covering burma and southeast asia
Friday, November 22, 2019



By The Irrawaddy FEBRUARY, 1999 - VOLUME 7 NO.2

"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." - ALBERT EINSTEIN While attending an international conference last year, I met a few people who said to me: "You guys don't have the ability to stand up to the military regime. You guys are always on the defensive." To that, I replied, "No, I don't think so." Because, though the SPDC is still in power, I know of a number of events taking place in Burma right now which are believed to make the regime particularly vulnerable and the democracy movement stronger. But immediately after I replied "no", I warned myself not to be comfortable with this "no" and the temporary ups and downs of the political seesawing taking place in the form of the many so called significant events inside Burma. I decided that I should explore the real reasons why those people at the conference made that kind of judgement about our movement. I have asked myself two questions repeatedly since then: Have they really given up hope that we are going to prevail over the dictatorship in Burma? Are our preparations for the democratization of Burma far sighted enough? The first question is beyond my knowledge, but I have much to say about the latter. What have we done in the past ten years? Has all that we achieved only been evanescent political triumphs? No, I don't believe so. We have attained at least two important things: one, the electoral victory of the 1990 general elections, and, two, the growing mutual understanding between the Burman majority and various minority groups. Both of these are quite important. The election results, though not yet honored, provide an important source of legitimacy for the NLD to remain a legal political party, in spite of the severest of restrictions on it. Growing mutual understanding among different groups, despite some questionable issues, is paving the way for future democracy in Burma. But it is not enough, really not enough. After ten years of involvement in the pro democracy movement, I feel we still need to prepare ourselves in two essential ways in order to achieve enduring democracy in Burma. One is to cultivate a healthy attitude in our people, and the other is to sow the seeds of civil society the formation of autonomous civic institutions. Without having these two indispensable preparations, we won't achieve genuine democracy unless the junta voluntarily releases its tight grip on the country by itself. Even if we attained democracy without such preparations, it wouldn't last long. In this article, I will limit my comments to the topic of healthy attitudes and why we need to develop them in our movement. I will address the important issue of building civil society later on. The following excerpt from a recent letter of mine to a friend expresses the feelings I encounter when reflecting on this issue. In my letter I said: "I absolutely agree with you on the point that we haven't come to be mature enough, though we contentedly claim we are doing good for others. Sometimes I brink one of the main reasons we haven't beaten the regime is that they seem to be a part of our national character: " It is true. When we look at the mirror of military dictatorship carefully, we can find out some parts of our face. We can see some character traits, such as narrow mindedness, factionalism, jealousy; bias, intolerance, aggressiveness, arrogance, conceit, prejudice, hypocrisy, irresponsibility, blame, the unwillingness to compromise and personal attacks. The list goes on and on, reflecting not only the regime's characteristics, but also ours. If the SPDC were a foreign body not a part of us, it would be easier for us to get rid of it. But when they appear to be an extreme manifestation or embodiment of the ugly aspect of our country's character, our movement needs to pay more serious attention to education in a broad sense. This is why I wholeheartedly support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's idea of spiritual revolution. You can probably riposte that such character traits are an unavoidable aspect of human nature. We can find similar experiences in other revolutionary movements. But I don't think our problem is a pure reflection of human nature. Moreover, I'm not used to attributing something seemingly unresolvable to human nature. This is too easy. Actually it is partly the product of history. For over eight years, from 1989 to 1997, one hid in Burma as part of the underground resistance. This experience afforded me a lot of time to reflect on the roots of the current political situation. During that time, I felt that my country lacked a healthy national character appropriate for the modem era.

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