Ms Ma Thanegi's Rules of Good Political Etiquette
covering burma and southeast asia
Friday, January 28, 2022

Ms Ma Thanegi's Rules of Good Political Etiquette

By Dr Kyi May Kaung Friday, November 23, 2001

(Page 4 of 5)

Ma Thanegi was visibly surprised when Ma Thitsa stood up. Ma Thitsa said she did not need to introduce herself to Ma Thanegi as they had been in jail together. The gist of the questions were, A. As far as I understand there is no freedom of expression in Burma. Won't it be difficult for you when you go back to Burma? B. I can accept Burmese culture in the sense of going to a monastery. But forced labor, is that Burmese culture? After the presentation Ma Thitsa told a close friend that it was good that she had not been noticed by Ma Thanegi prior to the talk. "Otherwise Ma Thanegi might have worked her charm, and then it might have made it difficult to ask tough questions," she said. Immediately after the talk, people said that Ma Thanegi came over to Ma Thitsa and warmly greeted her. To one person who knew her in Burma that is a sign of Ma Thanegi's "heart," but this same person also said that he found it difficult to talk to her as he saw her as a symbol of the regime. To me it seems a strange coincidence that Ma Thitsa's name in Burmese means Truth or Loyalty. Win Min asked about the Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) statements about the lack of independence of the English language Myanmar Times where Ma Thanegi is a contributing editor. Win Min then read a quote from the CPJ about Myanmar Times. Min Zaw Oo of the University of Maryland asked what other methods of protest outside dissidents had besides asking for sanctions. He said that if the junta "will stop pressuring us, we will stop pressuring them". At this point the facilitators were starting to run out of time and had Ma Thanegi answer all the questions at the same time. This gave her time to demur on some of the answers some of which were - To Ma Thitsa's question about danger on going back, "well, I have to survive by talking carefully between the tigers and the crocodiles." In response to Min Zaw Oo's question, she repeated again, it's so unfair. Ma Thanegi is apparently what one would call a very cool customer. She has the ability to talk calmly even if she is not exactly answering the questions but is rather dodging and evading them and defending the junta. The questions were all posed aggressively but she kept emotional distance. Maybe she was able to do this because she is not deeply involved emotionally unlike the dissidents whose emotional engagement and political commitment came through in the questions. Ma Thanegi pretty much kept repeating the Burmese culture theme in her so-called arguments but as one of the democracy leaders in exile has stated, she herself seems very much ingrained in the junta culture of "father knows best". Still it was a good thing that dissidents overseas had a chance to talk to someone at the other end of the political spectrum. "Otherwise we would all be talking to each other all the time," said one dissident. He went on to say, however, that it was curious that such a person as Ma Thanegi or the junta wanted a fair hearing internationally and seemingly wanted the right to sit at table and talk as equals while themselves denying similar rights to the Burmese people, the ethnic groups and the democracy advocates within Burma. Eyewitnesses of the panel that was in Berkeley, CA reported that it was an even greater debacle for Ma Thanegi and her cohorts than the one in Washington DC had been. Prominent dissidents such as Dr. Zarni, founder of the Free Burma Coalition, and Min Zin, one of the leading intellectuals in the Burmese democracy movement attended. There were reports that dissidents got up and said they wished to comment, not ask questions. The pro-democracy faction in the audience were reported to have booed those who applauded Ma Thanegi's position, and that she had to be hustled away by the organizers before she could finish speaking. Although throughout her US trip, Ma Thanegi spoke on "Burmese culture," Brian Joseph of NED said at the DC session that in a totalitarian country it is impossible to know what national sentiments are. Even in an open society people do not necessarily answer questionnaires truthfully so with no scientific study of any sort, Ma Thanegi's opinions will remain only her opinions and those of the people around her. They cannot be presented in a more general light. Jeremy Woodrum of FBC said that, "It is ironic that Ma Thanegi claims that more money will help the Burmese. Actually the exact opposite is true. In the early 1990s, when millions of dollars of US investment money poured into Burma, there was a massive increase in forced labor, which many refer to as slave labor. In fact, more money meant more repression. Investment and trade doesn't happen in a vacuum. If you pump money into an abusive system you get more abuse not less." Since 1988 the NLD and democracy advocates have been calling for a system change. As I am writing this article the WTO Ministerial Meeting is winding up in Qatar, after having admitted both China and Taiwan as new members.

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