Tuesday, January 20, 2009

‘So far, so bad,’ But Nothing is Permanent

The Irrawaddy News

Will 2009 bring a positive change to Burma? A golden question, but no one has the answer. When asked “How’s it going in Burma?” a fellow Burmese journalist who is visiting Thailand answered: “So far, so bad.”

The young journalist said the phrase is used a lot by his friends in Rangoon. At first, it seemed funny, but I felt a pang in my heart, reflecting the real situation. All events to date point to the truth of the phrase.

The roots of the aging, military government, its decrepit system, our aging dissident leadership and their tired policies are firmly stuck in place.

Where are the new people and ideas to give birth to an effective, new pro-democracy movement? After 47 years under one of the most oppressive dictatorial rulers in the world, Burma needs a miracle, something we can’t imagine right now.

The unexpected can happen and change events: The Saffron Revolution, Cyclone Nargis. Who knows? Something extraordinary could happen within the junta’s leadership.

Before1988, no seasoned politician or political observer could foresee the nationwide pro-democracy uprising which toppled late dictator Ne Win’s authoritarian socialist regime. In 1988, the poor economic situation and political oppression suddenly led to a political explosion.

The situation now is worse than then, as my fellow journalist said. Politically the country still waits for a more democratic system and ethnically, the country has never been united. Worse, economically it is more battered than ever.

Burma, in fact, could explode at anytime. Repressive policies applied over the nearly five decades of military rule have piled up an immense dysfunctional bureaucracy which hides the smoldering anger and hate of the Burmese people.

Nobody knows when the country might explode. Unpredictable things can happen in 2009, before the military regime, known as the State Peace and Development Council holds the scheduled national election in 2010. Burma’s political organizations as well as international community should be prepared for such an event.

But for now, everyone must continue to work individually with new strength, with new resolve for the New Year. During the New Year period, the Irrawaddy has asked prominent persons in and outside Burma for their New Year resolutions.

“Things here don’t seem to bring change,” lamented the prominent journalist-politician Win Tin. “For 2009, however, my resolution is to continue working very hard for democracy and the freedom of the country and to work together with pro-democracy forces.”

It’s encouraging, even amazing, to hear such strong determination from Win Tin, an executive member of the main opposition National League for Democracy who spent 19 years in prison after the 1988 nationwide pro-democracy uprising.

Burma’s famous rock star Zaw Win Htut, said, “In 2009, I have a plan to travel across the country to perform music concerts in at least 25 cities. My purpose is to make people happy and joyful.” The rocker’s resolution isn’t political, but it can bring happiness to desperate people.

A prominent HIV/AIDS activist in Rangoon, Phyu Phyu Thin, said she plans to expand her projects across the country. “I will keep up my work in order to quickly provide ARV medicine to those in need,” she said.

Her resolution will definitely make a difference in Burma where there are 240,000 HIV/AIDS patients and 76,000 patients without ARV treatment, according to Médicins Sans Frontieres–Holland (AZG), a leading INGO.

An activist who works with Burmese migrants in Thailand, Moe Swe, said, “I will keep trying to be a real representative of the workers. This year I am determined to expose exploitation in factories, political groups and nongovernmental organizations.”

Each of these resolutions is inspiring. They are just a few of the resolutions of people we interviewed. If everyone keeps trying to make their resolutions true, we will all be contributing to different sectors of Burmese society.

Burma’s main problem remains political: The fight between the oppressor and the oppressed. Peaceful, national reconciliation is the most appropriate way to go forward, and the military leaders are still the main roadblock.

In Burma, a radical change—including regime change—is probably not realistic. As I said, we need a miracle for that. This year, everyone should make realistic resolutions to accomplish achievable goals.

Everyone who is politically involved in Burma should have one fundamental resolution to work for: The release of more than 2,000 political prisoners, including detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It is an essential first step toward national reconciliation and needed to break the current deadlock.

Many people and groups in the international community, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, must be determined to achieve that goal as part of their 2009 resolutions.

Ban said in his year-end press conference at UN headquarters in New York. “I am disappointed by the unwillingness of the government of Myanmar [Burma] to deliver on its promises for democratic dialogue and the release of political prisoners."

He postponed his trip to Burma, which was scheduled for December, saying he will return to Burma only when he is assured that his visit will yield tangible results, such as the release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.

Burma has a way of always disappointing us. But in 2009, we can’t give in to disappointment. Ban must seek more creative, decisive actions on the part of the UN.

“So far, so bad” may be true for now, but if everyone pushes forward with strong resolve, Burma will achieve some great steps forward in 2009.

Buddha’s fundamental philosophy still prevails in the universe: Impermanence is the only permanence. The phrase “So far, so bad” will not be permanent.

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