The Oslo-Burma Connection
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The Oslo-Burma Connection

By THE IRRAWADDY Monday, October 31, 2011


Although Burma and Norway are far apart in terms of distance, geography and culture, many Burmese people feel that there is a special connection between the two countries.

When Aung San Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, Burma’s beleaguered democrats celebrated it as a moral victory over the regime’s refusal to recognize the landslide victory won by her National League for Democracy in the 1990 general election, and last week, Suu Kyi told the Wall Street Journal that if she was able to travel abroad, her first stop would be Oslo.

Since the 1990s, Norway has established itself as a firm friend of the oppressed people of Burma and has given generously to the cause of Burmese democracy and human rights. For example, the Norwegian government provided support to establish the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma in 1992, and has continued to support civil society groups in exile and inside Burma since that time.

Every person who has taken a leadership role in the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma—including Suu Kyi, ethnic leaders and prominent human rights activists—is aware of the helping hand Oslo has provided, both in terms of resources and foreign policy direction among the international community.

They are also aware, however, that Norway’s policy with respect to Burma has shifted over the last couple of years and has become somewhat murky as a result.

In January 2009, Norway’s minister of international development, Erik Solheim, visited Burma and afterward called for a review of Norway’s Burma policy with more emphasis given to economic engagement and less to isolation.

“Experience has shown that democratic development is closely linked to the emergence of a middle class. It is the middle class that has the resources to become politically engaged in promoting freedom of expression and other social progress, not the poor, whose hands are full trying to keep their children from going hungry. If a country is isolated from the rest of the world, no middle class will emerge, and achieving democratic development will be far more difficult,” he said.

His remarks received mixed feedback at the time, as Burma was still under the iron fist of a repressive military regime which the year earlier had both ignored the plight of its own people after the devastating Cyclone Nargis and passed a military-drafted Constitution in a sham referendum. In addition, the junta was on the cusp of extending Suu Kyi’s term of house arrest for spurious reasons and had yet to set a date for a general election.

Just recently, Norway’s deputy foreign minister, Barth Eide, visited Burma and also delivered remarks that drew critical attention. He told the Financial Times that he “almost left the country thinking they’re moving a little too fast.”

Moving a little too fast? It is safe to say that the vast majority of the Burmese people would not agree with Eide. Certainly the political prisoners languishing in jail do not feel that prisoners are being released “too fast,” the ethnic groups do not feel that peace negotiations are moving “too fast,” those suffering from forced labor and rape at the hands of government troops do not feel these abuses are ending “too fast,” the country’s farmers who have had their land confiscated and given to government cronies do not feel that land reform is moving “too fast,” and the list goes on and on.

While we understand the points that both Norwegian diplomats were trying to make, they have to understand that the degree of tone-deafness their remarks demonstrated regarding the plight of the Burmese people left some wondering whether Norway had conveniently forgotten the oppressive and manipulative history of the men still in charge of Burma, and whether the Scandinavian nation was now pursuing interests that did not necessarily coincide with those of the general Burmese population.

This is exactly the result that the Burmese leaders dream of when they court international diplomats with their divide and conquer strategy.

In this respect, what seems to be happening is that many of the stakeholders and observers trying to speculate about the motivations behind, and impact of, the Burmese government’s recent steps towards reform are falling into two camps: the “rose-colored glasses” camp and the “glass is half-empty” camp.

What is desperately needed, however, is for everyone to take a sober and objective look at what has actually been achieved, in a concrete and irreversible sense, and what remains to be accomplished.

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Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
Spot on, Ohn. Congratulations!

Manung Yoe Wrote:
Dear Readers,

Excellent editorial… the trouble is Oslo is seen as too close to regime’s apologists such as Egress and Thant Myint U and many others. But over the past months Daw Suu, Zargana and jailed leaders Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi and many were informed about this and aware of Oslo’s shifting stance - Sad news indeed.

Manung Yoe (A former political prisoner now working for an NGO and civil society group in Burma.)

Ohn Wrote:
Norway! Who cares? Norwegians will look after the Norwegians. Burmese (meaning people in the geographical area of Burma) for a change can AND should look after themselves. Especially now that the much awaited NLD has become a Thein Sein appeaser par excellence.

Against the tide of Chinese hegemony and theft, top level corruption and cruelty and theft in Burma and abandonment by people one once trusted, there remains only one and the most potent solution.

Not Americans, not violence, not high speed Internet. Simply being genuinely kind to each other. People helping each other on the street, doctors and nurse helping the patients, teachers helping the children- giving good example, guiding good principles, office workers helping the general public.

If we care for each other and help each other, we will always be happy.

Main reason Chinese can come in is because we don't look after each other. But I doubt we ever will, being always selfish. Selfish Buddhists!

Garrett Wrote:
"Since the 1990s, Norway has established itself as a firm friend of the oppressed people of Burma and has given generously to the cause of Burmese democracy and human rights."

Those Norwegians are so generous!

But isn't it strange that an editorial titled "The Oslo-Burma Connection" would fail to mention Norway's complicity in the rape of Burma's natural resources & the resultant human atrocities committed by the Burma army on behalf of the regime's oil & gas contractors, most of which have been heavily funded by the Norwegian Pension Fund?

It would be interesting to see a timeline documenting the 4.7 BILLION dollars Norway has invested in the regime's oil & gas contractors & compare it to their investments in democracy & human rights.

If gas or oil is drilled, pumped, shipped, or piped in/from Burma, chances are that it was made possible by the investments of the duplicitous Norwegian Pension Fund.

kerry Wrote:
Norway needs to follow the world in supporting Burma with absolute integrity. Business is secondary to human lives at this point.

Anyone not interested in humanity in Burma needs to back off, and start facing their own internal abuses and serious approaching challenges.

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