Europeans are not as important in Southeast Asia as the United States, the ASEAN members, China and India. By their actions it seems that E U has come to the conclusion that the sanctions have not achieved their political objective and are hurting the population rather than the military government. But it would be painful for them to admit that the sanctions were a mistake, so they leave them intact, and instead seriously increased its humanitarian help both inside and outside the country.

All in all I think that the West’s policy is a perfect example of an exclusively moral policy. I am not defending the murderous Junta, whom I loath very much but if the West have live with China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, Libya and many Afro Latin American states which are not democracies, why focused on the moral outrage against Burma. How good it is to have the moral high ground, when you don’t do anything for the fall of the regime? I recollect Dr Zani’s approach when he said that if you are for the sanctions are you for democracy in Burma but if you are skeptical of their use and convinced about their damage to the people of Burma then you must be chummy with the generals. Instead we should construe Burma from the Geo strategic consideration with some compromise in the Western policies.

Burma’s social and economic conditions are mainly homegrown, but by the Western sanctions, they have greatly contributed to the sad state of the country. The West want the Burmese Junta to release Daw Suu and the political prisoners. But they did not know that once she was fully release it means the end of the Burmese Junta.

Q. Why do you think that the democratic and the human rights movement has failed in Burma for so long?

From my perspective is that the biggest flaw is the failure of democratic and human rights movements to understand and articulate the linkages between justice and politics, and how strategies can be developed to address the two simultaneously. Various forms of pressure on a political front may eventually force a military regime to give in to demands for democratic reforms, but these may also fail to account for the consequences to mechanisms of justice in a country that has been under military rule, for more than half a century.

Many years of neglect and deliberate abuse of justice institutions results in them withering and becoming all but dead. It is like a living-dead organ, existing for the purpose of supporting military rule. It is a system of injustice that has become organically linked to the equally unjust political system of the country, and one that if pressured can but work harder to support the diseased body with which it has become fully integrated.

Globally, the demands placed on military regimes are articulated in very simple terms. They often come down to the holding of an election so that a government of popular choice can be installed. There is nothing objectionable in that. However, a political system that has destroyed a country's justice mechanism cannot be changed by a mere election.

First, often elections are not honored, when the National League for Democracy overwhelmingly won the vote but was not allowed to take office. The same thing happened in Cambodia when the FUNCINPEC party won the May 1993 UN-sponsored ballot but was forced to share power with the Cambodian People's Party of Hun Sen, which later consolidated control and has effectively brought about a one-party system of the sort that preceded international intervention. There too the ruling group has used the courts to ensure firm control of parts of government not directly under the executive.

Second, the political and judicial system may be so perverted by military control that it may bring into power unlikely and unsuitable candidates and it may anyhow be impossible for whoever takes power to do anything about the institutional arrangements. This is the problem faced in Thailand, where the courts have become complicit with the armed forces and other powerful groups in the country in defeating the political party process itself. That the country is increasingly treated as ungovernable by anyone apart from an authoritarian-type leader is not a consequence of the behavior of its people or anything innate in the workings of its institutions but a consequence of a deliberate agenda towards that end by these groups who are hostile to people having a genuine say in what goes on in their lives.

Then it can be asked of why has the global human rights movement not challenged itself over these failings? Why have the real problems of military control, political power and justice remained so far removed from much of its debate? The intellectuals from the developed world, who are still the strongest players in this discourse, do not have living experience of the real problems. For them the rule of law and the institutions of justice are as part of the real world as the air they breathe or the water they drink. Their systems are sufficiently advanced that those who come into them and debate their mechanics cannot conceive, other than at a shallow intellectual level, of political and legal systems that lack all of the qualities which they take for granted. When an intellectual from a developed country comes across problems of the sort found in a country like Burma he or she may hold the view that if enough political pressure can be generated from outside in tandem with that from a local movement then surely something must budge. All the effort goes in to "regime change" when experience shows that even a short term and oversimplified goal like this often remains beyond reach, and in places where it has succeeded, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, although conditions may in certain respects improve, the forced collapse of institutions under the old regimes have lasting and intense consequences for the new ones.

Q. So you were saying that Burma first need to over hall the justice system?

Yes that is my perspective. If more people in democratic and human rights movements locally and globally adopt this sort of dual approach of politics and judicial we may have certain success. Simply by putting pressure on its military regime to hold an election and admit some superficial political reforms as they are going to do the election in 2010 with a fake constitution will not work. For instance, despite all the United Nations experts, diplomats and officials coming and going and talking about Burma, how much effort has been paid to documenting and monitoring the work of its judicial system? In terms of international standards and putting forward proposals on specific items that need to be addressed, items on which the Junta will feel some obligation to respond and on which local lawyers, human rights defenders and activists also can work in their respective ways?

The answer to this question is shorter than the question itself. No such work has been done, even with the presence of country offices like the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Monitoring and reporting on the policing system similarly has so far amounted to nothing, other than that incidental to other research. The human rights movement has remained stuck at the point of documenting individual violations and incidents without steps to bring that work into bigger and more meaningful studies on systemic issues. Serious work in these areas could be more effective than the types of two-dimensional back and forth about political party issues that goes on at the moment. It is in this respect that we now need to develop our thinking and planning and hone our expertise if better strategies for the protection and the promotion of human rights of people in Burma are to figure in the global democratic and human rights agendas.

Q. Now that Burma problem case is already half a century and most of the country has agreed on principle that it is a threat to international community as you said, what about humanitarian intervention?

Burma poses a threat to regional stability is not a matter of interpretation. This idea often cross my mind of whether this could be a humanitarian intervention. I think in the academic circles, the theory of humanitarian intervention has not yet been put on a solid basis. But in practical terms, since the 1990s there have been many cases of humanitarian intervention, mostly accompanied by the use of an armed attack like in Bosnia, Kosovo, Srebrenica, Rwanda and so forth. My idea is whether there could be a kind of humanitarian intervention in a softer form without the use of violence. And I cannot answer that. But one thing I know the Security Council should give some advice to alleviate the difficulty of people at the grassroots—such as on infectious diseases, poverty, education, health and so forth. At the same time, the international community should intensify our humanitarian assistance using all means and in all forms. This is from my good will toward the people of Burma.

Q. What is the role of the external factors especially foreign powers?

There is no easy answer to the question of whether and to what degree external actors should intervene to trigger or force transition in extreme cases of autocratic or failed governance. Often in the zeal to hasten the demise of bad regimes inadequate consideration is given ahead of time to how the international community can best prepare a backward country for effective democratic governance. Burma – a prime case of arrested development brought about by decades of stubborn, isolationist military rule – provides ample illustration of this dilemma. The great hope for instant transition to democracy that was raised by the 1990 parliamentary elections in Burma was dashed almost immediately by the failure of the military regime to seat the elected parliament. Motivated by despair, many governments adopted policies making regime change a sine qua non for engagement with Burma, hoping this would force the military to follow through on its original promise to return to elected government.

Twenty years later, however, the military remains firmly entrenched in power and the country’s political, economic, and human resources have seriously deteriorated. Even if an elected government could be seated tomorrow, it would find itself bereft of the institutions necessary to deliver stable democratic rule.

Starting from the assumption that some degree of transition is inevitable in the not-too distant future, it must explores the depth of Burma’s deprivations under military rule, focusing on questions of how to make the country’s political, social, and economic institutions adequate to the task of managing democratic governance. It will have to identify the international mechanisms available to assist in this task, as well as innate strengths that can still be found in Burma, and it discusses what the limitations on assistance might be under various scenarios for political transition.

Q. Should outside actors intervene or force transition in extreme cases like Burma?

In countries where diverse societies have been held together by autocratic rule, which purposely exacerbates internal animosities and impedes the development of complex civil society, transition has often been plagued by internal conflict and tension, making democratic outcomes all the more difficult. In fact, Burma not only does the lack of political and civil institutions and a reliable economic structure, let alone civil tolerance among diverse ethnic and religious groups, impede and prolong transition to pluralistic governance, it often sets the scene for anarchy and reversion to autocratic rule.

There is no easy answer. If the horrors of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda taught the international community what may happen when the world lets nature take its course, then the American intervention in Iraq to topple the Saddam government can be seen as a lesson in the dangers of acting decisively to force regime change. In both cases, the international community has, to some extent, inherited the responsibility for dealing with the chaotic consequences, struggling with the extreme difficulty of fostering democratic institutions and effective free market economies in societies that have not yet learned how to negotiate among themselves. I think Burma falls into this category.

Q. Can there be a forced transition by external actors from Military to Civilian rule?

There is no easy answer to the question of whether and to what degree external actors should intervene to trigger or force transition in extreme cases of autocratic or failed governance. Often in the zeal to hasten the demise of bad regimes inadequate consideration is given ahead of time to how the international community can best prepare a backward country for effective democratic governance. Burma – a prime case of arrested development brought about by decades of stubborn, isolationist military rule – provides ample illustration of this dilemma. The great hope for instant transition to democracy that was raised by the 1990 parliamentary elections in Burma was dashed almost immediately by the failure of the military regime to seat the elected parliament. Motivated by despair, many governments adopted policies making regime change a sine qua non for engagement with Burma, hoping this would force the military to follow through on its original promise to return to elected government.

Two decades later, however, the military remains firmly entrenched in power and the country’s political, economic, and human resources have seriously deteriorated. Even if an elected government could be seated tomorrow, it would find itself bereft of the institutions necessary to deliver stable democratic rule. Starting from the assumption that some degree of transition is inevitable in the not-too distant future first we will have to explores the depth of Burma’s deprivations under military rule, focusing on questions of how to make the country’s political, social, and economic institutions adequate to the task of managing democratic governance. What are the weak points and what are the strength and how to leapfrog some of the development has to be considered and will to study the most productive policy approaches will require greater coordination and collaboration with Burma’s Asian neighbors.

Q. Do you see any peaceful transactions from Dictatorship to Democracy?

To be very frank I don’t see any. The chances for peaceful transition to stable, sustainable democracy in Burma are very slim in the near future, largely because the conditions required for sustainability are absent and there is no opening at present to
foster these conditions.

(1) The intractability of the economic situation and the regime’s refusal to entertain reforms that would begin to deal with the severe macroeconomic distortions act as a serious inhibition to political development in the broadest sense of the term.

(2) The existing government institutions are incapable of functioning effectively to maintain central administration of the country without authoritarian control.

(3) And finally, the impoverished educational system with its severe limits on political and social science, as well as onerous restrictions on civil society and public organizations, make it very difficult for the population to develop the civic institutions necessary to support democratic government.

Since 1945, most Asian countries -- notable exceptions being Burma, North Korea, and perhaps Laos -- have experienced significant, sometimes dramatic, economic and political advancement under a great variety of seemingly adverse conditions, such as foreign occupation, communism, insurgency, and partition. In all these countries the governments, even under communist and/or autocratic rule, have placed a premium on economic development, education, and building civilian communities to advance their societies. Why does the military regime in Burma not ascribe to the same values as its Asian friends and neighbours? We may never be able to answer this question fully, but the fierce desire of successive Burmese governments to prevent and expunge perceived foreign influence on Burmese society and culture has undoubtedly played a large part, along with the obsession of military regimes with maintaining comprehensive control over the population and severe restrictions on civilian activity in the name of security and internal stability. As the world around them moves forward in step with the global community, it will inevitably become impossible for future Burmese leadership to continue insulating their society from the rapid pace of economic and political modernization in Asia and starving their population for information. Technological development is already overtaking them.

Thus it is important for the international community, particularly Burma’s Asian neighbours, to understand the depth of Burma’s economic, social, and political dislocations and the measures that will be necessary to correct them. If a relatively consistent and coordinated message about the need for basic reform in political, economic and educational structures could be delivered to the country’s leadership over time, it would be much more difficult for the leadership to dismiss or ignore it, and some degree of enlightenment might eventually emerge. Just as sanctions regimes can work against our ability to help, it is also irresponsible of Burma’s friends and neighbours to conduct their relations with Burma totally in pursuit of their own interests and without regard for the Burma’s political future.

Q. Do you think that Burma will regain democracy?

That is a good question. Sure, eventually the people of Burma will regain democracy for they have tasted democracy from 1948 to 1962 and treasure it even though the mass of the rural population doesn’t know it e.g. many of the rural people in Burma do not conceptualize this forced labor as a violation of human rights, but more as a hassle and in a way a “civic duty.” The idea of rights doesn’t occur to them because they don’t know what they are.

Freedom is not different for those who have not been taught about freedom or rights. For those who can’t put into words what freedom means, it doesn’t mean that its not there—it just needs to be given a voice. I construe that Cyclone Nargis that affected Burma in May 2008 changed a lot for the country. The world became more aware of the level of hatred and cruelty present in the Burmese government as they effectively blocked off international aid to the millions of people affected by this storm, allowing (and wanting) so many of the citizens of their country to die.

But more than showing the world the true nature of the military junta, it also re-energized and showed the world that there is a vibrant civil society in Burma itself. The people of Burma desperately wanted to help each other, and the humanitarian assistance they were giving to each other was not political, but given out of a decency, love, and compassion for each other that is so present in Burma, even if this decency does not include the military government. One of the 5 benchmarks of democracy put forth by Linson Stephen in 1996 is a civil society, which is growing inside of Burma, so there is hope that a democratic society will emerge in Burma. It is what the people there want, as 90% of the population is against the current military government. I think that Nargis served an important role of giving the people inside of Burma a chance to engage and counter the actions of the military government, even if the actions were not political in nature. Therefore, the idea of freedom became proactive, an important shift for a country in which the idea of freedom has for so long been reactive. This will finally lead to democracy.

Q. What is your suggestion to solve this Burmese problem?

For the last half a century or since Burma came into being it has been proven that the Burmese people cannot solved their own problem. This was proven by the fighting between the people of Burma either ethnic or otherwise (communist). The common denominator among the ethnic and the pro democracy movement is that they vehemently hated the Burmese army, which is the strongest. If one were to knock out the Junta and its marauding army, then there would be Balkinization and the infighting among the Burmese themselves as the common joke says that if you put two Burmese together they will form three political parties. Reason and clear thinking cannot be put into the brains of not only the Junta but also among the leading ethnic leaders.

Hence the solution must be imposed by external power if were to stop the on going tragedy. A community of nations, basically the United States, the ASEAN countries, India, and China, to negotiate a package deal with the Burmese Junta and the ethnic groups including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (NLD and the democracy groups are behind her). If ASEAN can take the initiative it will be great but you might as well know of what Harn Younghwe said that that ASEAN needs more of Burma than Burma needs ASEAN. If ASEAN authoritarian leader is able to lead and talk to Generals follow up by sanctions and critical dialogue it will work.

Q. You have been going to Thailand for more than a decade. Can you give us some of your thoughts on the Thai Policy?

This is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Yes I have seen the various administration from Chaticha Choonhaven to the present administration. Except in the Chuan Leekpai administration Thailand has pursued a policy of dealing with the devil whoever was in power in Burma . I could say something about the Thasksin Administration. He was known to adopt a spongy approach toward Burma, which his critics perceived as an attempt to move away from an emphasis on democratic and human rights values to a more business-oriented stance. The economic results have been evident. Right now, Thailand is one of Burma’s most important investment partners. So, it is not surprising that Thaksin’s company, Shin Corporation, has invested extensively in Burma. Shin Corp, the third largest satellite operator in Asia, concluded a deal in 2003 with Pagan Cybertech, an internet service provider owned by Ye Naing Win, who is the son of former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt. In January 2006, Shin Corp was sold to Temasek Holdings, an investment arm of the Singaporean government. Shin Corp got away without paying 450 million U.S. dollars in taxes on the 1.85 billion dollar sale. The whole episode sparked public anger and partly led to Thaksin’s downfall.

Back in 2003, Thaksin invited Burma to participate in the Economic Cooperation Strategy (ECS) cooperative framework, later renamed ACMECS (Ayeyawady- Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy), in which Thailand offered the Burmese government generous financial assistance worth 45 million U.S. dollars. In the meantime, Human Rights Watch reported that the Thaksin regime continued to clean up Burmese refugees living along Thailand’s borders.

The Bangkok process, hosted by the Thaksin government in 2003 ostensibly to advance democracy in Burma, failed to take off and came to an end when the military Junta refused to go. To the Thai leaders, a friendly policy toward Burma was important, especially since they wanted to reconnect lost contacts that they once had with Khin Nyunt. But different sectors of the Thai establishment have different approaches. The Thai military, especially in northern Thailand, is more concerned with the real issues behind the illusion of Thai- Burmese relations, namely, the flow of drugs and refugees across the border. Therefore, the military had a less favorable view of the Burmese regime than the government in Bangkok, which was obviously more interested in business ties.

Thaksin and his advisors took at least some inspiration from former Prime Minister General Chatichai Choonhavan in turning Indochina from a battlefield into a marketplace. However, I don’t see any evidence of concerns in Thai policy toward Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos about democracy, human rights, justice and so on. So, given the public perception toward Burma, in part because of the distortion of history between the two countries, I doubt that what goes on in Burma is of much concern to most Thai people. Moreover, business opportunities in Burma are huge, and whether they are responsible, moral, or legitimate are separate questions.

Every Thai businessman—from the smallest trader all the way to Thaksin—knows that Burma is full of precious stones, gold, timber, labor, and whatnot. So against this background, I am not surprised that the Thai public at large failed to question or opposes Thaksin’s Burma policy. Meanwhile, Thaksin carefully depicted himself as a true nationalist, who strove for the greatness of the nation, stood up against the West, and also reached out for poor neighbors like Burma. In the meantime, he accused those who disagreed with his Burma policy of conspiring to keep Burma backward and underdeveloped, which he saw as not in the interests of Thailand.

Thaksin became the first ASEAN leader to visit the new capital, Naypyidaw. Burma’s biggest export and new sales to Thailand alone are worth over one billion U.S. dollars annually. which makes up about 25% of Thailand’s supply. There are also firm plans for joint hydroelectric dam projects on the Salween River. The Hugyi hydropower project is a joint venture among Burma, Thailand and China. The project is very controversial because the construction location is also home to the Karens and Kachins. No doubt from the Burmese generals’ perspective, a dam project resulting in road construction would help them better control the area. The beginning of the Hutgyi hydropower project has already forced over 20,000 local residents to be relocated from their homes because of the socio-environmental impacts. The speculation here is that Thailand in may want to invest in the new gas fields in Burma in order to resell them later to other countries. I have not study much of the new Thai government as you might as well know the changes in the Thai government.

Q. Can you elaborate the role of the NGOs in Burma?

A handful of international NGOs particularly from the West are inside Burma. They work both on their own and in coordination with the UN agency programs. Like the UN agencies, these NGOs nurture and develop local talent. The bulk of their staff is Burmese and, like the UN agencies, they work with local Burmese NGOs. It is very difficult for foreign NGOs to negotiate and conclude an MOU with the Burmese government to work in the country; the process can take three or more years. Thus there is not likely to be a large increase in INGO activity in Burma so long as the Junta is in its place.

Transition, on the other hand, will bring a plethora of new NGOs to Burma and they will compete with each other and with UN agencies for funding from donor governments to implement programs. In fact, these NGOs can play a unique role in reaching the more remote areas of the country and should be encouraged in this direction so that international assistance is not concentrated solely in the Burman areas, but also reaches the ethnic minorities.

There is no denying that UN and INGO activity in Burma over the past decade has helped the development of small local NGOs, who often serve as implementers for their programs. The rise of these NGOs has, in turn, encouraged a second layer of local NGOs and community help organizations of various types that are not necessarily connected with or financially dependent on international aid. Even before transition is underway, the international community should consider ways to support and encourage the expansion of this trend. This could be an important element in instilling a greater sense of cooperation, tolerance, and community in the Burmese civilian population. It can also help develop benevolent community activists as an alternative to the predatory USDA or Swan Arr Shin. It must be noted that many international assistance programs in South Africa during the final years of apartheid, including that of the US, emphasized the development of local civic and nongovernmental groups in the black townships in order to foster future leaders for a democratic South Africa. Many of those who came to the fore, either as politicians or senior civil servants, in the transitional South African government after 1994 got their start in local NGOs and civic groups nurtured by foreign donors. I think Burma can be on the same lines.

Q. Will non violence strategy successful in Burma?

No. the Army come to power with the gun and will have to go with the gun. While the Buddhist monk-led demonstrations briefly raised global awareness of the Burmese people's plight, it also highlighted the failure of the opposition's long-held non-violence strategy. While outwardly a spontaneous gesture in reaction to economic woes, the demonstrations were the culmination of years of planning by opposition forces inside and abroad. While the regime refused to honor the poll's results, the election provided political legitimacy to the NLD and a handful of opposition activists. Still cling to demands that the election's results be honored, but with each passing year those claims to legitimacy become less germane. Close to 40% of the elected members of parliament have been dismissed or resigned and a full 20% have died.

The vast majority of the opposition follows Suu Kyi's guidance that political change can and should be achieved through non-violence. That doctrine was further promulgated by the Albert Einstein Institute of Geneva and New York. The opposition's adherence to non-violence has given the regime a monopoly on fear that allowed it to solidify its position, condemning generations of Burmese to life (and in some cases, death) under the military regime. Additionally, limiting the prospect of violent consequences removed one aspect which may have motivated the regime to negotiate change.

The elevated principle of non-violence made it easier for group leaders to accept the bribery. The success of the regime's effort to pursue ceasefire deals continues to haunt the opposition with fragmentation and conflicting interests. Ethnic armies whose cooperation could have tilted the "Saffron" revolution to effect real change, sat and watched, perhaps out of concern that armed rebellion would jeopardize their lucrative mining or other concessions. As a result, the regime was able to focus its military might on the unarmed protesters and monks.

Incentives and self-interest affect not only limited ceasefires and peace groups, but also some ethnic armies that continue to put forces in the field against the Burmese Army. e.g. the Mon insurgents in the area are receiving payoffs from both the regime and the Thai authorities.

Q. Now that you have come to London and meet us what advice would you give us?

Through out my travels in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia I discovered that London and the United Kingdom has the most Burmese intelligentsia and most of them are well informed. In working for Unity for Victory (U2V), I would advice Unity in Diversity for Victory (UDV). Our epic struggle must be joined by both the pro democratic Myanmar nationalities and the non Myanmar ethnic nationalities. We will have to build the trust between the two groups. The ultimate solution is the Federal Democratic Union of Burma.

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.


- Asian Tribune -

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

2. Part 2 - Lectures of Prof. Win : In Response to Burma Digest

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