Sunday, October 14, 2007

Orwellian Burma

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Burma's prime minister, General Soe Win, died on Friday, but it hardly matters. Although he was "a reputedly ruthless member of the ruling military junta,... credited with overseeing a 2003 attack against democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi," and although he was the "fourth-ranking member of the junta," he apparently had "little if any policy-making role as prime minister and was largely considered a figurehead for the junta."

So, good riddance, but there are still many more -- and many more powerful -- totalitarians left to brutalize the country.


And the brutality continues: "Four prominent political activists were arrested in Myanmar on Saturday as the ruling junta kept up its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, Amnesty International said."

And, just to show they've read the Orwellian playbook, the totalitarians are supplementing their crackdown on the opposition with typical fearmongering efforts to manufacture internal cohesion, or a least to give the impression of internal cohesion, and to channel domestic anger outward, toward foreign enemies:

[T]housands at a government-staged mass rally in Yangon shouted slogans against Western powers and the foreign media, whom the military regime accuses of fomenting recent pro-democracy protests.

"Down with BBC! Down with VOA! Down with Radio Free America!" the crowds chanted at the rally, held amid growing international pressure on the junta to negotiate with the opposition. Many in the crowd were offered cash to attend, local officials said.

People bused in from other parts of the city gathered at a sports ground for the rally, which officials said 120,000 attended.

Yeah, sure, whatever. However many were there, the real question is, how many were there voluntarily? Likely not many -- the propaganda surely hasn't worked that well.


Ah, but the totalitarians don't want to give the impression that they're entirely unreceptive to freedom. They want to be seen to be open, to a point -- and, of course, they want to remain open for Chinese and Indian business, and they certainly don't want a new and improved international sanctions regime to threaten their oppressive rule.

So, just to show how open they are, how good-natured and warm-hearted they are, they've restored Internet access and relaxed the curfew. No word on the extent of that access, nor on who might be watching who accesses what, but one must assume that the watchers are watching as much as possible. If websites like the BBC are even accessible, accessing them would be a rather risky proposition, no doubt. Similarly, no word on whether the curfew means much anymore. It has been reduced to four hours (11 pm to 3 am) from eight hours (9 pm to 5 am). The overnight curfew may have meant something to the totalitarians when the pro-democracy protests were at their peak and large numbers of people were in the streets, but now? Surely going out into the streets at night is a rather risky proposition, too, and, no doubt, the watchers are watching.

In Burma, 2007 is the new 1984.

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