Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bogus triviality: Propaganda, revisionism, and the imposition of Burmese totalitarianism

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It wasn't so long ago that Buddhist monks and their friends in the pro-democracy movement were courageously taking to the streets of Rangoon, speaking out and standing firm against the rapacious totalitarian junta that brutalizes the Burmese people. It was a national upsurge of protest against one of the most atrocious regimes in the world today.

It wasn't so long ago that the totalitarians unleashed terror upon the protesters, spilling blood in the streets, slaughtering countless monks and pleading innocence, the official death toll remarkably low, the reality much different. The country was cut off from the outside world, the totalitarians tightened their control, and dissent was crushed.

The U.N. stepped in to pursue a diplomatic solution and to act as a mediator, Europe and the U.S. said and did the right things, condemning the junta's actions while calling for tougher sanctions, the totalitarians, and there was at least a glimmer of hope that the junta was willing to talk to Aung San Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy movement.

But, as I put it last month: It was all for show. The totalitarians have their friends, notably in China and India, but they need to show the world, through the U.N., that they are at least open to change (whether they really are or not). The West has already turned its attention away from Burma, the spotlight faded, if not gone, and now the emphasis is on public relations. Say what the world wants to hear, persuade U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari that change may come, and sit tight while everyone moves on.

And, more or less, pretty much everyone did. The totalitarians got away with it and were able to reestablish their rule. And, as it is now clear, as if it wasn't before, they were never serious about reform, or even about talking about reform.

And now there's this:

Burma's military government has said there is no role for the opposition in the drafting of a new constitution.

The announcement comes despite international pressure for the regime to open up the process of reform and engage with other parties.

At a rare press conference, Burmese Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said the military-appointed reform panel did not need outside help.

Mr Kyaw also dismissed the anti-junta protests in September as "trivial".

After 14 years of talks, the 54-member panel has now begun work on the new constitution, the third stage of what the military government calls its "seven stage path to democracy".

But the process has been dismissed as a sham by Western governments who say it is entirely controlled by the military regime. Criticism of the proposed charter is a criminal offence and delegates who have challenged the military over reform have been given lengthy jail sentences.

So the protests were "trivial," but the totalitarians cracked down on them with unrestrained violence. And now they are on a "path to democracy" that is, of course, nothing of the sort. Whatever "democracy" emerges from this process will be the sort of democracy they used to have in, say, East Germany or Iraq. The new constitution will be a joke, the totalitarians continuing to rule as a law unto themselves. Pity anyone who disagrees.

Kyaw, speaking for the junta, called the monks "bogus" -- those monks the junta found threatening enough to slaughter -- and also said this: "The uprisings dissolved within a very short time frame simply because the general public did not take part."

Hmmm. I wonder why.

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