By Raymond Scott
It seemed at first strange to read a headline, “Pity The Burmese Dissident in Exile.” Before just last month, Burmese dissidents abroad for decades in Thailand and other locales across the West have been symbols of defiance against the military junta that has ruled their country since 1962. They have been untiring in their campaign for regime change and economic sanctions, indeed, the Democratic Voice of Burma, centered in Norway, had been the driving force behind the media coverage of the military’s harsh military crackdown in 2007. Yet, nowadays, foreign diplomats and Congressmen would rather fly to Burma’s capital city than dine with dissidents in exile.
Just last month, the United States, and a host of other nations, restored full diplomatic relations with Burma, or as the military junta would have us know it, Myanmar. An unexpected flurry of political and economic reforms, engineered by the Generals have reached a kind of fever pitch in recent day.
Of late, the military junta has nurtured the creation of a competitive soccer team, has allowed the number of radio stations to play both Burmese and Western style music, has created the country’s first television channel solely dedicated to music videos, and Burmese youths have begun hosting underground music and art festivals with overt political subtexts in the Burmese capital.
The junta has begun issuing permits for private hospitals and schools, both of which were strictly prohibited only a few years ago; it has sold its state-run, Soviet-style factories to private enterprise, and it has begun to lift the restrictions on automobile consumption. The country has lessened its trade restrictions, freed over 1,000 political prisoners and brought ethnic rebels to the negotiating table for a ceasefire arrangement. Burma has even warmed its relations with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The advent of a vibrant Burmese society that is unafraid of political repression is indeed upon us. The techno artist, U Thxa Soe, who gained popularity with his recording of a protest song, “We Have No Money” typified the new liberal energy radiating in Southeast Asia.
The narrative we are most familiar with when discussing Burma is a place where megalomaniacal generals had systematically squelched their country’s bountiful resources, revived medieval-style torture tactics and held hostage the basic necessities of survival from their own brothers and sisters.
Without much difficulty, Burma had consistently earned for itself the distinction as the world’s least developed country. When Cyclone Nargis laid waste to the country, the government withheld foreign aid just long enough for cholera to kick in. Against this backdrop, Burma sent shockwaves across the globe when the military junta announced its willingness to embrace serious reform.
The most dramatic and glowing reform of all, however, came when the junta released Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a woman who manifests the struggle for human rights worldwide and has been lionized by groups like Amnesty International. Ms. Kyi, who won a smashing electoral victory in the late 1980s before the military ordered to keep her cloistered under strict house arrest for fifteen of the past twenty-one years.
Languishing in prison, Ms. Kyi had become the moral conscious of Burmese society and her release from house arrest should be regarded as a litmus test of the sincerity and dedication of the nation’s reformers. Now, Ms. Kyi, has declared herself in parliamentary election in April for a seat in the suburban district of Yangon, Burma’s largest city and from there seems poised to be appointed in a ministerial position within the government ranks.
The lifelong work of the courageous dissidents of the Burmese underground has been realized with Ms. Kyi’s release. The tightfisted grip the military has had on Burma for over thirty years now seems to be lessening, and with it, Burma, and moreover, the world, is blessed with a true champion of all the things we value: pluralism, compassion, dissent, nonviolence and hope. With Aung San Suu Kyi we have one of the worlds humanitarian giants continuing to make history. In many ways, her struggle and triumph gives us reason enough to believe in the inevitable realization of human dignity worldwide. After far too long, the caged bird can sing at last.