Little revolutions go a long way

By Kenan Handzic

From Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and Georgia’s Rose Revolution to Burma’s Saffron Revolution, grassroots mass uprisings have given new hope to people all around the world against corrupt and often brutal dictatorial regimes. Today’s Burma is no exception. “Myanmar” is one of these truly horrific military-instituted junta regimes which has employed severe suppression of any form to opposition for the past several decades. Burma has never really seemed to get the world’s attention. Despite this, I always held the country with the fondest regards as a result of letter-writing campaigns that I was a part of through Amnesty International. Suffice it to say, Burma always kept appearing on the radar for this non-governmental organization due to the torture of many innocent people, including those who posed little political threat.

One surprise in this whole saga is that Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, is still under house arrest after 17 years. This happened as a result of her being democratically elected when the military did not uphold the decision made by the people of Burma. Suu Kyi has become an inspiration to those fighting for democracy and human rights around the world, not unlike Nelson Mandela. The strong presence of Suu Kyi and consensus-building negotiations could spell a better future for this beautiful country.

We should all try to better understand the deeper issues in this country. Burma is a very complex multi-ethnic state, where the military state power does not reach every part of the country. There are many secessionist movements, which are fighting for a fair representation in the Burmese state, as well as a national identity. With the fall of the harsh military regime, the state of Myanmar would most likely collapse. The military junta, with its centre in the secluded capital, Naypyitaw, has one of the largest militaries in the world in terms of armed forces. There is currently a ceasefire with most of the rebel groups.

Often, the solutions floating around for the resolution of the impasse in Burma and other countries are sanctions and democracy. However, as good as these may seem, a reality has to be faced that sanctions end up hurting those who are already suffering, the people and not the regime. In the same vein, democracy has to come from within and cannot be imposed as the situation in Iraq clearly shows. Suu Kyi was democratically elected, but this has to be reinforced with powerful institutions that will incorporate the voices of all the different ethnic groups that would rather secede.

The monks’ revolution is based on spreading tolerance and peace. Although such methods have created powerful democracies in the past in specific occasions, it is hard to see how this could be successful against the out-of-touch dictatorial regime that is intent on keeping its power. There are lots of pro-democracy initiatives in Burma. What is needed is unification with each other and the various ethnic groups. This is necessary for Burma to remain a unified country in the post-junta times. Sadly, the only thing repressive and delusional regimes understand is force. The revolution has to come from within but it is also our responsibility to help those who seek democracy to succeed.

The solution seems evasive. We have seen the popular will of the Burmese in the last few months and the message that change is necessary is clear. However, the West has to go beyond “easy fix” solutions like sanctions and invasions. Instead, it has to show real commitment to countries such as Burma through both secret negotiations with those parts of the military that are open for reforms and through substantive aid to opposition groups to support the emergence of a more peaceful state. This way, the transition to democracy can be managed as opposed to what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, where no one was ready for it.