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Burma's Afflictions Seen Through History


Baladas Ghoshal

THE RIVER OF LOST FOOTSTEPS: HISTORIES OF BURMA
By Thant Myint-U
Faber and Faber, 2007, pp. 384, Rs. 450.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 5 May 2008

The abandoned former campuses of Yangon and Mandalay universities, at one time leading institutions of higher learning in Asia and which produced distinguished Myanmarese from all walks of life, typically symbolize the state of things in Myanmar today. A country rich in natural resources and intellect has degenerated into economically poor and intellectually mediocre through misrule and ill-conceived social engineering. The ruling junta has devised an ingenious way of retaining their power and was control over the society. The university campuses have all been moved away from the cities to the outskirts and dispersed so that no effective mobilization of students and teachers can take place against the regime. Teachers and students have been made to double as security agents reporting to their bosses in Tatmadaw of any activities detrimental to the interests of the regime. The destruction of the universities and lack of job opportunities have led to an exodus of talents from the country. All worthy young people in Myanmar want to leave the country; of those who cannot, some make good by joining the Tatmadaw and others join the monastery.   Those who choose to adopt Buddhism as a career often do so for financial reasons, as donations collected by the monks are shared with their family members. As a result, there is an almost equal number of monks as soldiers (400,000 to 500,000 approx.) in the country. Their sheer number and their participation in the protest movement against the military junta offered a glimmer of hope to the democratic forces both within the country and in exile. Ostensibly against rising food and fuel prices, the protests undoubtedly showed the (political) exasperation of a long-suffering populace. The ground realities in the country, however, go against the grain of hope.   First, the junta’s complete control over the means of violence to intimidate and instil fear in people leads to political passivity; second, it has succeeded in emasculating opposition leadership through a systematic campaign of misinformation and debilitating the civil society through its curb on the universities. The junta’s ability to stay in power is partly due to the failure of its opponents to form a solid coalition with a long-term, common strategy. In the recent protests more than 100,000 people were drawn onto the streets of the country’s cities, but the protests lost steam after the authorities took action. Anti-junta activists inside and outside the country failed to capitalize ...


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