Ms Ma Thanegi's Rules of Good Political Etiquette
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Friday, January 28, 2022

Ms Ma Thanegi's Rules of Good Political Etiquette

By Dr Kyi May Kaung Friday, November 23, 2001

(Page 3 of 5)

Joseph) speaking for a speedy transition to democracy". One senior Burma watcher observed that the seminar organizers had carefully calculated even the selection of Mr. Joseph as a panelist. He said, Mr. Joseph is a strong supporter of democracy in Burma but he has on occasion publicly criticized the democracy movement. I asked Ma Thanegi who she spoke for when she made sweeping comments such as "the Burmese people are conservative, Burmese parents hate MTV, and ahnarde is a problem in Burma." (Ahnarde is feeling bad or embarrassed to say or do something, something said to be a problem in Burmese culture). I also asked how Ma Thanegi could be absolutely sure that economic sanctions alone and not the years of mismanagement and misguided policies of the military government caused the unemployment numbers that she gave. She said simply that she knew because she was a writer and had been all over the country. During her talk Ma Thanegi had many prescriptions as to how people should talk and act in this normative "Burmese culture" that she was condoning. This portion of her presentation amounted almost to a harangue and judging by the title she gave to her talk and the amount of time she devoted to this, it seems this "culture clash" was her over-riding argument and theme. One of the elected Members of Parliament commented later that if culture and the ahrnade concept were of such importance as Ma Thanegi made them out to be, then democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would have titled her book "Freedom From Ahnarde" rather than "Freedom From Fear." I also asked Ma Thanegi about the patience issue as she had said she was willing to wait for the outcome of the secret talks between the National League for Democracy and junta. I said for people like her and myself, living in the relative comfort of middle class neighborhoods in Burma and the United States, perhaps we could afford to wait; but what about student leader Min Ko Naing who had already served his sentence and was in poor emotional and physical health because of being incarcerated. When I got carried away and said, "I'm asking you a rhetorical question, you need not answer it." I heard a ripple of cynical laughter behind me in the room. A co-worker who is a close friend of Min Ko Naing told me later it was very difficult to keep a cool head and not be emotional when confronting Ma Thanegi. "As I was asking her a question, I began to feel as if I were talking to a Burmese general," the man said. Former political prisoner Ko Aung Din, of FBC and Association for Assistance for Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPPB) asked two questions of Ma Thanegi and one of David Steinberg. The first question was if she was aware of the number of political prisoners in Burma. Also as she spoke of "economic terrorism" was she aware that the Burmese government in fact sponsored terrorism under which she and he had all lived. "Then why," he asked, "do you say that sanctions are the culprit in all this." As Steinberg in his talk spoke of the military government donating to the pagodas, which was a method used by the Burmese kings, Aung Din asked him if he knew how the junta was pressuring the monks including Kya-Khat Waing Sayadaw. He also asked Ma Thanegi if, as she had special contact and access to Gen. Khin Nyunt and had interviewed him once for Myanmar Times, she would go back and ask him to do what the democratic opposition and dissident groups are asking. Ko Aung Din asked her, "Why not ask Khin Nyunt to follow these directions if you are really sorry for the women and children of Burma." He then went on to talk about S926 and its conditions that state the release of all political prisoners, un-reversible and positive results from dialog for reconciliation and more aggressive participation in anti-narcotic efforts. If these conditions are fulfilled the President of the United States can ask Congress to withdraw this Bill. Aung Din said these conditions come originally from the people of Burma and so if she, Ma Thanegi, "has such good connections then she does not need to come halfway around the world but can ask Khin Nyunt" directly. Then the "surprise attendee" Ma Thitsa, mentioned before, who had come to DC specifically for this occasion rose from her seat to ask questions. Ma Thitsa's two questions, asked in a soft voice, can be viewed as a coup for the Burmese democracy movement. Ma Thitsa is a quiet, soft-spoken and rather shy woman. She had been secretly brought to DC by Bakatha, the Burmese student union from Boston where is going to college. During the reception before the talk, Ma Thitsa sat quietly in a corner, obviously composing herself for the confrontation to come with a former friend, which was likely to be at the very least highly emotional. Ma Thitsa delivered each of her questions in Burmese and Ko Hlwan Moe of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) translated each question into English.

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