May 15, 2010

Letter to Kawekalu Editor

click here to read in Karen -

Dear Kwekalu Editors,

Since you and Violet Cho recently wrote an article about Karen Gay issue in general and its implications to the Klo & Kweh Music Team in particular on Kwekalu Web Site, I would like to let you know my thoughts.

Personally, and this is strictly personally, I do not have any problem with someone's sexual orientation unless his or her individual right infringes upon mine.

However, I reserve the right to choose who I will associate or dissociate myself with in accordance with my value, belief and/or character. I will respect the reverse as well - that is, I have no problem if someone does not want to associate himself or herself with me because of his or her value, belief and/or character.

Just as I will not compel upon others my belief, value and/or characters, I will not allow others to compel upon me to embrace his or her value, belief and/or character.

Hopefully this clarifies some confusion.

As one of the founders of Klo & Kweh Foundation, I have to let you know that Klo & Kweh has its very specific objectives and is not funded by any tax-payer's money, so it reserves - as it has - the right to choose who it wants to associate or dissociate with based not only on its core objectives but on the values, belief and characteristics it subscribes to.

That said, during the last Klo & Kweh trip, we did not invite any previous Klo & Kweh singers who had left Rangoon and are currently living in Thailand. For example, Naw Eh Wah, Saw Eh Ler Tha, and Naw Merday Say were not invited to participate in this trip either simply because the trip was designed to bring those Klo & Kweh members out of the country and have much needed fellowship with their fellow Karens and fans in Thailand.

No other Klo & Kweh member made any complaint about not being invited to this trip, but the one who complained happen to be a homosexual Karen man, and yet we cannot treat him differently than we treat others.

We have many important tasks ahead, and there are many human rights abuses that are taking place on daily basis inside Burma and I have not heard a single Karen homosexual man stands up and fights against those human rights abuses.

Klo & Kweh has done great things in relief works after Cyclone Nargis, and to date, we have managed to provide scholarships to more than 800 young Karen high school students in Burma. People don't write or complain anything about it. My only point is that we are very busy doing many other important things that impact thousands of Karen people's lives. Like we have stated before, the Klo & Kweh has to operate in a very sensitive and restricted social and political environment inside the country. We simply did not have enough resources or time to respond to any undue attention repeatedly “demanded” by a Karen homosexual man.

Allow me to repeat this: we have no problem whatsoever with anyone’s sexual orientation; all we want is our right to do our own things to accomplish our stated objectives in accordance with our own principles and values.

Thank you.

Saw Kapi
Founding Member
The Klo & Kweh Foundation


May 05, 2010

The Klo & Kweh Foundation

Announcement: Klo & Kweh Music Team

Founded in 2001 under the auspicious of the Klo & Kweh Foundation, the Klo & Kweh Music Team is one of the best known musical groups in the country, especially among the seven millions Karen people living in Burma and the world over. Its main objective is to preserve Karen culture and literature and promote intercultural exchange through music. It is closely affiliated with the Karen Baptist Convention and primarily founded on Baptist Christian root and yet it aims to serve audience of all kinds without any religious bias or discrimination.

The Klo & Kweh Music Team remains dedicated to its original mission – to preserve and promote Karen culture and literature through music. We believe in human dignity, individual liberty and personal right to pursuit of happiness. We will not officially condone or condemn any individual’s moral character and/or behavior. Nor will we let ourselves be distracted or our collective mission disrupted by any individual’s self-interest.

The Klo & Kweh Music Team has very limited resources and has to operate in a very restricted environment. Therefore, it will only respond, in the order of their importance, to issues that bear reasonable relevance to its core mission. The Klo & Kweh Foundation has no plan or desire to respond to every criticism leveled against it.

The Klo & Kweh Foundation

April 01, 2010

The Same Old Road to Nowhere


from The Irrawaddy, Thursday, April 1, 2010

The 2008 Constitution and the upcoming election guarantee a
continuation of Burma’s longest civil war, and the only hope for a
peaceful Burma is to constitutionally accommodate ethnic diversity.
Beginning with independence, Burma has a history of ignoring critical
issues and interests. In 1947, Aung San and his Anti Fascist People’s
Freedom League (AFPFL) tried to aggressively secure Burma’s national
independence from the British by securing the ethnic minorities’
agreement to join a proposed Union of Burma.

As a result, the Panglong Agreement was signed designed to reward
Burma with independence. The 1947 Constitution was drafted for an
independent Burma and ratified in 1948. In theory, a federal union
(Pyidaungsu) and a democratic government was established.
The newly independent Burma, however, was understandably fragile.
First, the young country was not prepared to implement democratic
principles. Second, the promised democratic union never came to be,
and the ethnic groups who agreed to join the non-existent union

A decade of constitutionalism and electoralism gave way to the first
military coup d’état in 1958 and then to the more permanent military
takeover in 1962.

A careful look into the handling of the ethnic discontent would
indicate that the government deliberately avoided constitutional
discussion which might have helped to reach a peaceful resolution.
Instead, the fledgling parliamentary democracy regime turned to the
army (Tatmadaw) for help in quelling perceived threats from ethnic

A second Constitution (1974) was ratified to affirm the first military
coup of 1962, through which the military government transformed itself
to civilian rule by adopting the “Burmese Way of Socialism.” The Burma
Socialist Program Party (BSPP) ruled until the demise of the party in
1988. Now, the third Constitution (2008) paves the way to affirm the
second military rule, planning to transform itself to a civilian
government through upcoming elections.

What will be the outcome of the 2008 Constitution and attempts to
transform the ruling military leadership into a civilian government?
While we cannot say for certain, we can point to distinctions between
this constitution and prior constitutional efforts. We also can
identify key issues, which may present challenges and obstacles for
the future based on Burma’s past.

There are substantive differences between the 1947 Constitution and
the 2008 Constitution. But, there are also striking similarities
between the two documents.

The 1947 and 1974 Constitutions

An inadequate basis for federalism in a multi-ethnic society is one of
the factors contributing to the failure of democracy. The government’s
consistent refusal to address the question of ethnic diversity
constitutionally is the fundamental root-cause of the ongoing civil
war in the country.

Generally speaking, ethnic discontent began with the broken promises
following the drafting of new constitution in 1947. Minorities joined
or agreed to join Pyidaungsu (the Union) based upon the premise that
all members of the Union would adhere to the federal principles and
thus enjoy full-membership in the Union. Although the word “federal”
never appeared in either of the Constitutions, both documents
mentioned repeatedly the equivalent Burmese word “Pyidaungsu.”
Some said that the 1947 Constitution established a federal framework
by establishing a bicameral national legislature and provisions that
spelled out minority rights. The territories of four ethnic groups,
the Karen, Karenni, Shan and Kachin, were recognized and each was
designated a separate state in the Constitution but with unequal
status. For example, while Shan State and Karenni State were
constitutionally granted the right to secession, while the other
states were not. Moreover, spelling out the right to secession in the
Constitution is operationally meaningless.

The 1974 Constitution continued to term Burma as Pyidaungsu or the
Union. Some analysts say it also provided a federal theory. For
example, ministerial Burma was divided into seven states and seven
divisions with little real power and autonomy. But, the same
Constitution provided for a unicameral legislature and centralized all
powers even further and entrenched the Burma Socialist Programme Party
(BSPP) as the only legal political party in the country.
The same constitution continued to recognize the Burmese language the
only official language, and prohibited the teaching, publishing and
printing of any other ethnic languages by law.

The 2008 Constitution

It is normal to expect that the constitution would address the
problems of democratization and the recognition of Burma’s ethnic and
linguistic plurality, principally by engaging these stakeholders in a
dialogue regarding reconciliation. The general understanding is that
most civil, armed or unarmed, disputes are about 1) the structure of
the state, 2) control over natural resources, and 3) the question of
groups’ right to self-determination, or some combination thereof.
These issues are most commonly matters necessarily dealt with in a
constitution and constitutional laws governing a country. It is then
natural to expect that the coming into effect of a new constitution
can mean the end of civil (often armed) conflict. And, a constitution
producing this sort of result ought to be comprised of the
negotiations and debates between the stakeholders.

However, such a dialogue and collaborative process were largely
forsaken by the current regime. The constitutional drafters failed to
actively involve the participation of the people governed, throughout
the process of deciding and drafting the Constitution. on the
contrary, the upcoming 2010 election appears only to affirm two
things: first, the hegemony of Burma’s Armed Forces and second, the
guaranteed continuation of the current civil war.

The 2008 Constitution acknowledges the multi-ethnic character of
Burma. The constitution gives token significance to the separation of
power between the branches of government, spheres of government and
the military but practically provides little to no mechanism in which
this division can occur.

Constitutional law experts observe that the sub-national governments
at states and local levels have very little effective powers and
almost no self-government as they are subordinated to the Pyidaungsu
legislature and especially to the executive. In effect, regardless of
the repetitious use of the term Pyidaungsu or the Union, Burma is by
no means a federal state under 2008 Constitution.

What should bother all citizens most, regardless of their ethnicity,
is the way in which the 2008 Constitution addresses civil rights. The
way rights are formulated and the limitations placed upon them are
even more problematic. The people of Burma will, if at all, enjoy
their most fundamental human rights at the pity of the regime.

The Upcoming Election

Will this attempt at legalizing elections and forsaking the question
of minorities succeed? Or will Burma continue to repeat the
well-established patterns of its past? The Burmese military regime is
moving forward with a plan to legitimize and solidify military rule.
The recent election law released by the Burmese regime is shocking to
many, given the regime’s persistent rejection of concerns of the
people of Burma and the global community.

As for Burmese expatriates, experience tells us that the military has
repeatedly used elections and the constitution as a platform to
shepherd in new military leadership under the guise of reform.
As for ethnic minorities, we sense the impact of an unfolding
political fiasco. We are haunted by the ghost of our country’s
history. Twenty years after staging the coup, the Burmese military
once again launched another reform effort through the 2008
Constitution. Bold public proclamations declare the government will
now transform itself to a civilian government via an election in 2010.
Once again will this be a shuffling of rank, responsibility and

Burma is at a crossroads, the country could advance, or fall back into
the well established pattern of military rule and human rights abuses.
How the United States and the United Nations respond to the upcoming
election and the Burmese regime could probably impact the course of
the election, the Burmese Constitution, and set a precedent for the
rest of the world.

The actions taken by the Burmese regime are simply a repeat and
repackaging of old tactics and without a new approach, the country
could easily fall back into its historic conflict patterns and civil

Naw May Oo is a doctoral student writing her dissertation on
constitutional design and federalism for post conflict states with a
concentration on Burma at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and
a fellow at the Center for Constitutional Democracy.

March 16, 2010

Reconciliation Needed for a United Burma

by Naw May Oo

Historians know well that every story has many sides, many aspects, and many dimensions to explore. When a story is about such a topic as faith or politics, emotions can quickly become charged.

Politics and history often intertwine, and inextricably connect, as individuals advocate for beliefs and ideas important to them. When our history and beliefs are challenged, it is easy to believe we ourselves are being challenged. Unchecked, this can open old wounds, and further the distance between us.

A united Burma requires a spirit of togetherness and reconciliation from all of us. In this spirit, I respectfully call for more political sensitivity in all who are active in the movement for change.

I believe that what is most important is individual conversion and change of heart, to recognize people first and foremost in their humanity, and to respect and to treat with dignity.

However, recent articles in The Irrawaddy have caused me to pause and reflect on the condition of the movement for change in Burma.

After the military coup on Sept. 18, 1988, my brother and three friends, university students, came to my mother for help and somewhere to hide. They were all university students in their junior and senior years.
My mother helped smuggle them out to safety, and we subsequently heard they had reached a Karen National Union base.

Two months later, we also left, traveling through the mountains to the Salween River and a village called Kawmoorah, where students from all over Burma were gathering and where the All Burma Students' Democratic Front began to take shape. For many, it was their first encounter with Karen people.

As more students arrived, the nature of these first encounters changed. It quickly became apparent just how ill prepared both sides were for what we were heading into.

For centuries, Karen had lived in the region the students were now fleeing to and the strength of the KNU offered them a sort of safe-haven. once safe, however, we soon learned about the apparent differences in our goals and ways of life.

The Karen had farmed, established logging and other business practices in order to support a society. For the Karen, the KNU territories were not a temporary safe zone, but rather an integral part of life, history and culture.

Many Burmese students found the experience unfamiliar, challenging, and in some cases unbearable. Rural life was a far cry from a familiar routine of university study.

For these students, the KNU and the shelter they offered were temporary, stop-gap measures necessary only to regroup and work for political change back "home."

The KNU, for its part, was caught off guard. There were differing views on how to receive these fleeing students. And there were practical as well as political and psychological concerns.

The students expected to be received with honor, for they were “fighting for a just cause.” They failed to recognize that the KNU and the Karen people had been fighting for “a just cause” for 40 years.

In time, the divergence between these goals created friction and sometimes conflict.

I recall well the case of one of my brother’s friends, Ko Win Myint, who broke off his final year of study at the Government Technical Institute and took up a new life in the jungles of Karen State.

Like many of his friends, Ko Win Myint earned pocket money working in the lucrative logging business, which was controlled by the 20th battalion of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

Life in the jungle proved too difficult for Ko Win Myint, who told friends that when he had saved enough money he would return home.

News of his intentions reached the KNLA battalion leadership, which looked with concern at student movements that could compromise security.

Ko Win Myint disappeared and it has never been established what happened to him. While the mystery may never be cleared up, the issue of most concern is the manner in which we all reacted to it.

Did we hope for the best in each other? Did we acknowledge the trials and tribulations we all faced? I think perhaps at times, we let the stress, our fears and panic get the better of us. We doubted each other and mistrusted those we called "friends."

For many students fleeing to KNU territory, the jungle and the Karen way of life was a challenge.

Expectations, often unshared ideals and a lack of preparation combined to make it especially difficult.

The contrast between the Karen villagers and the fleeing Burmese students was vast and striking. As unprepared as the Karens were at that time, the Burmese students, mostly city-dwellers, were equally unprepared to meet their native brothers who looked different and who did not even speak Burmese.

The government preached a united Burma, a Pyidaungsu, or “Union.” Yet, in reality, life was vastly different from the image painted by the regime.

Naïve stereotypes persisted on both sides. Burmese students thought the Karen were savages who did not understand the customs of hospitality and fled before them.

They did not realize that the only previous people who spoke the Burmese language loudly and entered these villages had always been members of the Burmese armed forces, the Tatmadaw. And every time the Burmese soldiers came, they destroyed villages, killing and pillaging. Little wonder that the Karen fled whenever Burmese visitors called.

In one essay in The Irrawaddy, the author—one of the highest ranking members of the ABSDF leadership—recalled the failure of the judiciary system within the KNU, which he termed “Karen style justice.”

Never in my student days in Burma, nor from my parents who were both educated in Burma, have I heard of or used the term “Burmese/Burman style justice.” We did not understand many things about the persecution of ethnic groups in Burma, but we understood that it was not “Burmese/Burman style justice.”

The ABSDF, in many regards, holds a unique position as a grass-roots organization that could potentially ease the tension between the Burmese/Burman and the Karen villagers.

If anybody should be sympathetic to the plight of Karen villagers, it is the ABSDF. If anybody should understand the ethnic tension a little better than city-based political parties, it is the ABSDF.

The time spent by ABSDF members among Karen villagers has created the opportunity for this organization to become an agent of peace and reconciliation—between the Karen and Burmans, but also perhaps within the country as a whole.

Mitigating the concerns of the Karens and the Burmans, reconciliation and co-existence are precisely the elusive goal and vision for a united Burma, which has hitherto existed only as a dream.

The military regime has opted for the imposition of a fantasy, unrelated to the reality of life and perpetuated through hatred, mistrust and fear.

As I look back at our movement, at the trials and joys that we have shared, I must ask myself: what course will be adopted by the ABSDF—or, for that matter, any Burmese political organization?

Will the organizations recognize the accomplishments, camaraderie and many successes we have shared? Will they commit themselves unconditionally to the dream of a united Burma? Will they work for this dream, despite the fears, challenges and hurts we all have encountered? Or, will they continue to operate merely as a network of hatred?

When some former ABSDF members despondently complained that the ethnic minorities “were not fighting for democracy,” I wondered what the Burmese/Burman political leadership means when it talks about democracy.

If wanting to elect leaders to represent you, if demanding equality and fair representation is not democracy, then what is?

My Burmese/Burman counterparts like to portray ethnic minorities as “narrow-minded nationalists.” However, more often than not, they demonstrate their limited view of democracy, which is narrowly defined to fit Burmese understanding.

The Burmese/Burman political leadership has long been preaching national unity and coexistence, but it has not been sufficiently putting these concepts into practice.

The people of Burma, especially my generation, grew up in a bogus Union that emerged from the 1947 Constitution. Looking now at the 2008 Constitution, the Union we dream of does not appear in the slightest form.

For a country as divided as Burma, a peaceful coexistence must be voluntary. For this to happen, every single citizen at every level plays an important role.

With this in mind, I respectfully call for a more political sensitivity on the part of all my Burmese/Burman counterparts who are active in a movement for change. Accepting and embracing this challenging task will be a significant first step toward the genuine reconciliation and reunification we all dream of. That hold the promise of an exciting future, one that I am committed to working for.

Naw May Oo is a doctoral student at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, writing her dissertation on constitutional design and federalism for post conflict states with a concentration on Burma.


February 10, 2010

Talks on Burma at the University of Maryland


I just want to share with you about a special talks on Burma at University of Maryland - College Park, where I work. Those of you who live in the area can join and take part in discussion. It is open to the public, though mainly students from the School of Public Policy will attend.

Come join if you have time.

Saw Kapi

Subject : Beyond the Classroom presents "
When : Tuesday, February 16, 2010 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Where : 1103 BioScience Research Building
Event Type(s) : Seminar

How do we understand the possibilities for promoting change in Burma today?
Burma is ruled by a military-led government that refused to recognize the landslide electoral victory of the National League for Democracy in 1990. Aung San Suu Kyi, who led Burma's pro-democracy movement and received the Noble Peace Prize for her efforts, has been detained by the government for 14 of the last 20 years. In 2007, Buddhist monks led nonviolent demonstrations, known as the "Saffron Revolution," to protest the government's policies that led to a military crackdown. What are key insiders trying to do to promote political reform in Burma? What is the international community doing to support human rights and change in Burma? With new parliamentary elections expected to be held later this year, what steps are necessary to ensure that meaningful political change occurs in Burma? Ian Holliday is Dean of Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science at The University of Hong Kong.


For more information, contact:
Dr. James V. Riker
Beyond the Classroom Living & Learning Program
+1 301 314 6622

February 05, 2010

ပညာတင့္မွ အမ်ိဳးတင့္မည္

ပညာတင့္မွ အမ်ိဳးတင့္မည္

ဲဒီေဆာင္းပါးတိုကိုသေဘာက်တဲ့အတြက္ စာေရးသူေစာကေညာ ရဲ ့ ေစာလင္းနက္စ္ blog မွကူးယူထားျခင္းျဖစ္ေၾကာင္း အသိေပးလိုပါတယ္ .... (ေစာကပီ)

ျမန္မာ ပုဆိုးဝတ္တာ ကုလားအေမြလို႕ ေဒါက္တာသန္းထြန္း က ေျပာလို႕သိရတယ္။ အဲ့ဒီေတာ့ ကရင္ေတြကသေဘာက်တယ္ ကုလားအေမြ ခိုးထားတဲ့ေကာင္ေတြပါကြာဆိုျပီး ဟားတိုက္ၾကတယ္ေလ၊ သိပ္ျပီးလဲသေဘာမက်ၾကနဲ႕ ကိုယ့္လူတို႕ေရ ... ကရင္ပုဆိုးဝတ္တာကေရာ ကုလားအေမြလား ျမန္မာေတြ ဆီကေန အတုျမင္အတတ္သင္လား ဘယ္သူ႕အေမြလဲ၊ ဒီလိုေမးရင္ေတာ့ စိတ္မဆိုးနဲ႕ေနာ္ ဘာလို႕လဲဆိုေတာ့ ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႕ ကရင္သမိုင္းကို ဒီေလာက္ထိလိုက္တဲ့ ကရင္လူမ်ဳိးဘာလို႕မရွိေသးတာလဲ။ ျမန္မာလူမ်ဳိးေတြက ျမန္မာသမိုင္းကို ပုဆိုးဝတ္တာက အစ လိုက္ႏိုင္ၾကျပီ။ ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႕ ဘယ္ကေနဆင္းသက္လာလဲဆိုတာ အခုထိ တစ္ေယာက္တစ္ေပါက္ ျဖစ္ေနတုန္းဘဲ။

တစ္ေယာက္က ဗာဗူလံု ျမိဳ႕ကလို႕ေျပာလိုေျပာ၊ ဂ်ဴးလူမ်ဳိး (၁၂) မ်ဳိးထဲက အကိုအၾကီးဆံုး အမ်ဳိး ရူဘင္မ်ဳိးလို႕ေျပာလိုေျပာ၊ ေနာက္က်ေတာ့လဲ အေရွ႕အလယ္ပိုင္းကလိုလို အီဂ်စ္ကလိုလိုနဲ႕ ေနာက္ဆံုးေတာ့ တိဘက္ကိုျဖတ္ တရုတ္ကိုေက်ာ္ျပီးျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံထဲ ေရာက္လာခဲ့ၾကတယ္လို႕ဘဲ ဂိတ္ဆံုးသြားေရာ။ ဒီၾကားထဲ တခ်ဳိ႕က ထိုင္းဘက္ကပါတ္ဝင္တာတို႕ အိႏိၵယဘက္က ပါတ္ဝင္တာတို႕က ရွိေသးတယ္။ ဦးပညာေရးထားတဲ့ ကရင္ရာဇဝင္ဆိုက်ေတာ့လဲ ျဗမၼာၾကီး ေလးဦးကေန အစခ်ည္လိုက္တာကို ဖတ္ရေတာ့ စိတ္ပါညစ္သြားတယ္။ ျမန္မာေတြလဲ ဘယ္ကဆင္းလာသလဲ ဆိုတာကို အတိအက်မသိသလို႕ ကရင္ေတြ လည္းဘယ္ကဆင္းလာသလဲဆိုတာ အတိအက်မသိပါဘူး။

ဒါေပမဲ့ ျမန္မာအစ တေကာင္းက (ျမန္မာသမိုင္းအေျခခံမူလတန္းတြင္သင္ခဲ့ရသည္) လို႕ အယူအလြဲမ်ဳိးကို ကရင္ေတြ လဲမျဖစ္ဖို႕ အေရးၾကီးပါတယ္။ ေတာ္ေတာ္ၾကာ ကရင္အစ တိဘက္ကျဖစ္ေနဦးမယ္ ႏိုင္ငံေတာ္အလံျခင္းကလဲ ခပ္တူတူ လူပံုျခင္းကလဲ ခပ္ဆင္ဆင္ ျဖစ္ေနတာကိုး။ ဒါေတြကေတာ့ မတုိးတက္ေသးတဲ့ေခတ္မွာျဖစ္ခဲ့ျပီးျပီ အခု တိုးတက္တဲ့ ေခတ္ IT ေခတ္ကိုေရာက္ေနျပီ ကရင္ေတြ မၾကိဳးစားၾကေသဘူး။ လက္ရွိ ထက္မ်က္ထြန္းေပါက္တဲ့ကရင္ေတြ ရွိပါတယ္ ဒါေပမဲ့ လက္ခ်ဳိးေရလို႕ရတယ္။ ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႕ကရင္လူငယ္ေတြ အေပ်ာ္အပါ အေသာက္အစားနဲ႕ ဘဲ အခ်ိန္ကုန္ေနၾကတယ္။ အထူသျဖင့္ ကရင္လူမ်ဳိးေတြမွာ ေျပာစမတ္ျဖစ္ေနတာ အရက္ပါ။ လံုးဝမေသာက္နဲ႕ လို႕ မေျပာလိုပါ ေသာက္တတ္ရင္ေသာက္ပါ ဘဝပ်က္တဲ့အထိေတာ့ မေသာက္သင့္ဘူး။ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံမွာ ရွိေနတဲ့ ကရင္လူမ်ဳိးအမ်ားစုဟာ ဖိႏွိပ္ခံ လူတန္းစားဘဝမွာ ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႕လူမ်ဳိးေတြ ၾကိဳးစားျပီး ထိုးေဖာက္ရမဲ့အစား မၾကိဳးစားဘူး။

ျမန္မာေတြ အႏိုင္က်င့္တယ္ မတရားဘူးဘဲေအာ္ေနတယ္။ ေရွ႕ဆက္အႏို္င္မက်င့္ခံရေအာင္ ငါတို႕ဘယ္လိုလုပ္မလဲ မစဥ္းစားဘူး။ အႏိုင္က်င့္တာ က်င့္ျခင္တိုင္းက်င့္လို႕မရပါဘူး ကိုယ္ကသူ႕အေပၚကဆို သူကိုယ့္ကို္ ဘယ္လိုအႏိုင္က်င့္မလဲ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံမွာ ရွိတဲ့ ဗမာလူဦးေရနဲ႕ ကရင္လူဦးေရ မကြာပါဘူး။ ဒါကို သူမ်ားအေပၚကိုေရာက္ေအာင္မၾကိဳးစားဘဲ ခပ္ေပါ့ေပါ့ဘဲေနေနၾကတယ္ လူၾကားေကာင္းေအာင္ငါတုိ႕ကရင္လူမ်ဳိးက ေရာက္ရဲ တင္းတိမ္တတ္တယ္ဆိုတဲ့စကားနဲ႕ ျပန္လည္တုန္႕ျပန္တတ္ၾကတယ္။ တကယ္ေတာ့ ဒါဟာ ခပ္ညံညံ အေတြးေတြပါ။ ပညာသင္ခြင့္ရေနတဲ့ ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႕ တေတြ ၾကိဳးစားရမယ္။ ဒါမွကိုယ့္လူမ်ဳိးဂုဏ္ကိုယ္ျပန္ျမင့္ႏိုင္မွာပါ။ျမန္မာစကားပံုတစ္ခုလို ပညာျမွင့္မွ အမ်ဳိးတင့္မည္ ဆိုတာမ်ဳိးေပါ့။ အခုေတာ့ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႕ လူမ်ဳိးအမ်ားစုဟာ ပညာမတတ္မဟုတ္ဘဲ ရိုးရိုး ေတာင္သူလယ္သမားဘဝကေန အခုထိ မတက္ႏိုင္ေသးပါဘူး၊ ဗမာ မင္းေတြ ႏွိပ္စက္လို႕ ထြက္ေျပးေနတဲ့ဘဝကေနအခုထိမလြတ္ႏိုင္ေသးပါဘူး။

အစၥေရး ကိုယ္ႏိုင္ငံကိုယ္ျပန္တည္ေထာင္သြားတာကို ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႕လူမ်ဳိးေတြ အတုယူသင့္တယ္။ ဘာလို႕ျပန္လည္တည္ေထာင္ႏိုင္လဲဆိုေတာ့ အဓိကအေၾကာင္းအရင္းကေတာ့ ပညာတတ္နဲ႕ လူခ်မ္းသာမ်ားလို႕ဘဲ။ ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႕လည္းကိုယ့္ႏိုင္ငံကိုယ္ျပန္လည္တည္ေထာင္ျခင္ရင္ေတာ့ ပညာတတ္နဲ႕လူခ်မ္းသာေတြ ကရင္လူမ်ဳိးထဲမွာမ်ားဖို႕လို႕ပါတယ္။ ခ်မ္းသာဖို႕ဆိုတာလဲ ပညာတတ္မွ ျဖစ္ႏို္င္မဲ့ အရာတခုပါ။ ပညာမတတ္ဘဲ သူေဌးျဖစ္တဲ့သူ ဆိုတာ မရွိပါဘူး။ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံမွာ လူဦးေရအမ်ားဆံုးတိုင္းရင္းသားက ကရင္ လူမ်ဳိးေတြပါ။ မြန္လူမ်ဳိးေတြကို ၾကည့္ပါ ကရင္ျပည္နယ္နဲ႕ ေဘးျခင္းကပ္မွာ ေနေပမဲ့လည္း ပညာတတ္ေတြ မြန္လူမ်ဳိးမွာမ်ားစြာကို ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႕ျမင့္ေတြႏိုင္ပါတယ္။ ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႕လူမ်ဳိးမွာ ပညာတတ္ေတြ အရမ္း ကိုနည္းလြန္းပါတယ္ ဒါဟာအင္မတန္ဝမ္းနည္းစရာပါ။

ဒါေၾကာင့္ကၽြန္ေတာ္တို႕ ဖိနွိပ္ခံ ဘဝေတြကေန ေဖာက္ထြက္ႏိုင္ဖို႕ တခုတည္းေသာ နည္းလမ္းက တျခားသူေတြထက္သာေအာင္ၾကိဳးစားဖို႕ နည္းလမ္းတစ္ခုတည္းသာ ရွိပါေတာ့သည္။

စာေရးသူေစာကေညာ ရဲ ့ ေစာလင္းနက္စ္ blog မွကူးယူထားျခင္းျဖစ္ပါသည္....

February 02, 2010

A Tribute to My Mentor

Naw Louisa Benson Craig: A tribute to my mentor

It was in 1994 when I first met Aunty Louisa in Los Angeles at a Burma campaign event. She was surprised to see me with Karen dress at a political event in LA. Soon after that meeting, she made an arrangement for me to work with the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma in its Washington, DC office.

A year later, we met again in Bakersfield, California, when Gen. Bo Mya visited the United States. Then, at Mae Tha Raw Hta Ethnic Nationalities Seminar. Every time we meet with Karen leaders, she took every opportunity available to introduce young blood to the KNU leadership. She has a big heart for the Karen people.

A long time supporter of Karen resistance movement, a former Miss Burma, and a tireless campaigner for the rights of Burma's ethnic nationalities, Naw Louisa Benson Criag passed away on February 2, 2010 in California. She is my foremost political mentor. I am sorry that I did not have a chance to say "thanks" to her in person before she leaves this world.

Saw Kapi

December 16, 2009

I wish you a Happy Karen New Year

KAREN NEW YEAR 2749: New Year in a New Place and a New Phase of Life

Please accept my best wishes for the New Year. This is a season when we, the Karen people, should take stock of our past, while we also plan for the future. Like many other nations in the world, we need to constantly assess our heritage while moving forward in a new environment, and often in a new country. One of the great symbols of our people's heritage is the collective celebration of our Karen New Year day.

The recognition of Karen New Year Day implies, at least indirectly, that the Karen people of Burma are one of the earliest settlers to the land. In their deliberation on determining Karen Era, Karen leaders decided to start counting the chronology from the time Karen people completed their second phase of migration to the land now known as Burma, BC 739.

The Karen New Year celebrations in some ways are expressions of collectivism among the different tribes of Karen people, because it is recognized and celebrated by all Karens (Sqaw, East Pwo and West Pwo) regardless of their creeds and linguistic affiliation. Of the many holidays that the Karen people celebrate annually, only the New Year celebration brings together Karens of all different backgrounds.

Fifteen years ago who would have imagined that we would be celebrating Karen New Year in such place as Omaha (NE), St. Paul (MN), Utica (NY) and Philadelphia (PA)? Although there were some Karens residing in the United Sates at that time, the number of Karen living abroad was not significant enough to establish a strong sense of community. But this situation has changed almost entirely within the last decade. Thousands of Karens, young and old, have left their homeland and immigrated to several countries in Asia, Europe and continental America. Consequently, Karen community organizations – religious, social or otherwise – are mushrooming in many countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Canada, England and the United States of America. Speaking from a historical perspective, this emigration (or forced emigration, depending on how you look at it) of Karen people to different parts of the world is the biggest and most significant since the time they left Mongolia in B.C. 2017 and made their way eastwards to Yunnan and eventually migrated to today's Burma in BC 739.

In general, resettling in a third country resolves immediate security issue we have to face at the Thai-Burma border: many of us are able to escape from fear, especially of attacks, persecution and abuses by the Burmese military. Not only are we able to escape from the confinement of small makeshift camps, but we are be able to develop a new sense of permanent residence in the new, respective host countries. And, if carefully pursued, there are greater economic and educational opportunities we can pursue in the country we are in today.

I look back 16 years and recall the day my family and I arrived at the San Francisco International Airport as refugees from Burma. I can only tell you that, in this country, you can achieve almost anything you aim to achieve if you work hard and stay focused toward your goal. And, have no doubt that education, especially higher education, will be a ticket to your success, career or otherwise.

Since the founding of the United States, refugees from every continent have settled in this country of immigrants. In the early years, immigrants came largely from the British Isles and Northern and Southern Europe. Just like most Karen refugees today, some early immigrants also came as forced immigrants—indentured servants from Europe, enslaved peoples from Africa, and contract laborers from China and Japan.

Some of the most successful people – such as Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright – were themselves refugees at one time, who immigrated to the U.S. because of political persecution in their own countries. One thing all these successful people have in common is that they all seek education and make it their number one priority despite of enormous challenges they had to face in their new country.

It is undeniable that resettling in the United States gives us an unprecedented access to economic and educational opportunities that we would not get otherwise. It may be quite struggling at the beginning for some of us with no foundational language skill or basic education. It is not unusual that many of you may not be able to start pursuing education during your first year. But if properly planned, those of us with some form of formal education background may continue to pursue your education in this country. In the United States, after one year of arrival, those of you – 18 years of age or above, who have finished high school in our homeland – may be able to start our schooling at a local community college. It may be difficult to attend college full time while supporting yourself or your family, but certainly, it will be a good idea to pursue a part time education, while working full time. We in exile should take advantage of our position and help raise the profile of our people's struggle. In order to do that, young Karens in exile should explore laws, international relations, political science, etc. Through education we can be prepared to face the challenges our people face in the 21st century. A good Karen lawyer, for example, can present the case of genocide against Karen people before the International Criminal Court. We can also seek formal education and obtain professional skills, such as computer science, law, business administration, economics, accounting, and etc. and help their own people in the areas that we are skilled and knowledgeable. At the very least, we can work hard, save money, and remit a portion of what we earn to the needy Karen IDPs, families of Karen soldiers, or refugees. Most Karens are already doing this, I believe. While each individual effort cannot be underestimated, Karens in exile can be more effective by making a collective effort to organize fundraising campaigns and developing a systematic distribution mechanism with accountability.

To date, according to the Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) in Bangkok, approximately 12, 800 Karen refugees have been resettled in the different cities in the U.S, with some notable concentrations in Utica (New York), St. Paul (Minnesota) and Chapel Hill (North Carolina). Several thousands more are also scattered in countries such as Australia, Canada, Norway and Sweden.

The changing political and demographic conditions dictate that when we talk about Karen identity and Karen national progress, it cannot be narrowly confined within the scope of one ideological assembly, one geographic area, one religion or one linguistic group. It is critical that we construct the broadest possible Karen identity that is capable of accommodating multiple ideas, diverse backgrounds and a variety of cultural characteristics.

In the end, our given history compels us to tread on the path of this unfinished struggle – a struggle for national coherence and advancement. It is critically necessary that we continue on with a sense of pragmatism and far-sighted vision. The future of Karen people will be much brighter if we can avoid dwelling in our own feeling of insecurity, but focus on achieving excellence in seeking knowledge and developing our expertise.

It is time for us to embrace the kind of national consciousness that encourages Karen people to think, to reason, to question, to learn, to compete, to cooperate and to be creative in this increasingly interconnected world. The world we live in is a competitive world. The economy we are compelled to be a part of is a knowledge-based economy. It is in these contexts that, I believe, we must seek to develop and adopt a true, meaningful and peaceful existence in this New Year and many years to come.

May this New Year bring you new ideas, new perspectives and new vision that would lead you to see peace in our homeland and the world around you! Mar-nay Aw-keh Buh-duh Buh-dah!

Saw Kapi
December 16, 2009

May 11, 2008

Mother's Day Reflections

Happy Mother's Day: Reflections
Saw Kapi

Mother, you told us to practice equality and justice, and that such practice should start at home. From you, we learn that words such as "equality" and "justice" are not merely principles that we can cherish but must practice in dealing with one another. You provide each of us equally with what we need according to what was available at the time. You encouraged us to seek education so that we can better understand the world around us and broaden our perspectives. When we all have grown up, you reminded us that notwithstanding the level of education we have, we must not lose our common sense in every little or big thing that we do. For it is the foundation on which we will build our characters.

The greatest teaching, among the many that you have taught us, perhaps, is the importance of speaking our own language – Karen – at home. You were unyielding in your effort to compel us to speak Karen at home although, at the same time, you encouraged us to read Burmese literatures, both classical and contemporary. From you, we learn that the collective identity of a people depends largely upon her collective ability to use, maintain and develop her language, and that such collective endeavor must begin with persistent effort of each individual (family) at home.

To this end, you are an inspiring mother and also a passionate teacher, who has shown us not only how to be practically patriotic but how to live a life that is positively useful to people around us.

March 22, 2008

Change in Burma?

Change in Burma?
by Naw May Oo March 13, 2008

Editor: John Feffer
Foreign Policy In Focus

The Burmese government has recently announced a number of political changes that have caught the attention of the international community. It has announced that a new constitution will soon be completed in time for a nation-wide referendum in May. More dramatically, the government has announced that “it is now time to change from military rule to a people's democracy. There will be a multi-party general election in 2010 under the new constitution."

Opposition groups inside and outside of the country have largely rejected the regime's announcement as business as usual. The government presents itself as a regime that plays by the rules (even if it creates the rules) and believes it has no reason to compromise with the opposition. The opposition, meanwhile, is caught uneasily between rejecting the government’s rules and pushing for a different rule-based political and economic system.
Notwithstanding the Burmese government's poor track record, its recent statement should not be summarily dismissed. The government is preparing for change. This change may not necessarily be good, and it may not be positive. But something is happening inside Burma, and both the international community and the Burmese opposition must come up with a response.

Is It Reform?
It is easier to evaluate what the Burmese government’s proposed constitution would not look like than what it likely would contain. The three greatest necessities for Burma now are: power-sharing among distinct groups, decentralization, and the separation of powers. But these are precisely the three things that the Burmese government has made clear will not be in the constitution.

Power sharing is important, but more important is how this power is to be shared. Burma’s ethnic nationalities, with their specific cultural traditions including distinct languages, have historically been independent peoples. Over time, they have adopted systems that suit their cultures and traditions. If these peoples are to live in a country called the “Union of Myanmar,” there must be a realistic recognition of their autonomous status and their right to take part in the affairs of the state as equal participants.

The principles laid down by the National Convention and represented in the government’s current constitutional draft continue to perpetuate a tried and failed federal system. Any new constitution must grant the seven member units of the “Union of Myanmar” equal status. Also, these units – and any other self-administered areas – should be responsible for the selection of representatives for the upper house of the legislative body. This upper house should also have sufficient independence to represent the interests of ethnic nationalities. Otherwise, such a union will be unworkable. Unfortunately, the government does not seem interested in establishing a true federal system or investing real authority in the legislature.

Decentralization is also important to any peaceful and lasting state structure in Burma. However, the government has rejected the idea that member states of the union can have constitutions of their own. On the contrary, the government has ensured that members of the “State Executive and Judicial Departments” will be responsible to the “Union President” and not to the citizens of the state. This approach to the establishment of a “Union of Myanmar” promises only more conflicts between the ruling ethnic group and the other ethnic nationalities who are determined to exercise their right to govern themselves.

The government’s choice to go with a presidential system seems appropriate given the situation in Burma where respect for and recognition of diversity must be balanced with a vital need for unity. Ideally, the president of the union should be someone who can bring the nation together regardless of ethnic or religious background. For that, the president of the union should be someone who would feel accountable to the whole society. And presidential power must be contained by checks and balances to ensure accountability. However, the Burmese government has crafted a constitution in which the legislature would not be able to balance the power of the president and the president would be able to dominate the judiciary.

Perhaps most importantly, the role of the armed forces – the Tatmadaw – in the constitution is a major concern to many people in and outside of Burma. The government appears to understand that a country is best governed by a civilian government elected by the will of the people and that the role of the armed forces should only be to protect the country from foreign enemies. The dignity of the Tamadaw would be best preserved if it is entirely removed from governmental affairs. However, in the government’s current constitutional draft the Tatmadaw will not only have substantial power in the legislature but will also have complete control over matters such as security, defense, border affairs, and the Tatmadaw itself. This does not look like a civilian government.

The Burmese government’s approach – which involves the National Convention, the constitutional drafting, a referendum, and elections in 2010 – does not seem to promise the people of Burma the future they have long been anticipating, which is a genuinely peaceful union. And peace requires participation. People cannot be forced into a democracy not of their own making. The people of Burma will not participate as long as they are under attack, militarily and otherwise. They cannot participate in a transition if they remain as refugees in Thailand. A democratic transition cannot proceed as long as there is a war against Burma’s minorities.

Responding to the Government
At this stage, there are at least two possible responses to the government approach: a political response inside the country and a humanitarian response from outside.

Inside the country, the opposition has to come up to speed on key political questions such as democratic structure (federalism, constitutionalism) and economic reform. Being simply an opposition movement will no longer be sufficient. Also, debates about conflicting ideas should be encouraged between the government and the opposition as well as among diverse groups of the opposition.

With respect to the humanitarian crisis in and around Burma, speed is of the essence. Humanitarian responses should also correspond with the political response. Specific issues such as the ever-increasing number of refugees, internally displaced persons, and illegal migrant workers on the one hand, and the dangerously deteriorating state of education and public health on the other hand, should be discussed as immediate matters of public concern. All parties involved should ensure that humanitarian issues are not brought up merely to discredit the Burmese government but rather to benefit the entire nation.

It is important that any analysis addresses both the political process and the humanitarian crisis. An either-or approach is divisive. The conflict between opposition groups and the Burmese government is not merely political. There must be talks about a nation-wide ceasefire and systematic and gradual withdrawals of government troops from the respective states of ethnic minorities so that civilians can go back to their villages and go about their lives. There must be discussions about clearing landmines if villagers are to go back to their villages in current war zones. All these issues should be addressed in detail. If the discussion or negotiation stalls, the talks must persevere. But all parties at least have to try both approaches with open-mindedness, and again, a sense of cooperation.

Naw May Oo, a former Karen refugee from Burma, is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus ( She is currently working on a Ph.D in law and social science at Indiana University School of Law and is a fellow at the Center for Constitutional Democracy in Plural Societies (CCDPS).

February 14, 2008

P'doh Mahn Sha: the man I know

P’doh Mahn Sha: the Man I know

Naw May Oo

Minutes after the assassins killed P’doh Mahn Sha, the news reached me from across ocean. First, I was frightened. It was almost 5 o’clock in the morning and I would wake up anyway around the same time. Half of me was wishing it was not true. The other half was thoroughly numbed. I could not react anymore than that for two hours. Then, I broke my own silence. In between, I got calls from people in Australia and Thailand. I handled the calls quite well. But, what’s wrong with breaking down for the loss of a loved one? I don’t know what to do. I don’t really want to talk to people either. I think of Nant Bwa, Nant Zoya, and Poe Bala. I think of their mother who has already passed away. I think of our people. I think of our Revolution. I think of all our leaders. What more do we have to lose?

I am sure there will be many who can give testimonies as to the leadership Tee Mahn Sha provided for and within KNU. Although he is not without criticism, he was undeniably an exceptional leader. He stood out among many leaders and was noticed by all – ordinary civilians, our soldiers, students, and youth. His remarkable determination was one among the many fine qualities he displayed.

My very first encounter with Tee Mahn Sha was through correspondence, a letter that I wrote, titled the voice of the people. It was soon after the fall of Marnerplaw. The cries of the Karen people were still loud and fresh after having left their stronghold, the pride of all Karens, the headquarters of the movement against Burma’s ruthless military regime. In that letter, I cut and pasted pieces of letters from various Karen people I received from Karen State and refugee camps in Thailand. I told him I wanted him to know what many Karen people were feeling and thinking at the time. He welcomed my letter and we became friends. Aside from being a national leader, the leader of the Karen people, he was my personal pedagogical figure, who shared with me a fatherly love, and never found it difficult to not see me beyond being his “daughter” in the Revolution. He named me Nant Tsan Bwa, because I already had a name that represents fire, he said. He thought I was born to be a politician and he believed politics was in my blood. With delight, he added that he wanted me to be a revolutionary as well. When I told him I studied speech communications at the university, he was amused. He laughed and asked, “Do people really teach speech in university?”

When I went back after my graduation, he took me into his office with one of his staff members and talked to me. He said he wanted his staff to be in the meeting so that I would take it as a serious matter as opposed to our usual and casual conversations. He told me how he made decision to join the Karen Revolution after his graduation from college and how he did not turn back. I respected him and his decision, without a doubt. But, I told him that I had to disagree with him for having the same expectation of me. He was not very happy, but he decided not to say more on that. At the same meeting, he told me how he accepted any responsibility bestowed upon him by the leaders and the Revolution. He demonstrated this recognition to all of us who knew him. But, I told him that I could not promise him that I would be able to do the same, because there maybe responsibilities for which I have neither training nor expertise. I knew he did not enjoy my excuses very much. I did not remember how our meeting actually ended. But, I learned a few things about the man, my leader.

I don’t remember when and how we became very close, but he certainly was someone with whom I felt most comfortable among all the leaders in KNU. Internal politics led some people to come up with jokes like “the Uncle and the niece,” referring to me and Tee Mahn Sha. When some people would express their dissatisfaction toward him, they would say to me, with an expression on their faces, “Your Uncle.” It became apparent to some people that I was the protégé of P’doh Mahn Sha, something I proudly accepted. Everyone did not necessarily take it in stride. And since, I noticed he was somewhat a controversial figure.

At the end of 1999, I went back to work with the women’s organizations in order to prepare the first shadow report to be presented to the UN experts committees on CEDAW, in parallel with the SPDC’s first country report. At the time, the KNU was also to hold its 11th congress. Tee Mahn Sha invited me to take part. Naturally, the KNU Congress participants were representatives from the seven constituent districts, departments’ officials, and some independent persons with whom the KNU works or somehow relates to. Tee Mahn Sha wanted it to be my entry into the organization in which he wanted me to work, although he never explicitly told me so.

Whenever I went back to Mae Sot, people could usually find me in two places – one at Tee Mahn Sha’s place (the Office of General Secretary) and the other at the KSNG office. I picked up messages from both places every time I returned. He ran the office with an iron fist. I broke the rules quite a few times. I could disappear for days with the motorbike and he expected it. If needed, he knew he could always find me at the KSNG office. I enjoyed having meals with him very much, because we shared similar tastes for food – no greasy or oily cooking, only grilled or boiled, with chili paste, and a bowl of greens. I would like to call him a friend of the earth. He loved growing plants – flowers, trees, and vegetables. He mastered bamboos, incomparably. Give him a nice, fat, and mature bamboo and in return you can expect incredibly beautiful set of furniture – tea-table or chairs.

P’doh Mahn Sha was a well-read revolutionary leader, too. One year I went back, he told me a story of the old man and the sea, a novel by Hemingway. I also had read the novel, so we both could discuss about it. He was telling it to me in the context of his children who were all away in schools. He concluded at the end, “May Oo, I don’t know how much of the fish will be left for me at the end, but I am still struggling with faith.” I don’t think I responded with anything, because I was also having a guilty conscience at the time as I was also in graduate school.

There had been so many personal encounters that are all memorable. I do not want to be saying the same things about him that many people will be talking about at this time. I came to know this man from a very unique angle and had a very unique relationship with him until his last moments. I had learned so much from him in many different ways. I did not get to work with him so long, but during the years I got to know him, he demonstrated his inner strengths to me.

Naturally, we did not agree on many things. When one of the KNU officials was dismissed by the organization, I talked to him and he said he was sad to do it, but he followed the constitution of the KNU. I told him I disagreed with his reason and that if I were him, I would change the constitution instead for that particular case. A few years later, he was one of the key decision makers to dismiss me and my brother from the organization. I never attempted to talk to him about why, although I was curious, and I was sure that he would have his own justified reasons. I felt that he was being unfair and I thought I would talk to him someday about it as I always talked to him before. Last summer when I went back, I paid him a visit, as usual. He made hot tea for me and before I left, he gave me a small pack of tea, all as usual.

The news this morning woke me up from my sleep. I realize that I still have conversations to be continued with P’doh Mahn Sha, the man who had held the banner of the Karen Revolution so firmly, the man with whom I had yet to make peace. He was undoubtedly a great leader, an able leader, and a willful man with unbreakable determination. Notwithstanding our ideological disagreements, I still believe that he was truly one of our great national leaders.

I absolutely condemn this act of assassination - plotted, directed, and carried out by any individual or group. There is zero tolerance for this act and all acts alike against our leaders, and I am committed to pursue justice for the victim of this outrageous act, whenever and wherever circumstances permit.

In the footsteps of a fallen Karen Revolutionary,
Naw May Oo (Nant Tsan Bwa)
Indiana University School of Law

November 20, 2007

Parallel Editing in Burma

Parallel Editing in Burma
May Oo | November 18, 2007

Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco
Foreign Policy In Focus

Recent and ongoing developments in Burma call for parallel editing—the filmmaking technique of running two scenes concurrently to suggest that they are happening at the same time while ratcheting up suspense.

On the one hand, the tough military regime is seemingly committing itself to talks with its longtime antagonist Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD), breaking the deadlock between the ruling regime and the leading opposition party. On the other hand, the governing State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has reportedly increased the number of its troops stationed in areas mainly occupied by members of ethnic minorities such as the Karen and Karenni people. Military activities are increasing along with the number of the troops in the region.

But Burma isn't a film in the making. It's a country suffering an unacknowledged civil war, a clandestine conflict, and a sad reality that can't be hidden away.

Rice Harvest Attack

The increasing numbers of troops in the mainly Karen and Karenni people areas are causing displacement, deaths, and starvation as the regime forcibly relocates minority villages to areas under tighter control. For example, on November 6, the SPDC troops (Military Operations Command 1 and Division 88) repeatedly shelled the rice fields in the Yeh Mu Plaw area in the Northern Karen State.

The Free Burma Rangers, a relief organization, reports that there are over 1,000 internally displaced persons due to these attacks, which were meant to disrupt the rice harvest. The two units began attacking out of camps along the Kyauk Kyi-Hsaw Hta road on October 24. At least nine villagers were wounded and two killed in these attacks against villagers trying to harvest their rice.

The relief organization's report further notes that 64 rice fields were being blocked and controlled by the SPDC troops. North of the Thay Loh Klo River, a tributary of the Yunzalin River, troops were firing mortar rounds into the surrounding rice fields to keep villagers away. The Free Burma Rangers say these attacks are the most recent phase of an offensive, which began last year and has displaced over 30,000 people and killed over 370 villagers in Northern Karen State.

Sign of Change

None of the activities mentioned are new. But they should dampen any excitement over the developments in and around Rangoon. For those who anticipate fruitful dialogues and therefore positive developments, it's imperative to keep looking at what's happening within Burma, not just official and international talks.

Together with the people of Burma, the international community has grown dismayed about a country with such great potential and its silently suffering people. Understandably, any move that takes place in the midst of Burma's long deadlock serves as a sign of progress, or at least a sign of change.

According to a recent telephone interview with the NLD spokesperson Myint Thein, it looks like Aung San Suu Kyi will soon be released. As widely reported, she was recently permitted to meet with her party's leaders for the first time in three years. During the meeting, according to another party spokesperson named U Lwin, Aung San Suu Kyi reported to her party leaders that she has agreed to cooperate with the ruling junta to explore a possible dialogue process in consideration of ethnic nationalities, presumably the non-Burmans. So far so good. Aung San Suu Kyi now believes "the ruling authorities have the will for national reconciliation," as the Los Angeles Times reported. She and her party leaders will have to convince the country that this is indeed true.

Positive Steps

Since the crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators, including monks, the Burmese regime has convincingly demonstrated its commitment for change in the country. First, it welcomed United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari. Not only did Gambari get to meet with General Than Shwe, he also got to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the opposition. He was allowed to make his second visit rather successfully, even at the disbelief of the United States. A liaison, Aung Kyi, was appointed by the regime to deal with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Political prisoners, including members of NLD, have been released almost continuously. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN's human rights envoy, has been welcomed back to visit Burma. Undoubtedly, the regime should certainly be encouraged and supported for these developments. Nevertheless, there's another side of the story which still significantly represents Burma, only in parallel actions.

The Other Side

Any attempt either to ignore the other side of the Burma story or to sway away the world's attention from the killings, displacements, and miseries suffered by the ethnic minorities beyond description in the clandestine war zone would be absolutely counterproductive to every effort for national reconciliation made in Rangoon, Pyinmana, New York, Washington, or London. The current situation in Burma challenges all parties concerned. There seem to be few prospects for a large portion of the population as they flee for their lives even as the regime begins to regain trust from its longtime opponent, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

While the current political activities in and around Rangoon are by all means to be welcome by all hopeful people of Burma, for real progress to take root, the regime must halt all the military attacks against its citizens, particularly those in Karen and Karenni areas. Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD also must acknowledge it's fully aware of the ongoing military activities in the areas of ethnic minorities and their unspeakable suffering. Perhaps her opposition party can explain to the minorities how it will take every step possible with the aim to secure a nationwide ceasefire so that a genuine national reconciliation can also be entertained by the ethnic minorities.

There's no reason to believe that a nationwide ceasefire is impossible. An alliance of ethnic political parties has issued a statement welcoming Aung San Suu Kyi's willingness to cooperate with the junta in constructive dialogue. For the groups waging armed struggle against the Burmese regime, 58 years of armed conflict has not brought about the desired results. Therefore, it's crucial in their view that dialogue with the military is achieved. At the same time, these nationalities are well aware that a dialogue by itself will not bring about change. Many ethnic armies entered into ceasefires with the military starting from 1989 to find a political solution. To be sure, the ethnic armed groups need an alternate way to settle their grievances with a political solution instead of armed struggle.

Cautious and Critical

To be cautious and critical over any political move in Burma is a matter of expediency for the ethnic minorities, a hard-learned lesson from experience, but to support Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD at this point in time is irrefutably prudent for everyone, including ethnic minorities, struggling for peace and peaceful political settlements in Burma.

Of course the international community and the Burmese as well as non-Burmese around the world are challenged to understand the country's predicament in parallel editing. But it's both prudent and imperative not to miss the rare chance for genuinely positive change in this war-torn nation.

May Oo is a former Karen refugee from Burma, a graduate of San Francisco State University, and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus ( She is currently a Ph.D student in law and social science at Indiana University School of Law and a fellow at the Center for Constitutional Democracy in Plural Societies. Read more...

November 17, 2007

Blogs and Political Transformation

Blogs Transforming Politics, Business, Culture, Says Journalist
David Kline discusses how Web logs provide forum for "voice of the people"
By Sara Feuerstein
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- “Nothing I have witnessed is as potentially transformative of media and politics as the emergence of blogging — or rather, the emergence of the ‘voice of the people through blogging,’” says journalist David Kline, who recently participated in a State Department-hosted webchat.

Kline, a journalist, blogger, and author of the book blog! how the newest media revolution is changing politics, business, and culture, discussed the function of blogs in the political arena, how blogs fit in with mainstream news media, and the blogosphere’s evolution during a March 20-24 webchat.

Derived from the term “Web log,” blogs frequently are updated online journals where authors publish opinions and comments, and users can respond and interact with each other. Blogs exist for nearly every topic imaginable, from cooking to TV series, soccer to science. “I suppose you could say that whenever people are passionate about something—be it computers, sports or politics—that’s where you’ll find bloggers,” said Kline.


“My own theory is that political bloggers will make it more possible for previously unheard voices to be heard and attract an audience—and for streams of political opinion outside the traditional two-party [Republican and Democrat] rhetoric to gain a following” said Kline. Anyone with an Internet connection can maintain a blog, and the voices of ordinary people with something valuable to say are now being heard and having an impact, he added.

In addition to serving as vehicles for opinions and stirring rhetoric, “blogs are amazing ‘collective organizers’ … [that] can rally grassroots political activists, raise funds, mobilize people for common action” he said. Kline noted that U.S.-based blogs such as the liberal-leaning DailyKos and conservative-leaning Powerline have demonstrated tremendous skill at mobilizing like-minded people.

Although blogs wield the power to mobilize voters and activists, Kline believes Web logs have not yet been effective at reaching across the political divide. Political blogs, he said, tend to “preach to the choir,” spurring enthusiastic debate among those committed to firm ideological positions, but they remain unable to spark new, genuine dialog.

“I’d say that the influence of political blogs is still largely at the margins of power. Big money, big political party machines, still dominate. But as I noted before, they no longer have a total monopoly of power and influence. Political bloggers have upset the apple cart from time to time,” said Kline.


Blogs also have begun to “upset the apple cart” of media coverage and distribution, Kline said. Many have lost faith in the media’s fairness and dedication to the public interest and are turning to blogs as sources of information, analysis and truth. “The fact remains that no longer is public policy, news and information, and national and international discourse the exclusive domain of ‘professional editors, reporters, policymakers, and politicians,’” Kline said.

Conventional media such as newspapers, television news programs and weekly news magazines often quote the blogs that consistently offer credible facts and insightful commentary. Blogs now exert some influence over which stories national and world media choose to cover.

Even though blogs are gaining momentum, Kline said, blogging will complement and reshape mainstream media but never replace it. “In most cases, blogs cannot replace seasoned reporting by, for example, national security reporters with high-level contacts,” nor would they ever “acquire the trust and credibility” of major media, he said.


How are blogs evolving? According to Kline, 30 million blogs have been created. He believes that bloggers will sort themselves into three main categories: “Some bloggers will gain credibility equal to that enjoyed by mainstream journalists, and they will have to adhere to roughly similar codes of ethics. Others will be content to write passionately about their hobbies or interests, and will be viewed by their dedicated readers not as journalists, but as ‘experts’ in their chosen field. And then finally, of course, a great many bloggers will just spew a lot of hot air, and few will trust them or care what they say.”

Kline also hopes that blogs will bring people together and help them better to understand each other. “There is still a lot of ‘talking at’ rather than ‘communication with’ each other,” said Kline, who hopes that as blogging matures, it will foster “greater empathy and listening.”

Kline said he has high hopes for blogging’s future role in politics, media and the world. “This is not just pie-in-the-sky rhetoric,” he said. “I truly believe, as I say in my book, that blogging is helping to finally create the kind of world we were always taught was best—a world in which EVERYONE at last has a voice and a chance to have that voice heard…And that, to my mind, is real democracy.”

The transcript of this webchat and information about upcoming webchats are available on USINFO's Webchat Station. Kline’s biography is available on his blog, Read more...

November 11, 2007

Karens and their newspapers: A Historical View


Earliest Publications:

As a popular saying that goes, "the newspaper is the eyes and ears of a nation," the news media is of prime importance for the advancement of a nation. The progress of a nation can be measured in terms of the news organs owned and published by that nation.

The "SAH TU GAW" (Morning Star) newspaper was published in 1841 and it was the first of its kind in the annals of the history of Burma newspaper printed in Sgaw Karen and English and later in Sgaw Karen alone till the beginning of World War II as a monthly publication. There was a temporary closing down during the Japanese era. Within a few months after the British re-occupation of Burma, it was again published in Karen and Burmese. However, soon after Ne Win assumed power, the first and pioneering indigenous newspaper was forcefully closed down by the military regime.

In 1881 Dr. T. Than Bya and his colleagues formed the Karen National Association (KNA). In 1885 the "DAW KALU" newspaper in Karen and "FAIR PLAY" in English were published by the KNA. This news circulation stopped after the decease of Dr. T. Than Bya.

In 1915, Thra Kah Ser from Shwe Gyin, with the help of his colleagues published the "SAH TU HAH " (EVENING STAR) newspaper. This publication ceased in about the year 1925.

Karen Newspaper Before The Second World War:

(1) Thra G. A. Tudee published privately a Sgaw Karen monthly news periodical "THE SHEPHERD." It was handed over to the Karen Baptist Mission due to financial difficulties. This monthly flourished till the beginning of World War II.

(2) A weekly private newspaper published by Thra Hla Kyaw of Rangoon, the "RECORDER" was circulated until the beginning of the Second World War.

(3) The "CHILDREN'S FRIEND" the voice of Rangoon Karen Christian Endeavour Association was also a monthly news organ published by Thra Pan of Insein.

(4) The "TAW MEH PAH", a non-religious weekly news organ was published by Sir San C. Po of Bassein.

(5) The "KAREN MAGAZINE" was published by Thra San Ba. This was a monthly magazine with current news articles, stories, tit-bits of fun, cartoons, photographs, ancient Karen "HTA" verses and poetry.

(6) "THE BULLETIN" was published by the Insein Karen Seminary once in three months' time. This paper included articles on health and social welfare besides religion.

(7) "THE SUNRISE" was a monthly news periodical issued by the Toungoo Anglican
Church. This paper had news of national affairs, social welfare and religion.

(8) The "TAW HSOO NYA" (Advance Forward), later known as "Leh Hsoo Nya" (Go Forward) edited and published by S'ra Tun Aung (Father of Mahn James Tun Aung) was monthly news periodical in Pwo Karen.

Karen News Periodicals after World War II:

(1) The "ETHNIC PEOPLE'S JOURNAL" ( Taing Yin Tha ) was a monthly issue in Burmese with a stand against "Imperialism" and "Feudalism". This paper was edited by Mahn Win Maung who later became an instrument of the AFPFL and an opponent to the KNU and the Karen national cause.

(2) The "THU WUNNA TAING" (The Golden Land) was published in 1947. It was the voice of the KNU, the most famous publication that bravely stood against the Burmese Chauvinist policies and the AFPFL regime, which instituted a slander campaign against the Karen people. This newspaper had firmly rallied the Karens. The publication ceased due to the outbreak of the armed revolution by Karens.

(3) "GO FORWARD" a monthly news issue, first published by Thra Raleigh Dee of Insein and then later taken over by the Karen Baptist Mission is still in circulation.

(4) "OUR HOME" a monthly women's journal is supervised by Thramu Edith Pyu and is still in circulation. This journal contains domestic science, literature and health for women.

(5) "THE LIGHT" was published by a young Karen named Saw Lawder Dwe. Although this news organ had been outstanding for the Karen Youth, due to the one-sided support of Moosso Hunter Tha Hmwe it had been liquidated along with Moosso's clique by Ne Win's military regime.

(6) " THE KAREN VANGUARD JOURNAL " was supervised and published by a group of Karen Youths from the Rangoon University. This publication being a progressive and nationalist in character was liquidated when Ne Win's Military regime took over power.

Compiled from The KNU BULLETIN, No. 2 January 1986. Read more...

November 08, 2007

In Her Own Words

By The Associated Press Thu Nov 8, 4:13 PM ET

Following is the text of the statement by Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, released Thursday by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

"I wish to thank all those who have stood by my side all this time, both inside and outside my country. I am also grateful to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, for his unwavering support for the cause of national reconciliation, democracy and human rights in my country.
"I welcome the appointment on 8 October of Minister Aung Kyi as minister for relations. Our first meeting on 25 October was constructive and I look forward to further regular discussions. I expect that this phase of preliminary consultations will conclude soon so that a meaningful and timebound dialogue with the SPDC leadership can start as early as possible.

"In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the government in order to make this process of dialogue a success and welcome the necessary good offices role of the United Nations to help facilitate our efforts in this regard.

"In full awareness of the essential role of political parties in democratic societies, in deep appreciation of the sacrifices of the members of my party and in my position as General Secretary, I will be guided by the policies and wishes of the National League for Democracy. However, in this time of vital need for democratic solidarity and national unity, it is my duty to give constant and serious considerations to the interests and opinions of as broad a range of political organizations and forces as possible, in particular those of our ethnic nationality races.

"To that end, I am committed to pursue the path of dialogue constructively and invite the government and all relevant parties to join me in this spirit.

"I believe that stability, prosperity and democracy for my country, living at peace with itself and with full respect for human rights, offers the best prospect for my country to fully contribute to the development and stability of the region in close partnership with its neighbors and fellow ASEAN members, and to play a positive role as a respected member of the international community." Read more...

October 30, 2007

Plausible Dialogue in Burma

FPIF Commentary
Naw May Oo | October 23, 2007

Editor: John Feffer
Foreign Policy In Focus

Following the pro-democracy demonstrations led by Buddhist monks and the violent crackdowns in August and September by the Burmese junta (SPDC), Burma has made headlines in ways it has never before.

According to the latest news, the world should prepare for some kind of transition in Burma . The international community seems to have come to terms with one painful reality – the impossibility of completely eliminating the Burmese military from the equation. As U.S. envoy to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad put it, "The military, as a national institution, has its role to play in the transition and post-transition but it's very important that a serious dialogue on transition begins and that the international community, regional players, play their roles."

What seems missing from the current discourse is the role of the armed resistance groups and the interests of the ethnic minorities of Burma . World opinion is demanding a dialogue between the junta and Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, namely the National League for Democracy (NLD). Burma ’s ethnic minorities support such a possible dialogue. But it is simplistic to believe the equation includes only NLD and SPDC.

The questions of democracy, military rule, and the constitutional arrangements for Burma ’s ethnic minorities are intrinsically intertwined. Therefore, what is necessary is a “tripartite dialogue” – the SPDC, Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD, and the ethnic nationalities. To be sure, a call for tripartite dialogue is not a new invention. The UN General Assembly has made this call since 1994. Yet, each of the ethnic groups has its own special set of concerns, so they should not be lumped together in the negotiations. In truth, then, the tripartite dialogue should be better understood as a multipartite dialogue.

Minority Positions

Although the UN continues to recommend tripartite dialogue, there has never been any effort to prepare ethnic minorities as the third party to come on board. Despite the call for tripartite dialogue, every effort made so far, no matter how insignificant, has encouraged only bilateral talks. In October 2002, for example, on his return from a 12-day fact-finding trip to Burma , Sergio Paulo Pinheiro commented that Burma was still far away from the long-awaited tripartite dialogue. Though it was not meant to be discouraging, he added, “that’s the way it is.” Throughout his term, the envoy maintained that the first thing was to “break the deadlock.” No group has contested such an approach.

The regime has claimed ceasefires with 17 or so armed groups, but such agreements are verbal and fragile. Far from acquiring a much-needed peace, those ceasefires have only helped to create puppet armies for the SPDC. Historically prominent groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU), the Shan State Army (SSA-South), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), to mention a few, are among the remaining ethnic-based forces. An alliance of these ethnic minority groups dates back to 1975 when they formed a National Democratic Front (NDF) with the objective to establish a federal union in which ethnic equality and right to self-determination are fully recognized. While military cooperation among these groups is impractical because of distance and the Burmese regime’s military dominance over their territories, the formation of the NDF nevertheless brings the minority groups together and minimizes divisions and tensions among them.

At present, a more inclusive and politically significant group like the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) best represents the voice and position of ethnic minorities in Burma . It is made up of political parties, groups, armed organizations as well as women’s networks and youth organizations. The ENC should be viewed as a corresponding partner for the United Nationalities League for Democracy (UNLD), an umbrella organization of the non-Burman nationalities formed in 1988 to participate in the tripartite dialogue. Especially while the UNLD has been effectively and severely paralyzed by the regime, the ENC is a force to reckon with in any tripartite dialogue.

Undoubtedly, each group will have to discuss its specific needs and grievances with the government in power. For example, while the ethnic minorities fundamentally agree to the establishment of the federal union of Burma , each group wants to negotiate what powers will be entrusted to the federal government and what powers would remain with the states. Similarly, they would like to be able to negotiate with the bordering states to demarcate their respective states constitutionally. While autonomy to protect, preserve, and promote local cultures and traditions including languages is a common desire, each state would like to implement these protections according to their right to self-determination. They want assurance that they will never be forced into a melting pot again. Nevertheless, the basis principles on which these groups have built their alliance, their commitment to negotiations, and their willingness to compromise are far more functionally realistic than one would imagine.

Democratic Challenge

The current effort by the UN envoy and members of the UN Security Council for dialogue between the ruling junta and NLD’s Aung San Suu Kyi is undoubtedly plausible, but plausible only if it leads to subsequent dialogues that are more inclusive. Otherwise, the continuation of the vicious circle of internal armed conflict seems likely. We should learn a lesson from October 2000 “secret talks” exclusively between NLD’s Aung San Suu Kyi and SPDC. Any resumption of such talks would be unacceptable.

While the UN has called for tripartite dialogue, others believe that the only acceptable solution has been the absolute transfer of power to the NLD, which won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections. NLD resolutions, declarations, and statements have all supported this transfer of power. Several U.S. statements follow suit. The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, for instance, begins: “The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has failed to transfer power to the National League for Democracy (NLD) whose parliamentarians won an overwhelming victory in the 1990 elections in Burma .” As a result, the quest for an answer to Burma ’s problem has been deadlocked for years because of such nonnegotiable positions.

Now that the international community is again pursuing dialogue, ethnic minorities and the armed resistance groups still remain absent in the current equation. The numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons serve as effective political weapons to discredit the ruthless regime, yet there is no mention of the ongoing war against minorities in the current analysis of the political crisis.

Burma’s problems cannot simply be solved with the arrival of democracy. If ethnic minorities have not had a place at the bargaining table before the fact, Burma ’s new democracy will not likely protect them after the fact. Another emerging theory, then, is that ethnic minorities are either on their own or they must face two forces in the country – SPDC plus NLD. That would be a tragic ending to the long and sad story of Burma .

May Oo is a former Karen refugee from Burma, a graduate of San Francisco State University, and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus ( She is currently a Ph.D student in law and social science at Indiana University School of Law and a fellow at the Center for Constitutional Democracy in Plural Societies. Read more...

October 20, 2007

Ethnic Nationalities question in Burma Politics

The Burmese Media and Ethnic Tension: Toward a Bleak National Conciliation? by -- May Oo

May Oo is a former Karen refugee, born and raised in Burma, a graduate of San Francisco State University, and got her LL.M from Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington, IN. She was a Snyder Research Fellow at Lauterpatch Research Centre for International Law, University of Cambridge, UK (2002). She is currently a Ph.D student in Law and Social Science at Indiana University School of Law and a fellow at the Center for Constitutional Democracy in Plural Societies.

Before anything else is said, it is perhaps prudent to elaborate what one means by ethnic tension in Burma. However one has understood it before, in this essay, ethnic tension is a term to describe the tension between the Burman/Burmese and the rest of the nationalities such as Karen, Shan, Mon, and Chin. Likewise, the use of the terms Burmese and Burman should probably be clarified with all due respect to the people of Burma. However one has understood them before, in this essay ‘Burmese’ is to mean a language and Burmese/Burman is to mean a particular ethnic group known as both Burmese and Burman.

There is always a contradiction in the Burmese/Burman’s claim for a love for coexistence and a desire to be dominant. This contradiction can be observed in various areas, but no observation is more poignant than in the Burmese language media or the media predominantly run by the Burmese/Burman. This essay will look at Burma and the struggle of its people since independence for freedom, peace, and prosperity. The purpose is two fold: first to identify how the struggle has been presented, portrayed, and understood; second, how such presentation, portrayal, and understanding shape and dictate the direction of the struggle. Ultimately, this essay will delve into a critical analysis between the roles of Burmese media or the media predominantly run by the Burmese/Burman and the prospect of coexistence in a country as much diverse as Burma.

Independence Movement and the Deceptive Histories

Through out the secondary education, the school children in Burma learn about the independent heroes of their country both in the history class and Burmese literature class. Of all the heroes about whom we have learned, there were fewer than two heroes who were not ethnically Burmese/Burman. The Burmese/Burman leaders were portrayed as great patriots and saviors of the country under enslavement of the British colonizer. Less than being critical toward the fact, instead the children of minorities felt belittled by a systematic indoctrination as such that undermined their status in the union of Burma. Although parents told different stories at home, what mattered was what the textbooks said. And, the textbooks did not say anything about ethnic minorities except to legitimize the melting pot of Burma as the home of all ethnic groups.

Prior to independence in 1948, some writings in histories tell us that the ethnic minorities in the so-called Burma were independent entities of their own and that they were put under the umbrella of British rule as the British continued to conquer. Also, we learn from those writings that the Burmese/Burman and the rest of ethnic groups never shared peace between them. The quarrels between other groups were understood as natural discrepancies but absolutely manageable. However, the quarrels between each of the groups and the Burmese/Burman have always been understood as irreconcilable differences of peoples and their views toward life and a call for permanent separation.

Although there were members of all ethnic groups who participated in the independence movement, recorded in the official history was only the Burmese/Burman. From those history pages, students of all ethnic groups learn about the Burmese/Burman nationalism, which students are also encouraged, if not forced, not only to cherish but also to adopt. Chanting such as --
tha kin myo hey doh bama,
bama sar thee doh sar,
bama sagar thee doh sagar
doh sar ko chit par
doh sagar ko myat noe par

...were rather provocative and exclusively ethnocentric madness that drove the Burmese/Burman population to fight for freedom from the British colonization. However, a fight for freedom from British was not the only fight the Burmese/Burman were engaging in. Simultaneously, the Burmese/Burman were continuously engaging in several other fights against Rakhine, Karen, and Mon to establish their domination upon their liberation from their colonizers. Additionally, it is crucial to note that fights between the Burmese/Burman and the Rakhine or between the Burmese/Burma and the Mon predated British occupation. Anybody who was critical of Burmese/Burman nationalism risks being labeled as pro-British, foreign axis, and therefore enemy of Burma.

On similar account, the ethnic minorities were also engaging in dual struggles – one against the British and the other against the Burmese/Burman. Although the groups did not explicitly operate on the ground that “your enemy’s enemy is your friend,” every now and then, groups were forced to choose between the lesser of two evils – the British and the Burmese/Burman. The history in Burmese language, the official history of the nation, teaches the children of Burma to believe that ethnic minorities were uneducated and used by the foreign colonizers. The same history also teaches the school children to believe that whatever harsh or brutal experience the ethnic minorities had had in the hands of the Burmese/Burman leadership was only a punishment for being axis of foreign powers and to punish them so was a perfectly understandable political expediency and had nothing to do with anti-minorities sentiment. The same history omits, without being questioned, any explanation as to why the Burmese/Burman leadership brought in the fascist Japanese under whose reign minorities in particular went through hellish life. The civil-war that broke out in 1949 was not reported to the general population until 1988. The plights of minorities did not come into discussions until the minorities’ resistance groups had to host – feed, train, equip, and protect – the Burmese students fleeing from the madness of their government’s Army in the cities.

The Myths

Yet, there is also a myth in Burma, the way the people of Burma wish to be known. And, it is the way Burma has been portrayed by and through the media of all kinds. Burma is a multi-ethnic nation and all the ethnic groups coexisted peacefully until the British occupation. In terms of government and political system, Burma has always been a (federal) union, or pyi daung su, in which minorities are fully recognized. The people of Burma know very little or nothing about the civil-war in Burma and the only official story teller about the civil-war is the successive Burmese governments. To the people of Burma, the ethnic minorities, especially who have been fighting against the successive Burmese governments, are "dividers" of the union and "destructionists" of the nation. The country is poor because the government has to engage in fighting the rebels. The most recognized by the people of Burma is that the country has been under military rule, and it is bad. Therefore, they unite themselves under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy and struggle against the military regime.

Contemporary Views and the Media

There are at least three facets in the prevailing views on Burma and all the views are directly or indirectly sponsored by the Burmese language media or the media predominantly run by the Burmese/Burman. First, there is internal fighting between the Burmese government and the ethnic minorities. Sometimes, it is known as civil-war, but often it is recognized as insurgent movement with no significant cause. Although it is a war against predominant Burmese/Burman government by the non-Burman ethnic groups, the fact is always omitted. Years of the systematic destructions of the livelihood in ethnic minorities’ areas - land, fields, and properties - never amount to the destruction of a people in the view of the media. Years of the killings of ethnic minorities in remote villages never amount to the concern of the ordinary Burmese/Burman. Although there has always been a consensus in blaming the minorities for never being content, no question has ever been raised as to why these people have to fight. When severe human rights violations against minorities are reported to the media, the reports get censored because they do not constitute news. No ordinary Burmese/Burman complains about the killing of ethnic minorities by the Burmese government and or by the Burmese Army, and certainly there has never been any effort led by the Burmese/Burman to stop the civil-war.

Second, the people of Burma, especially the urban population, have successfully avoided the responsibility to keep their country peaceful by remaining silent about the sixty years old civil-war. Particularly so the Burmese/Burman population, whose voice would have been more powerful, has failed their fellow citizens, the ethnic minorities, by deliberately ignoring their plights. While individual citizens belonging to the non-Burman ethnic groups would frequently disappear and are tortured, imprisoned, and killed because they are being suspected as insurgents, the rest of the population choose to remain silent as their way of escape. While the general population hides behind the fact that the government controls the media and that they are not informed of anything about civil-war, the Burmese media or the media predominantly run by the Burmese/Burman – namely the Voice of America (VOA), the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), and later the Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the Democratic Voice of Burma (RFA) – outside of Burma conveniently chose to ignore the plight of the ethnic minorities for years. Print media such as Irrawaddy are not less responsible. Not only that these media institutions fail to recognize diversity of languages and cultures in the country, but also do they deliberately select news with ethnic biases. Broadcasting and publication of only sensationalized news or events are a common practice although all these groups claim to be different from the government run Myanmar Radio and New Light of Myanmar.

Third, in light of the recent political development in Burma and the headlines news it has made around the world, the time has come again for the media to talk about the ethnic minorities. Only this time, presentation on the ethnic minorities of Burma has become, not only inaccurate as ever, but also more negative than ever. Both the styles and contents of presentations – in print and broadcasting media – lately amount to incitement and unprofessional. The recent interview of DVB with the Burmese monk, for example, illustrated how ignorant the Burmese/Burman populations – including monks – are about their own country while it was also an illustration of unethical practice on the part of the journalist who asked the questions. The interview was about the deployment of soldiers by the ruling regime, recalled from their stations in the ethnic minorities’ areas such as Karen, Karenni, and Shan states, in the cities to crack down on the protesters. The interviewer asked if the soldiers deployed were of “ethnic groups” and the monk answered he was not sure but those soldiers did “speak Burmese with accent.” Not only the question was imprudent by itself, but also to broadcast such below-the-belt talks was inciting. Certainly, the population of Burma whose news sources are severely limited would hear that interview and undoubtedly ponder on it. But, DVB carries on broadcasting unapologetically.

Recently in Irrawaddy, the editor decided to publish an article questioning “the absence” of ethnic minorities in the pro-democracy movement. Instead of questioning the turning of blind-eyes by the Burmese/Burman population and the media, the article explicitly points the finger at ethnic minorities for, in his opinion, being absence in the protests. It is rather preposterous to even think that ethnic minorities do not engage in demonstrations while many of these minorities have clearly demonstrated to the government, the general populations, and to the world that they are not prepared to be governed by such an ethnically hysteric totalitarian regime. These are a few examples in terms of how sensationalized publication and broadcasting impact the understanding of the population about their own country and their fellow citizens.

The author of this essay is a staunch believer in the freedom of expression and is also a student of the first amendment right in the U.S., therefore would not be necessary to question the freedom exercised through the article both by the author as well as the editor. However, what the author wishes to question is the motive of such publication and how benefits are weighed. Commitment to democracy with peaceful coexistence in Burma is not only of Burmese/Burman politicians, but also of members of the press. Otherwise, members of the press would have less legitimate reasons to criticize the ruling regime. Nonetheless, it is disappointing to observe that Burmese media, supposedly democratic and open, are indeed part of major contributing factor to ethnic tension in Burma.

To be sure, although the pro-democracy movement claims to have gained better understanding of ethnic minorities’ plight, and also as the pro-democracy movement inside and outside Burma continues to advocate for the peaceful coexistence, it is most discouraging to reckon with the detrimental ignorance of the Burmese media. While the public looks up to media as educational institution, especially the ones outside of the military regime’s control, it is rather sickening to acknowledge the insensitivity of Burmese media or the media predominantly run by the Burmese/Burman. After over five decades of experience, it is forgivable if the ethnic minorities of Burma begin to doubt the claim of the Burmese/Burmans that they are willing to coexist peacefully with them. Unfortunately, we are compelled to confess that national conciliation will remain a distant dream so long as the ethnic minority partners are effectively marginalized. Read more...