The Myanmar Mentality : THE UNKEPT PROMISES

Kanbawza Win

“Hope for the Best but Prepare for the Worst” is the unforgotten speech given by our beloved leader Bogyoke Aung San when he came to London to negotiate for independence of the Union of Burma. The speech implies that if we cannot achieve it by peaceful negotiations we will have to fight for it. Today this would also apply to all the ethnic forces in Burma who are at odds with the Burmese military Junta. Currently the secret negotiations between the pro democracy movement led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the military Junta has left out the ethnic forces. If the Myanmar race, both democratic and undemocratic forces construe the Non-Myanmar as an excess baggage that must be accepted as a necessary evil then the Burmese problem of will never be solved. Their actions seem to indicate a Burmese saying “Ka Lae Dwe Tait Tait Ne, Lu Gyi Dwe Sa Gar Pyaw Nae Dae” meaning, ‘Hey you little fellows keep quiet while we adult are seriously talking’. The nature of the so called ‘Secret Negotiations’ is a clear indication that there is something to hide from the public. If that is the case, then the ethnic groups will have to conclude that as the 1947 Constitution was torn up by the Burmese Junta in 1962 and obliterated up the Panglong Agreement then the ethnic groups have no obligation whatsoever to the Union. Hence fighting the Myanmar Tatmadaw (army) is amounted to legitimate war against an occupying force (for the past decade they have behave in such a manner) and cannot be construed as a civil war.

The very fact that the negotiations are bilateral and not tri-larteral underline the fact that the Myanmar tribe, which is a much stronger, more numerous and resourceful and dominating tribe, wants to rough ride shod over the ethnic groups. The writing on the wall exhibit clearly that major decisions will be made between a Myanmar and a Myanmar, and later these discussion will be expended to the ethnic forces for them to decide either to take it or leave it. This “carrot and stick tactic” denotes that a Myanmar does not treat a non-Myanmar as an equal but of a lower level people who are at their beck and call. Of course the democratic Myanmar will be magnanimous and on paper at least, will treat the ethnic races as equal. In other words, the ethnic groups will be at the whims and the fancy of the Myanmar leaders.

This has been the case since the inception of the Union of Burma when the Karens has no choice but were forced to fight. Then the Mon, Kachin, Shan, Karenni, Arakanese and Chin followed, not to mention the much smaller tribes as the Pa O, Palaung, Tavoynians Rohingys, etc . Today there is no single tribe or ethnic group that has not taken up arm or is still fighting against the Myanmar tribe. Burmese chauvinism and xenophobia run deep into their veins. Until and unless there is cetena, (goodwill) love and sincerity by the Myanmar towards the non Myanmar as showed by our beloved leader Bogyoke Aung San, we cannot visualize a final solution. The Panglong Agreement and the 1947 constitution drawn up under the supervision of Bogyoke Aung San has been trampled upon by the Burmese Tatmadaw belonging to the Myanmar tribe.

A barometer reading of the Junta’s current attitude towards the ethnic forces can be clearly seen in the military offensive against the Karens and the Shans. Their superb diplomacy of “divide and rule ” which translates into “let the ethnic forces fight the ethnic forces” e.g. Wa fighting the Shan, Karen Buddhist fighting the Karen Christians and so on, harkened back even to the Burmese democratic days when the Kachin and the Chins were recruited to fight the Karen. In fact it was the Chin forces that defended Rangoon from the Karen who were in the suburbs of Rangoon now called Insein. How many of the Chins and Kachins have laid down their lives in defense of the Union of Burma only to be changed to the chauvinism name of Myanmar. Currently how are the Chin and Kachin being treated? Do the Myanmar respect their culture and religious beliefs? How many times have the Myanmar negotiated with these ethnic groups and how many times have they betrayed or swindled them?

Of course there are several Myanmar who have not approved the proceedings of those in power. They have identified with the ethnic forces and fought shoulder to shoulder with their ethnic brethren, especially the students and the young generation who were forced to flee for their lives in 1988.. The ethnic groups welcomed them with open arms seeing theses young Myanmar like them being persecuted. This also proved that the ethnic groups are not at all racist but simply fighting the Junta and chauvinism. These Myanmar understand more about their ethnic brethren than those who are in Rangoon who are at the helm of the administration. Why are these Myanmar left out of the negotiations?

The treatment by the Myanmar of the non-Myanmar for half a century or so since the inception of modern Burma has guaranteed that no ethnic leader will trust the Myanmar. This is now being reinforced by the current “Secret Negotiations” which deliberately leave out the ethnic groups. Autonomous regions, self determination, and federalism are the words anathema to the Myanmar under the pretext of dismemberment the Union. But the fact is that these attitude covers up the truth, liberty, equality and fraternity.

The ethnic groups together with the people of Burma and the world have been left in the dark. Why? Is the fate of the 47 million Burmese people to be decided only by two persons alone, Khin Nyunt and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? We have heard about the nature of these negotiation via foreign media only. No announcement or communique has been released. Naturally speculations are rife. Will the blood thirsty Narco- Generals be given impunity in return for an interim civilian government?

Not that we don’t have faith in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Nor do we want revenge over the evil generals but the very fact that important conditions are agreed upon behind our backs indicate that the situation is equivalent to the Burmese saying, “Say Yar Thwa; Khaing Da Loke; Pyan Ma Pyaw Ne” meaning ‘go where you are directed and implement as told and don’t talk back’. Why is the culture of silence imposed on us? Is it a Myanmar way or a Myanmar mentality? We are very much bewildered. If we don’t know the causes, nature and extent of the gross violations of human rights which the Generals are still committing how can the truth be known, not to mention achieving of national reconciliation. We should also remember that the granting of de facto acceptance of impunity for those holding political, military or economic power erodes the very basis of the social order and helps to nurture a culture of violence.

Drawing from the experience of South Africa, it has been found that there is an existential need of the victim to break out of a situation of silence, isolation, fear and falsehood. To know the truth, to recover a shared memory and thus to restore human dignity for the victims and accountability for the perpetrators are MUSTS. We would very much like to find out or how whether this compatible with so called ‘Secret Negotiations’?

Without an intentional attempt to create a space where the stories of humiliation and suffering can be told, where the truth can emerge and collective remembrance restored, the search for justice will continue to divide the community rather than re-establish relationships and contribute to a process of healing. How can forced labour, forced relocation, systematic torture, disappearances, extra-judicial killing, raping of women and children continue even as the ‘Secret Negotiations’ are going on. Why have the Myanmar so stubbornly refused to learn the lessons of the recent past and all this continue to occur? More often than not, we hear the response, “Forget the past, the dead cannot come to life and turn your eyes to the future building of a nation.” This simplistic answer, so easily offered by those who have something to hide, has no healing power. It leaves no room for reconciliation. Until and unless the truth is told, unless the criminals are held accountable, or unless those directly responsible and their accomplice confess their guilt, ask for forgiveness and give concrete signs of repentance, there can be no justice and therefore no healing of society. No body in Burma would want to repeat the errors of the past, trapped in cycles of retributive violence. The people yearn for transformation. And this transformation could start with the opening up of the so called ‘Secret Negotiations’. The people of Burma including the ethnic groups have suffered too much from the unkept promises could be spared from experiencing evil wars and bitterness.

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