For the past month, we have been carefully monitoring the social and political events in Myanmar (Burma). Thousands of monks have marched throughout the country in protest, sometimes joined in swells by the public, in what is the most significant demonstration in that country in over a decade. The ruling military junta has ravaged the resource rich nation for the last twenty years turning it into one of the poorest nations in Asia. National League for Democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been under house arrest for 11 of the past 18 years in a situation that can only remind of us of the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.
BBC Video Report: Buddhist Monks Leading Protest in Rangoon, Burma
What does it have to do with Vietnam?
The international community has condemned the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrations that resulted in the arrest of over a hundred civilian activists (download the excel file here). By the international community I mean not to include China, India or ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that includes Myanmar regional neighbors Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand). Two years ago I wrote on this blog about ASEAN, and in particular Vietnam's reluctance to confront Myanmar on issues that have drawn criticism to the entire region. Vietnam has consistently sought to avoid the issue of Burma and in fact, joined China and India, in making trade agreements with the military regime for natural resources as late of August 2007. Furthermore, mention about the protests in Myanmar are conspicuously (although predictably) absent for Vietnam state-controlled press.
Four days before the protests began, triggered by a 500% increase in fuel (read petroleum) prices, "Vietnam's prime minister wrapped up a two-day official visit to Myanmar Wednesday that included talks with the country's leaders and the signing of an energy deal." that culminated in "the signing of a memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation in the petroleum sector" and "the 'strategic cooperation in oil and gas' agreement was signed Tuesday between Myanmar Energy Planning Department director-general Soe Myint and PetroVietnam chief executive officer Tran Ngoc Canh." These quotes were taken directly from Vietnam's offiical Thanh Nien news site.
China, India and ASEAN have for years refused to take a stance on Burma precisely because the exploitation of Burma's natural resources and tendency for corruption have made it a win-win situation for all parties involved. Does the signing of a fuel agreement with Vietnam just days before the Burmese government jacks up the price of gas 500% for its own people sound wrong? You bet.
Art, Artists and the Internet
"It's time for all Burmese artists and poets to join together with the monks who have taken the lead in the protests against the regime," Aung Way
Authorities initially ordered a blackout on all local media coverage of the protests and have since crafted and placed articles in mouthpiece media criticizing the protest leaders they have detained. But the government is losing decidedly its most crucial censorship battle: over the Internet. Despite government bans, journalists and dissidents continue to send information and video clips of the protests over the Internet to foreign-based news organizations.
Exile-run media have published detailed blow-by-blow accounts and explicit video clips of government crackdowns. Popular video-sharing website YouTube is flush with footage of the protests posted by citizen journalists under Burmese names, including one posting by a user who apparently uses the same name as SPDC leader General Than Shwe. The Thailand-based, exile-run Irrawaddy - a la CNN - has called on the Myanmar population to play the role of citizen journalists and send information to their news desk. - Asia Times Online
Burmese artists just months ago were featured on the New York Times for their efforts in showing resistance. Because the article is no longer available on NYT without subscription, you can currently view it on the International Herald Tribune or I have made it available for download as a pdf. Furthermore, in an article today, "A leading Burmese poet, Aung Way, said the artist community should also join in solidarity with the monks and people."
+ Burma Digest. SPDC In Denial
+ Irrawady. Monks Issue Call for Public to Join Demonstrations
+ Diacritic. The Struggle of Burmese Contemporary Artists (2007)
+ Diacritic. ASEAN Split (2005)
+ Asia Times. Burning down Myanmar's Internet firewall
+ Thanh Nien. Vietnam PM wraps up Myanmar visit
Posted by on September 21, 2007 11:26 PM | Permalink