SOME REMARKS ON KAREN REVOLUTION on the Occasion of 56th Anniversary Karen Revolution
By – BaSaw Khin
(An excerpt from the “FIFTY YEARS OF STRUGGLE: A Review of the Fight for the Karen People’s Autonomy” by BaSaw Khin. The full version of this paper is expected to appear on Kwe Ka Lu Website soon.)
The KNU struggle has now come to over the half century mark with the tragic loss of countless lives, those of truly selfless and well meaning leaders to poor peasants, old and decrepit folk to innocent babies, all valuable and irreplaceable. There have been torture, murder, rape and all forms of injustice committed throughout these years. As of now, there seems to be no end in sight.
From the beginning, the Karens did not seem to have forged a clear and well-defined goal and this was due mainly to the overriding animosity of some of their leaders against the Burmans, with doubtless reciprocation. The Burman leaders, perhaps for reasons best known to them, have never demonstrated any sincerity on their part. In the political field, they have almost invariably outfoxed the Karens. Of course the Karen leadership was anything but united. They seemed to have lost a good chance of fair settlement at one point. In October 1947, with the British still having some influence and persuasive power over Thakin Nu, the AFPFL Cabinet was prepared to offer the Karens a state that would embrace the Karenni State, the Mongpai substate, the Salween district and the Part II areas of the Thaton, Toungoo and Pyinmana hill tracts. A Karen Affairs Council was also planned for the Delta Karens to represent their interests.81 The Karen leadership at that point apparently did not see any advantage in negotiating with the wily and mercurial Burmans led by Thakin Nu. Even if that offer turned out to be sincere without British supervision, that might or might not have solved the Karen problem in Burma, although it did merit serious consideration by the KNU. Subsequently, the KNU simply demanded too much territory, even though it was meant as a starting point for negotiation.
After Ba U Gyi’s death in 1950, the KNU leadership was erratic, ranging at first from leftist proclivity, if not quite outright Communism, led by the intellectual but pragmatic Mahn Ba Zan, somewhat concomitantly with unsuccessful attempts to seek support from the west by the pedagogic and somewhat conservative Hunter Tha Hmwe, and subsequently to a rather simplistic and practical, perhaps out of necessity, policy of the martial Bo Mya. As of this writing, General Bo Mya has relinquished his KNU presidency and P’Doh Ba Thin Sein, formally the General Secretary, has been elected as President. The current General Secretary P’Doh Mahn Shalapan is quite assertive in promulgating the KNU policy, aim and course of action, hopefully not ignoring younger and presumably more brainy and educated Karen activists as well as far-sighted and mature overseas as well as domestic Karen advisors inside Burma proper. On the military side, there have been obvious setbacks due largely to the stronger and usually ruthless Burmese ‘Tatmadaw’, compounded by the collusion of greedy Thai government military leaders and their commercial partners, (the strength of the Burma Army as of the year 2002 being over 400,000; total armed forces, including Police Forces: 472,000).
To continue with the revolution, the Karens should remember that while it is desirable and important to preserve their identity and ethnic purity, the main thrust should be for an autonomous state with full guarantees for the people, and fair representation for all the Karens living in the Delta and lowland areas outside the Karen state. Policies should be formulated toward that end. The current alliances with dissident organizations, including ethnic minorities as well as the myriad Burman political parties and resistance groups, might be kept alive and strengthened constantly. Pragmatism ought to be the key word, and it should be remembered that incessant mouthing of ‘democracy’ means nothing but a slogan. Democracy in its true sense of the term could well be a Utopia, actually a luxury that Burma can ill afford at this juncture, although one should not forget India, her neighbor, with the largest if at times shaky democracy in the world.
At one point, it was generally accepted, and it may still be true, about Burmans from Central Burma in the Shwebo-Mandaly-Pakokku-Myingyan-Taungdwingyi-Thazi area, being of purer stock, tend to be more sincere and honest; and it might also be noted that the great Bogyoke Aung San himself, the father of modern Burmese independence, came from the small town of Natmauk, near Taungdwingyi. Another observation would be about the Burmans, the majority ethnic people in the country, regardless of political persuasion, democratic, autocratic or dictatorial, will always opt for homogeneity, one people with one language group. Also not to be ignored is an underlying factor about the majority Burman, of which a good percentage would be an amalgamation of the former Pyu, Mon, Shan, Indian, Chinese, and perhaps even Karen, particularly in the Delta areas. And among the leadership there is, or could have been at one time or another, a strong Chinese bias, meaning the Sino-Burman bloodline. On this, a vehement denial from the Burmans is almost always forthcoming. Based on this mixed ancestry of the average Bamar, the trend of thought would be in striving to build a nation where minorities are slowly and surely assimilated and melded into one homogeneous group of people, hopefully leaving religion out of the picture. That homogeneity goal will always be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Witness the present-day Irish situation where even though a recent accord was signed (May, 1998), and trumpeted as a historic peace agreement that British PM Tony Blair helped to bring about, that might only mark a hopeful beginning.
The KNU, as far as can be ascertained, has never advocated and will not be demanding secession at all. The KNU would also do well to recognize the fact that Karen people come in several subgroups and different hues with varying and distinctive language coterie that would make it hard to forge a well-defined ethnic nationality. That is all the more reason to find a common ground with the majority Burman people, the dominant ethnic national of the country. From personal standpoint, democracy in the traditional definition does not really matter in Burma. Fact or fiction, the general Bamar/Burman mentality of assertiveness, a sort of predilection to individualism, especially true of the more educated and political professionals, plus the country’s various ethnic groups, would certainly call for a strong government, but definitely not the current deplorable SPDC, whose rule of law and peace efforts under a restrictive and stultifying atmosphere leave much to be desired. What Burma needs is a government of pluralism, and if the hitherto stubborn SPDC that takes pride in its ignorance of nearly every aspect of a competent ruling body, the glaring exception being expertise in the use of menace and might, can bend a little and cooperate with all dissident groups, including in the NLD, and will tone down their four-cuts policy, and not focused on a-poke-tike or complete and forcible annihilation of the ethnic nationality movements and other opposition forces, and finally, if the peace offers to these groups are proffered with lesser condescending attitude and more of what can be ascertained as being honest and sincere, then there may still be hope for that so beautiful and comparatively resource-rich land with enormous potential.
Meanwhile, the aging KNU leaders and the upcoming younger generation may have to continue with rather limited options: to keep on engaging in military action against the ‘Tatmadaw’ forces of an oppressive government, while trying to avoid bloodshed as much as possible (a tall order), and whenever or wherever possible, cooperate and coordinate their efforts with other Burman and ethnic dissident groups. They might constantly work toward ‘stimulating’ their cause, in a manner of speech, to convince those, including sympathetic and concerned sources, who are helping them, that their goal is toward the principles of social equality and lasting peace with justice, and that they are not clannish, but can look beyond their ethnicity. And it is up to the enlightened Karens and other ethnic minorities, in active cooperation with dissident Bamar groups, outside and inside the country, to make every attempt to create, through peaceful means, a government of pluralism, that must still include intelligent, far-sighted and truly patriotic elements of the current SPDC who could acknowledge their own limitations, a government of authentic and fair representation, replete with freedom and opportunities for every citizen.
February 19, 2005
SOME REMARKS ON KAREN REVOLUTION on the Occasion of 56th Anniversary Karen Revolution