Preventing Inter-ethnic Unity & Pro Democracy Movement

By Kanbawza Win | January 14, 2012

Even though there was a euphoria over the political prisoners’ release and the US reward it with the raising of the diplomatic relations to the ambassador level one has to take caution that the “Divide and Rule Policy” which the various Burmese administration inherited from the British, has been put to good use by waging an all out war against the Kachin and simultaneously inking the peace deal with Shan, Chin and Karen and the lesser resistance forces. What more it was able to wean away Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD from the pro-democracy Burmese populace and was able to lure the West to give up their punitive actions that will lead to lifting of sanctions while keeping some prisoners hush hush still under lock and key. This whole concept proves the superb diplomacy of the regime. But on the whole the people of Burma and the world are happy.

Gen Thein Sein has been widely seen as a more moderate and reform-minded but to the Kachin he is just another general whose words cannot be trusted. It has been more than a month since he made public his directive to end the army’s offensive against the Kachin but there has been no cessation of hostilities. On the contrary, more than 90 battles or clashes have taken place, with a steady surge in troop reinforcement. The ferocity is of the attack and the methods of scotch earth policy is such that it is in the category of the war of genocide and the Kachin have no choice but force to fight the war of survival.[1]

Most of the ethnic nationalities are simple people and like to live in their own way of life and at that time the time of British colonization there was no such thing as ethnic conflicts in Burma because one ethnic has been living peacefully with the other for centuries. When Britain was about to give independence to this region, the majority of the ethnic nationalities readily join the Union which was formed by an accord signed at a little town in Shan State called Panglong in 1947, one year prior to the emergence of Burma as an independent, post-colonial state (in 1948).

In this sense, both historically and conceptually, the ethnic Burma’s so-called ethnic conflict is more aptly described as a political conflict against the ruling military rather than a conflict between warring ethnic groups. The conflict is primarily a conflict between the ruling military exercising a monopolistic control of the state in Burma and the ethnic nationalities. It is a vertical conflict between the state and various ethnically defined societies. It is a conflict about how the state is to be constituted and how the relation between the constituent components of society and the state are to be ordered. It is not the case of ethnic segments feuding with and killing each other, nor is it driven by the secessionist impulses. Looking at Burma’s history since 1948, a long-standing and seriously dysfunctional relationship between the state and broader society can be observed and it has been exacerbated by four decades of monopolistic military rule.

To understand the ethnic conflict, it is essential to look into the issues of conceptual differences, constitutional crisis, national identity, majority-minority configuration and other pressing issues like human rights violations, drugs and environmental management. The successive military regimes see Burma as an existing unified nation since the reign of king Anurudha (Anawrahta) 1044 AD. As such, all other non-Myanmar - Shan, Kachin, Chin, Arakanese, Mon, Karen and Karenni - are seen as ethnic nationalities, which must be controlled and suppressed, lest they break up the country. This is what most of the international and the world understand or comprehend. Incidentally this is also what most of the chauvinist Myanmar or in Burmese better known as Mahar Bamar (မဟာဗမာ) wants to portray.[2] This is the crux of the Burmese problem.

On the other hand, some of the educated and well meaning very few Myanmar and all the non-Myanmar maintain that the Union of Burma is a newly developed territorial entity, founded by a treaty, the Panglong Accord, where independent territories merged together on equal basis to obtain independence from Britain and this is what Bogyoke Aung San, the architect of Modern Burma envisage. In this aspect it may seen that the genuine Burman/Myanmar headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wants to instil the real Union Spirit but still fell short by her actions So far the NLD has not issue any statement of sympathy or solidarity with the suffering internally displaced persons. No appeals made to international organizations or governments for humanitarian assistance and moral courage seems to be lacking not only on the Kachin but also on the ethnic nationalities. The instigator of this genocide is not identified or condemned [3]and this is detrimental to the Pyidaungsu Spirit (ပင္လံုစိတ္ဓာတ္). Given such conceptual differences, the Burmese military goes about with its implementation of protecting "national sovereignty" and "national unity" at all cost. This, in turn, gives way to open conflict resulting in more suppression and gross human rights violations. The intolerance of the military and its inspiration to "racial supremacy" and to political domination and control has no limit and the climax of it could be seen by its refusal to hand over power to the winners of 1990 nation-wide election, the NLD,SNLD and other ethnic parties. [4]

The woes of Burma today are deeply rooted in the inadequate constitutional drafting of 1947. The Union Constitution was rushed through to completion without reflecting the spirit of Panglong, or Panglong Seikdat. And lamentably it was still repeated today in the current Nargis Constitution, The ethnic homelands were recognized as constituent states but all power was concentrated in the central government. Almost all the non-Myanmar and Burmese democratic opposition groups are in agreement that the ethnic conflict and reform of social, political and economic cannot be separated from one another. And the only solution and answer is to amend the 1947 Constitution according to Panglong Agreement, where equality, voluntary participation and self-determination, of the constituent states, formed the basis for the Federal Republic of the Union of Burma or rather the Genuine Union of Burma.[5] The ethnic nationalities, especially in the cases of the Karen, Kachin and WA remained such a stumbling block as the Myanmar administrations fails to honours the principles of the Panglong Agreement.[6]

Burma’s fundamental problem is not just about leadership, policy failure, dysfunctional institutions, rights abuses or fractured opposition movements. Categorically speaking, Burma is confronted with nothing less than a full-scale pathological process of internal colonization, this time by its own military. This is an evolutionary process which was set in motion since the coup of 1962 decisively established one-party military rule, where the military and the State cannot be separated. Indeed Burma has evolved into a dual-colony in which the population of more than 50 million citizens is being herded into a political space via the Orwellian “7-steps road map for democracy.” The ruling military clique backed by its 400,000-strong military will continue to make all decisions with massive societal and ecological consequences for the whole population; only this time their decisions are going to be made to sound constitutionally mandated, and in accord with the laws of the land. Further, this small group of men subscribe to an irredeemably myopic and toxic version of ethno-nationalism which refashions Burma along the old feudal lines where the majority “Myanmar and Buddhists,” as defined by these men in generals’ uniform, will be more equal in their Union of Republic of Myanmar.

Needless to say, the generals will pay lip service to ethnic unity and create nominal space for the ethnic people while pursuing “Divide and Rule” as the overarching strategy. The ruling generals have rejected the federal spirit of ethnic equality and violently opposed any struggle towards a genuine federated Union. They have declared dead the Panglong Agreement of 1947, the founding document of a modern, post-colonial Burma, wherein ethnic equality was enshrined as an inviolable pillar of multi-ethnic Burma. Hence in new colonial rule under its own military, will control, subjugated or crushed.

For those who have viewed the emerging parliamentary and formal political processes as the only space in which the people’s voices can be heard, policies debated and public welfare advanced, it is time for a serious rethinking and soul-searching. The opposition have made repeated calls for national and ethnic reconciliation as well as genuine public expressions of inter-ethnic solidarity, which is the last thing any colonial power would want and would tolerate is social and ethnic solidarity across communities, regions and classes. The colonized ethnic nationalities are to be exploited, crushed, subjugated or co-opted.

The generals, of course, don’t see themselves as “native colonialists.” They feel no need for reconciliation along ethnic or political lines with any person, organization or community. In short, they have done nothing wrong, and they can do no wrong. For they perceive themselves as the country’s sole national guardian, untainted by partisan politics. They are committed to the abstract idea of a multi-ethnic nation while trampling on the very idea in reality. And they embrace an absolutist notion of sovereignty where the military, not the people in whose name it exists, is sovereign. They love the country, but they can’t stand the people, especially the kind who refuse to go along with their design for the rest of the country. Political, defiant ethnic communities and political prisoners spring to mind. Their politics is all about resuming and completing the process of re-consolidation of the power of the ethnic Burmese majority, most specifically the soldiering class, over the rest of the ethnic nationalities –a process only interrupted by the old kingdom’s 19th century defeat by Great Britain. Sixty years after independence, the military has built its own version of local colonial rule serving as the constitutionally-mandated ruling class and where the rest of the civilian society, especially the ethnic nationalities and the majority of the Myanmar who does not goes along with the generals are classified as second class citizens.

Throughout modern history, no colonialism is ever known to have offered the colonized political processes or institutions which would undo, or even undermine, such broad colonial objectives as economic exploitation of land, labour and natural resource, political domination and subjugation of populations under colonial rule, and control over the cultural and intellectual life of colonies. Whether one has in mind the formal and classical version, which dissolved, thanks in no small part to colonialists slaughtering one another during the two 20th century world wars, or the subsequent and newer versions characteristic of the Cold War, the essence, objectives and nature of colonial rules remain virtually the same.[7]

Humanitarian assistance, developmental aid, foreign direct investment, increased trade or commerce may be needed in any systemic efforts to rebuild poverty-stricken Burma emerging from decades of war and conflicts. But they are no substitute for forging inter-ethnic and class solidarity, on which an inter-generational political resistance, armed and non-violent, depending on one’s own location, needs to be built.

The fact is the colonial state in the Union of the Republic of Myanmar stands in between public welfare and international assistance and increased foreign direct investment, which has been in the billions thanks to Burma’s economically predatory regional friends such as China, Thailand, India, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore. Precisely because this ethno-nationalist bond between the Burmese Generals and the majority Buddhist Myanmar has been irreparably broken down, the recent call by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic nationalities leaders for reconciliation and inter-ethnic solidarity against oppression poses the greatest threat to the ruling Generals uniform or otherwise. While Burma’s issues are complex, as far as the regime’s strategy is concerned it is a simple, time-tested “Divide-and-Rule.” The only way the opposition movements in particular and multi-ethnic communities in general can defeat these native colonizers is through inter-ethnic—and inter-class—solidarity and we hope that UNFC would recruit the think tanks of Burmese Diaspora to be more effective.

Last, but not the least is that the West must give up their Sanctions which the regime so craved. The Constructive Engagement Policy of China, India and especially ASEAN has prolonged the change up to this day. It was the punitive actions of the West that made the Burmese generals relent as they are so desirous to keep their ill gotten wealth to the near and dear ones once they leave this earth. Sanctions must be maintained at all cost.

Prof. Kanbawza Win can be reached at
[1]Laphai, Nang-Kai; General, You Lied in The Irrawaddy 13-1-2012
[2] Mahar Bama spirit defines the Myanmar chauvinist attitude which can be seen even in the peripherals of Burma and in Diaspora, not to mention inside the country, where the ethnic cleansing is going on with might and main. That is they want to be have a finger in every pie and they always want to be a leader in every aspect of the movement. A classic example is that to play soccer as a team with the other ethnic nationalities he is the one who not only wants to be the captain but always want to shoot the winning goal. He tends to treat the other ethnic as inferior and that only he can lead. The other ethnic must follow him
[3] Laphai, Nang-Kai; General, You Lied in The Irrawaddy 13-1-2012
[4] Sai Wan Sai in Shan-EU “Causes of Ethnic conflict and contemporary politics.”
[5] Ibid
[6] Aung; Htet A Tip of ASEAN: Ethnic: Reality beyond the Election in The Irrawaddy 25-1-2010
[7] Zarni; Dr Maun Burma Needs Inter-Ethnic and Inter-Class Solidarity in Irrawaddy 14-12-2010

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