Demonstrations lead to power struggle in Myanmar
February 8, 2008
Filed under Archives
Myanmar promised the United Nations that in November they would stop imprisoning pro-democracy protestors, but the country continues to arrest activists. “The demonstrations are a positive sign that they want the country to change,” said George Guo, associate professor of political science and east Asian studies.
The New York Times reported 96 people arrested since November. The United Nations said the government had confirmed at least 31 deaths and 74 missing people.
According to The New York Times, Amnesty International reported that 1,850 political prisoners are being held, including at least 700 people arrested after the protests. More than 80 people, likely victims of enforced disappearance, remain unaccounted for.
In mid-August 2007, the military-ruled government raised fuel prices, which was followed by many protests among students and Buddhist monks.
Okkar Pe, a junior, was born in Burma, left for the U.S. in 1997 and has not been back since.
“The military has their belief of what the country should be like and if they keep having their belief, they will do fine,” Pe said. “If you are for the government, things will be okay.”
According to The Associated Press, in Sept. 2007 over 100,000 civilians joined the monks. About 500 monks protested outside the home of Aung Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy leader who has been under house arrest for 12 years. During the protest, the monks chanted, “Release Suu Kyi.”
Eric Mortensen, assistant professor of religious studies, visited Burma in 2000. He said the country was desperately poor, but that people have built a diverse community to take care of each other.
“The monks are being brave,” Mortensen said. “They have their own interests, as well. They are playing a part that most people aren’t able to. People follow the lead of the monks.”
Myanmar pushes other countries’ attention away when protests lead to many arrests.
“When the protests are under siege, they always create such a smoke screen to keep away international pressure,” said U Aung Zaw, the editor of an exile magazine, Irrawaddy Magazine, published in Thailand. “They postpone, they say they are restoring normalcy, they keep arresting people.”
Mortensen believes the activists are brave, but that the demonstrations will not be successful.
“The demonstrations are very dangerous,” Mortensen said. “The demonstrators stand to be imprisoned or worse. Many people feel as though there is no other choice than to demonstrate, but at this point, due to the danger evidenced by last year’s crackdown, fear is at a premium and it looks as though the demonstrations have little chance of success.”
Pe thinks that other countries’ aid could help shape Myanmar into a better place.
“There are two things that Burma needs: free speech and better educational systems,” Pe said. “There are not enough schools or teachers.”
In hope of Myanmar forming a democracy, Guo suggests that other countries step in and provide help.
Guo said, “Instead of sanctions, the openness would facilitate the growth of the middle class and the emergence of civil society in Burma – the key factor for Burma’s democracy.