Burmese Activism Redux

March 10, 2009

The digital revolution seems to be coming sooner than we thought.  My last post was about how the activist citizenry of Burma were in a very similar cultural position as those from the “Dickensian” era; that their culture was on the cusp of a technological and social revolution that would shake up the foundations of power.  Well if the current activities in Burma are anything to go by, then it’s only a matter of time.


I have covered some of the hurdles to democratic activism in Burma in my last post; the military government, counter-activist espionage, and censorship of the media and tourists.  The military junta that has had a stranglehold on Burma for decades now is starting to slip.  After Cyclone Nargis last summer, there were more than 130,000 Burmese citizens that were either killed or injured.  The junta failed to reply with adequate aid and social services, leaving the Burmese people to instead rely on other groups such as USAID, and the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters for critical assistance. 


It was during this reconstruction/aid effort that many activist groups such as the HRDP were able to get their message o democratic action out to the people.  HRPD members capitalized on the momentary loss of infrastructure to distribute information on how to get involved with activist movements across the nation without fear of reprisal from the government.  With the state of free speech in Burma as it normally stands, such a mass distribution of counter-cultural support and propaganda would have been all but impossible without the chaos provided by the natural disaster.  To give a frame of reference, the only reliable method of making a phone call in Burma is to use one of the monitored telephones on major streets, which effectively eliminates the prospect of using it for spreading information. 


In addition, it seems that the Burmese youth has indeed begun to pick up the torch of activism in opposition to the new constitution, a government creation that would theoretically re-legitimize their power.  Legions of young Burmese students have created tons of stickers, buttons, shirts and other propaganda devices emblazoned with the simplest slogan in history “NO”.  The propaganda now proliferates through trendy spots throughout Burma.


It is unfortunate and more than a little horrifying to think that it took something as tragic as Cyclone Nagris to finally unite the dissatisfied Burmese populace, but it has had an undeniable impact on everyone.  People who were always content to sit back and endure before are now rising up in ways they have rarely explored before.  The Burmese democratic advocates need to strike while the iron is hot and use the outrage of the nation at the junta’s pitiful support after Nagris to galvanize them into action.


Patrick Farley


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