Five Days in Burma
By AUNG ZAW Thursday, February 23, 2012

(Page 3 of 4)

As we parted, she said that we have to keep working for the good of the country no matter where we are.

Before leaving the NLD headquarters, I met with two other senior leaders—Win Tin and Tin Oo—for a lively chat that was, unfortunately, repeatedly interrupted by other visitors and phone calls. Though they are both in their 80s, they are sharp and full of energy. I noticed that Win Tin seemed to be always  thinking about the long-term survival of the party and how to rebuild.

During our meeting, Tin Oo flashed a copy of The Irrawaddy and said that he used to get the magazine when he was under house arrest. Saying how much he enjoyed reading it, he asked with a broad smile:  “I wonder how many years I would have gotten in the past if I was caught with this magazine?”

Later that day I met with 88 Generation leader Ko Ko Gyi, a former student activist who is now 50. I noticed that he was also a strategic thinker who always kept abreast of events. Released from prison in January as part of an amnesty that included hundreds of other jailed dissidents, he said he didn't want to end up back behind bars. He said he wanted to go abroad and see the world—and prepare for Burma's next election in 2015.

My five-day stay was passing so fast that I barely had time to notice the city where I grew up. At one point, I passed Rangoon University, where I had been a student in 1988, and my heart sank to see the state it was in. The dormitories were empty and tall bushes grew up around all the buildings. Its decrepitude was a sad legacy of military rule—the former ruling generals, including ex-intelligence chief Khin Nyunt, who once chaired an education committee, had systematically destroyed Burma's proud tradition of higher learning because they feared student unrest.
Another product of Burma's era of direct military rule was the rise of super-rich cronies of the generals. Business people I spoke to said that these multi-millionaires, who thrived in Burma's closed economy, now dread the prospect of sanctions being lifted, as that would open the floodgates of competition.

During my trip, I also noticed that no matter what the subject of discussion, there were always very different versions of what was really going on behind the scenes. Whether we were talking about the supposed split between reformists and hardliners, the influence of retired generals Than Shwe and Maung Aye, or any other subject, my interlocutors—senior officials, editors, diplomats and other well-informed individuals—often offered wildly different interpretations of the “true story.”

The only thing that anyone can say with certainty about the current political situation in Burma is that there is a new dynamism now that could take the country in any number of different directions. As one businessman told me, we'd better have a plan B if we want to return, because “You never know what will happen next.”

When I asked Mingalar Myanmar founder Phone Win about the recent return of some exiles, he said: “The ones who left Burma [in 1988] are coming back to become advisers to the president, and those who remained in Burma will soon become rebels.”

On the last day of my trip, I followed Suu Kyi’s campaign tour to Kawhmu, the impoverished Irrawaddy Delta township where she is running for a seat in Parliament. There is no doubt that for many Burmese, Suu Kyi is their greatest hope for real, positive change. Everywhere, her supporters came out in force to greet her as she made the grueling journey from Rangoon to Kawhmu. Even a coffin that passed the crowds on the way to the cemetery was bedecked with NLD flags.

Before catching the plane back to Thailand, I met Ludu Sein Win, one of Burma’s most respected journalists. It was a good way to collect and assess my thoughts about all that I had seen and heard, because I knew that he would offer a wise and honest analysis.

Critical of both Thein Sein and Suu Kyi, he warned that it is never a good idea to put too much faith in one person—advice that he also gave to Suu Kyi, who appears to place a great deal of trust in the president. He added that Burma's military leaders were cunning and manipulative, and would not give up power easily.

In answer to the big question in my mind—whether The Irrawaddy should move to Burma—he said the best and safest course was to maintain a base in Thailand and continue to produce independent journalism.  

To my delight, he blasted some naïve foreign analysts and governments who were rushing into Burma. He said that many of his own articles were still being blocked by the censors.

I wished that I could have spent more time with him, but I had to go. In parting, I said that I hoped to return to see him again soon.

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TAH Wrote:
Thank you so much for sharing your account in Burma and your thoughts. I think your account and thoughts will also represent many people's who are both inside and outside of Burma. We are all fooled around by current civilian regime and those who go back will be fooled around, if not spun around, this time, in "chicken basket" with no way out. These former soldiers are just cheating!

oliver Wrote:
Almost nothing changes things faster than money. When mostly driven by greed the changes money brings are usually for the worse, but if they blunt Burma's bayonet then some good will come out of this. I wonder how long the military cronies will dread the lifting of sanctions once they realize how much more money they could make? As you suggest, it is early days yet.

K Wrote:
Advancements made in political arena has not been trickled down to important sectors such as health and education that directly affect welfare of majority of population. Next time when you visit Yangon, walk down a few blocks to Yangon General Hospital to get a glimpse of an example of country's outdated and crumble infrastructure.

Ayokso Wrote:
Great article! My most recent trip back was also around the same time Aung Zaw was there. Had very similar thoughts, feelings and experiences as him. Seeing Naypyidaw made me feel sadder than impressed. It is really weird. Not to be too critical, but the highway there will have to be brought up to specs sooner rather than later. How about parallel publications for "The Irrawaddy"? Each from within and outside the country?

Denise Nichols. Wrote:
A moving account of an exile's return.

Tawtha Wrote:
Very glad 4 UR trip home. Recent events in Burma are truly interesting.There always a director/s in any play and urge to remember Bogyoke's speech just B4 he led Anti Fascist revolution against Japanese Fascist Army "Annihilate the closest enemy".

Patriot Wrote:
Yes,very interesting and very informative.Its is TRUE what Ludu Sein Win Said "cunning and manipulative and would not give up power easily". Another one to take note of is"media is already dominated by relatives and cronies of senior military officials". They have dominated not only the media but also "Business".Look at Zaw Zaw,Teza etc.Who are they?And now they want sanctions to be lifted,why?
Please let those who are very eager to rush in to do business know all these facts.

htunwai Wrote:
This is my 1st visit to you,but thank u so much for sharing ur views on current situation.

“It's all just for show.”
Until and unless the 2008 Nargis constitution is SCRAPPED and Burma's capital moved back to Rangoon, I would bury my bones in an alien land as a FREE MAN and for the BEST as well.

Ma Thitsa Wrote:
I just read Ko Aung Zaw's trip to Burma for five days and felt the honesty and sincerity in his words.. I have been out of my homelandfor three decades and Irrawaddy Journal has been my favorite to obtain knowledge about the issues and events and keep track of my beloved home land.....As a foreign citizen I had no choice since the Burmese passport was revoked...the dream that kept me going alone in a foreign land was the contribution that I hoped I could make one day for enriching our education sector.... I am still hoping that we can stand with pride again in the global community very soon.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Glad Ko Aung Zaw made that trip to give us a low down. A booster dose of the old country even if it was only five days must do him good. And Ludu U Sein Win got it right.

The Irrawaddy has earned its place in history and in Burmese hearts. Only its place on Burmese soil remains to be realized. Surely it won't be long.

kkloveburma Wrote:
Even if this is a thorough analysis, still there are so many things left to know. Poor farmers, massive deficit budgets due to mismanagement, inflation, central bank owned by the generals, cronyism widespread, Phone Win's cheating, other INGOs and Local NGO's cheating including UN agencies, the quasi-civilian government's still exploiting its own people, lack of good governance, lack of transparency, NLD lacks intellectuals, USDP's cheating and lacks intellectuals, Daw Aung Suu Kyi's weakness to know how to unite this nation, not qualify in local and exile media, Burmese youths who lack all knowledge and qualify education except Korean movies, that's why NLD has to field good for nothing pop stars as its candidates, etc. Wish learning more.

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