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The Burmese Opposition, Squeezed in a Nutshell

Submitted by on June 25, 2011 – 12:31 pmNo Comment

Today I was pointed to a French website with much interesting material about Burma.

One item caught my attention first (since my knowledge of French is shamefully underdeveloped): A graphical animation of the political landscape in and around Burma. Its authors are the same who made the cartoon parts of the brilliant “Happy World” documentary.

In the lead text we are told that “the Burmese opposition consists of more than just Aung San Suu Kyi and the [NLD] political party.” Did anyone doubt it? The authors apparently respond to the ignorance of huge parts of the public and some tendencies of mainstream media reporting because this message is actually nothing new and it has often been misused as pretext to deal with regime-supported organizations like Myanmar Egress, allegedly to try alternative ways that are said to be more promising. So this effort to combat an oversimplified picture should certainly be welcomed, yet applied with due diligence and awareness of possible pitfalls.

Simplifying for the sake of teachability always bears the risk of sacrificing the accuracy. But compared to a high number of unprofessional websites campaigning for Burma that are often half completed, terribly messy and worst practice in terms of usability, full of junk comments and dysfunctional contact channels, and that apparently serve only the self-promotion of a group or reflect the narcissistic funding policy of some donors without any visible strategy of accountability and sustainability, this approach is a refreshing change. In the light of these merits one easily forgives the sometimes inaccurate classification in this animation as allies and rivals.

One thing, however, begs for improvement: When I click on “Pressure groups”, no information is displayed. I think it is necessary to diversify this term since it sounds a bit like merely representing people carrying banners and shouting slogans. The magaphone chosen as symbol certainly adds up to this impression. If you look at NGOs and informal groups outside the country, however, you will find that there is a big variety from vocal political activists to such organizations that provide very practical aid to IDPs or refugees, who do tremendous work in compiling reports and who raise awareness. Although they are definitely part of Burma’s political landscape with a clear position, their relationship cannot be reduced to a green line – meaning an ally – of “Armed rebel groups” or the “Government in exile” (symbolized as a locked ballot box). It must be therefore assumed that they are not included in the “Pressure groups”.

These organizations outside Burma should have found their place on the map. Otherwise it dangerously contributes to another form of ignorance that is playing into the hands of those donors and governments who try to reduce the Burmese democracy movement to one extreme part of it in order to concentrate their support in the next step on groups who are considered more “hands-on”, but who tolerate and legitimate the present undemocratic regime.

The initial warning of ignoring the variety of protagonists, expressed by the authors, needs to be repeated – and this time addressed to the authors. Maybe some links in the text could provide an easy remedy.

About the author

Christoph Amthor wrote 32 articles on this blog.

Christoph has worked for several years as journalist for print, radio and Internet before he co-founded the organization Burma Center Prague in 2006. Most time he spends in Prague, Czech Republic.

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