Monday, June 22, 2009

Solidarity with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma


NEVER HAS IT BEEN more important to demonstrate firm and effective solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma whom she represents. Her trial is presented by the Burmese regime as a legal proceeding. But let us be clear - it is nothing of the sort. It is simply the latest in a long line of political actions intended to cover an illegitimate dictatorship with a thin veneer of democratic and legal formality. And it will fail because the regime's word games and political machinations are no match for the Lady's "plain honesty in politics", as she calls it.

From the isolation of her house arrest Aung San Suu Kyi radiates a moral authority that exposes the illegitimacy of the Burmese regime and all of its pretensions to appear different from what it really is. The Orwellian lie contained it its name - the State Peace and Development Council - is laid bare by her integrity and simple truthfulness.

The sham nature of its new constitution is revealed by the provisions within it that are specifically designed to disqualify her from becoming president. Her trial on the ludicrous charge of breach of house arrest sheds light on the lawlessness of the regime. And since it has no purpose other than to keep her under arrest during the election that is scheduled to be held next year, it also exposes that election as the illegitimate farce that it will surely be.

And the trial does something else as well. It sends a message to the American government, which is undertaking a review of its Burma policy, and to the international community that is awaiting the results of that review, that the SPDC has no interest whatsoever in a new relationship, either with the United States or with its own people. In his inaugural address President Obama offered to extend a hand to any authoritarian government that unclenched its fist. The Burmese government has responded to this gesture by tightening its fist, not just by this infamous trial and the imprisonment of more than 2,100 peaceful dissenters, but by intensifying its assault on the Karen and other ethnic minorities, which have been decimated over the last 15 years by the criminal destruction of more than 3,300 villages.

There is also evidence that the regime has strengthened its collaboration with North Korea, which has helped build an extensive network ofunderground installations in the area of Burma's capital.

It is obviously exceedingly difficult, to modify the behaviour of a government like the SPDC in Burma that is so blatantly cynical and oppressive and shows no regard whatsoever for the well-being of its own people or for the good opinion of the international community.

But if it is true, as President Obama said in his inaugural address, that a government that clings "to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent" is "on the wrong side of history", and this surely applies to Burma, then certain conclusions inevitably follow.

Change will come in Burma not through the reform of the system - especially if that takes the form of a phoney constitution, show trials and a sham election - but through the steady and relentless application of pressure over time seeking the fundamental transformation of the system, a sharpening of its internal contradictions, and the gradual emergence from within the population of an alternative force that cannot be denied.

There are many steps that can be taken toward this end, including a strengthening of sanctions in the form of a broader and more effective embargo on the sale of arms to the Burmese regime.

Burma is unusual in that there is no country in the world where the contrast is more sharply drawn between a dark and repressive regime and a people that so clearly aspires to peace and reconciliation.

This was clear during the Saffron Revolution when monks and common citizens marched peacefully through the streets in massive numbers chanting slogans having to do with reconciliation, dialogue, freedom from fear and distress, and the belief that all beings of the universe have dignity and should enjoy freedom, only to be shot down by the agents of a lawless and heartless government.

And it is true today when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with fearlessness and courage, an unbreakable spirit, and steadfast devotion to the principles of democracy and non-violence, refuses to succumb to those who would oppress her.

It is our obligation, as she has said, to use our freedom to support hers - and the freedom of her people. And eventually she'll win because unlike her jailers, she's on the right side of history.

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