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What can you do about Burma?

Posted By Sunny On 28th September, 2007 @ 4:19 am In Current affairs, South Asia | 24 Comments

Today has been declared ‘[1] red shirt day‘ for Burma, so I’ve dug mine out of course. But short of making fashion statements, what can we really do for Burma?

Before I get to that, a quick point about liberal intervention. The popular uprising in Burma raises difficult questions for people on many sides of the political spectrum. Those against intervention in other states are now being told that they should boycott companies that invest in Burma and find ways to bring down the oppressive military. Those in favour should ask why the sanctions against the country are not tighter than those against Iran, even though it treats its people much more oppressively? Selective standards maybe? Either way, I agree with [2] A. Tory that Brown needs to do more.

My view has always been for liberal intervention, depending on who is intervening and on what basis of course. Moreover, the anti-imperialists can’t blame this on western governments alone. China and Russia have vetoed a UN resolution for tighter sanctions, while the Indian govt stands by and shuffles its feet. [3] Simon Tisdall had a good article on this yesterday.

from the [4] Burma campaign, via [5] Sepia Mutiny.

Moving on… Facebook has a [6] rapidly expanding group on global action to support the Burmese monks. It says there will be a demonstration outside the Burmese Embassy in London every day from 12-1pm. [7] The TUC is helping organise protests.

There is going to be a bigger protest march through London on Sunday 30th September (12pm), from Trafalgar Square to the Burmese Embassy. [8] FB event page. I’ll most likely be there! Come and show your support!

24 Comments To "What can you do about Burma?"

#1 Comment By Arif On 28th September, 2007 @ 9:56 am

Although I have been boycotting Burma for a long time, it does not feel effective in the sense that there aren’t many things to boycott here. I have organised exhibitions on the issue and written letters, but not so much recently. I am surprised tht so many people in the political classes seem to have been unaware of the situation there. I get most of my information from the mainstream media (although also some from Amnesty International) and have seen several documentaries on the absolute horror of the regime there. In particular John Pilger’s “Land of Fear” which I found devastating, as well as news updates on the situation of Aung San Suu Kyi which gives an entry for short discussions on the situation there.

On the topic of interventions, I am not in favour of liberal interventions, but I am in favour of humanitarian intervention, so long as it is within a consistent framework and not selective (which otherwise lends itself to the impression of imperialism, which then delegitimises the concept of humanitarian intervention).

For Burma, we should - to be consistent - treat it as we would other countries which conducts wars against minorities and practices such extreme human rights abuses. Whether a State is “liberal” or “democratic” is something to discuss, but not something I would want in any framework for humanitarian interventions.

#2 Comment By Leon On 28th September, 2007 @ 10:21 am

On the topic of interventions, I am not in favour of liberal interventions, but I am in favour of humanitarian intervention, so long as it is within a consistent framework and not selective.

Well said.

Regarding the march, I’m intending to be there camera in toe for the obligatory Facebook snaps…

#3 Comment By Sid On 28th September, 2007 @ 11:02 am

Fully with Arif. This “liberal intervention” solution is really a code for military invasion, is it not? It’s a blunt instrument which only works in particular scenarios as David Milliband will now have us know. The situation in Myanmar is not the same as the situation was in KOsovo; ethnic cleansing is not what the junta is about and the country isn’t riven in two because of ethnic infighting.

And btw, anti-imperialists can blame China and Russia since they are as imperialist, if not more, than Western forms of imperialism.

How about boycotting Chinese goods? A difficult prospect for anyone who uses computers and mobile phones…

#4 Comment By Leon On 28th September, 2007 @ 11:09 am

And btw, anti-imperialists can blame China and Russia since they are as imperialist, if not more, than Western forms of imperialism.

Exactly. The idea or implication that an anti-imperialist is only against the ‘West’ (such an 80s terms!) is absurd.

We want an end to Empire full stop, no matter which nation state manages to get to that level.

#5 Comment By sonia On 28th September, 2007 @ 11:58 am

is everything now an FB event?

#6 Comment By sonia On 28th September, 2007 @ 12:01 pm

good point from Arif.

#7 Comment By sonia On 28th September, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

all those military juntas have a thing coming. people aren’t going to put up with it anymore.

i hope the military dictators-to-be in dhaka are sitting up and taking note. the students will not be keeping quiet there for long either. ( and sidenote: the country was flooding, the students were rioting, and what do you think was happening? jute mills closing down at that specific moment - thousands of people out of work. oh yes we have heard the WB’s so-called liberalising agenda and what kind of fucking idiots choose that kind of moment to implement their plans? clearly people who don’t actually give a fuck about people, but care about theories and forcing everyone to do what they want, and what they package as what is good for you. how anyone falls for that crap i never will understand - interference packaged as non-interference. how droll)

#8 Comment By sonia On 28th September, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

at least they could be honest about their intents and plans. only economists are fooled, no one else.

#9 Comment By Leon On 28th September, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

is everything now an FB event?

As long as it gets people mobilised does it matter? Five years ago it would have been email lists, today it’s social media and networks…

#10 Comment By Leon On 28th September, 2007 @ 12:14 pm

all those military juntas have a thing coming. people aren’t going to put up with it anymore.

I would definitely hope so.

That said perhaps it’s too early to judge the outcome of this. My hope is it leads to the collapse of the regime and a democratic government taking over.

#11 Comment By Sid On 28th September, 2007 @ 12:22 pm


The parallels with the unpopular and undemocratic Dhaka military junta which has operating since January 2007 (by the tacit permission of the USA, UK and Europe) is uncanny. I hope they’re looking across the border and shitting their pants. This is a chronology of events in Myanmar from 1988:

July-Aug 1998: Suu Kyi carries out series of roadside protests after her car is halted outside Yangon. Students rally in Yangon. She returns home by ambulance.

* Sept. 16, 2000: NLD announces it will draft a new state constitution in defiance of a government ban.

* May, 2003 - Suu Kyi and many NLD leaders are put under “protective custody” after clashes between her supporters and those of the junta. The government says four people died and as many as 50 were injured. She remains in detention.

* Dec. 2005: Government battalions shell villages and refugee hide-outs in southern Karenni State and neighbouring Karen State, forcing 3,000 people to flee their homes.

* March-April 2006: Troops wage biggest military offensive in 10 years to quell five-decade insurgency by ethnic Karen rebels.

* Aug-Sept 2007: A sharp spike in fuel prices sparks the biggest protests in 20 years. Tens of thousands of monks and civilians demonstrate in Yangon and other cities.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the price hikes in food and petrol. You can repress a people for decades, deny them their rights, fail to distribute the wealth of the land but the moment the price of food and essentials goes beyond affordable levels of the ordinary people they will come for you.

#12 Comment By Random Guy On 28th September, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

So when is it time for “shock and awe”???

#13 Comment By Sid On 28th September, 2007 @ 12:49 pm

The shock and awful crowd only seem to get their shit together for OIL and Israel. Another [9] crackdown in Thailand has hardly received any news coverage in the West.

#14 Comment By sonia On 28th September, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

hey Sid, good points. And I was actually remembering back to the time in Dec. 1990 the people in bangladesh finally got rid of Ershad’s military dictatorship. like you say, when something cracks…and people - all of them - stand up and say we’ve had enough.

the prices in food have seriously gone up in bangladesh as well after the flood crisis ( all of which served to make the closing down of national industries not a particularly well-timed event)

#15 Comment By soru On 28th September, 2007 @ 3:20 pm

My hope is it leads to the collapse of the regime and a democratic government taking over.

Sadly, that isn’t the way to bet.

Dictatorship/democracy/monarchy, capitalism/social democracy, the stuff of normal politics, they are just details. When it comes to the big picture, there are really just two types of governments: those with a military that would refuse an order to fire on peaceful, smiling, protestors with clear popular support.

And those who won’t refuse that order.

Burma is one of the latter. Chances are, this is the last gasp of civil society before the regime takes total control as irreversibly as North Korea.

Hoping to be proved wrong…

#16 Comment By Leon On 28th September, 2007 @ 5:02 pm

Apparently parts of the army are refusing to oppress:

Reports from Rangoon suggest soldiers are mutinying. It is unclear the numbers involved. Reports cite heavy shooting in the former Burmese capital.

The organisation Helfen ohne Grenzen (Help without Frontiers) is reporting that “Soldiers from the 66th LID (Light Infantry Divison) have turned their weapons against other government troops and possibly police in North Okkalappa township in Rangoon and are defending the protesters. At present unsure how many soldiers involved.”

Soldiers in Mandalay, where unrest has spread to as we reported this morning, are also reported to have refused orders to act against protesters.

Some reports claim that many soldiers remained in their barracks. More recent reports now maintain that soldiers from the 99th LID now being sent there to confront them.[10] Link

If true this is great news and should be shared widely, looks like cracks are showing in the junta which could indicate there’s a possibility of collapse.

#17 Comment By Nyrone On 28th September, 2007 @ 6:17 pm

really great points by everybody.
For a change, it feels like the debate here is really healthy and necessary.

A mutiny would be a tremendous thing, but I suspect the Junta are going to come down hard on anyone not following orders.

#18 Comment By Don On 28th September, 2007 @ 7:16 pm


If that is true and widespread, then it is the best hope. Once a conscript army starts to see protesters as their mothers and sisters, their brothers, schoolmates and teachers, then a regime can crumble fast. As with Marcos.

I’m not a praying kind of guy, but if I were …

I’m with Sunny on liberal intervention, but I don’t see it as a practical option in Burma. The outside world can do what it can (and for once I am not too cynical about the motives of those expressing horror at unfolding events) but ultimately Burma must make its own future.

The rest of us should stand by to offer the fullest support to the new regime if it ever comes into being.

#19 Comment By Clairwil On 28th September, 2007 @ 7:35 pm

Arif makes a really good point about boycotts in that hthere isn’t a hell of a lot to boycott here which does make it difficult to do anything effective. Even making a gesture of support is tricky as Burma is pretty ‘cut off’ in terms of access to international media reports, internet etc. I just hope this is the beginning of the end for the current regime.

#20 Comment By Sunny On 28th September, 2007 @ 11:17 pm

There’s a boycott list of companies investing in Burma that is circulating… I’ll try and dig it out.

#21 Comment By raz On 28th September, 2007 @ 11:30 pm

Countries like India and China are guilty of far worse human rights abuses and atrocities against their own people than Burma.

#22 Comment By Nyrone On 28th September, 2007 @ 11:45 pm

Raz, that’s a pretty bold statement.
Want to back it up? or explain why it’s of significance to the current debate on the injustice taking place in Burma?

Sunny, is it the ‘dirty’ list?
[11] http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/dirty_list/dirty_list.html

#23 Comment By Elaine On 29th September, 2007 @ 9:43 pm

Good posts.
May I suggest four things we can all do that won’t require much effort and that may have some effect.

1. Circulate information about the Burma Campaign [12] http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk to as many of your friends and blogs as possible.

2. Check out the section there entitled TAKE ACTION NOW; and suggest that people
-support the 24 hour vigils(Parliament Square) and demonstrations (Sunday 11.30 Trafalgar Square, as well as Monday and next Saturday).
- sign the petition to the UK goverment and send a letter to the EU.(just get the numbers up!!)

3. Donate money to The Burma Campaign.

Why? This group is long established and has been working hard over the years to raise awareness of the situation in Burma and to liaise with those who support human rights and democracy there; it has very close links with such Burmese groups.
It has done very careful research and and campaigning on ‘clean and dirty’ companies and has been quite successful, especially with its clothing campaign.
Even if you don’t agree with everything that they argue/propose, they are the people who have been there before and will be there afterwards - supporting the Burmese people - when the media spotlight/public interest shifts and other groups ‘move on.’
(I am not a member. I have a great deal of admiration for what they have managed to achieve in the face of indifference and because I worked on East Timor for many years, a lot of sympathy for how hard it is to maintain such a campaign)

4. The only realistic proposal for boycott activity that I have seen is one on some discussion boards, etc. that suggest putting presssure on China, India and France (Total) by declaring the first Saturday of October and of every month a ‘Boycott Burma’s Buddies’ day: in which people pledge not to buy/use Chinese. Indian, French goods and services, and to tell the management in the shops, banks, etc. that we are boycotting Burma’s Buddies.
If this took off, its impact would be small but it would be measurable and could work as a ‘warning’.
Other proposals to undertake personal boycotts, general boycotts or to press for a boycott of the Olympics are not that realistic.
What do people think???
I will be there tomorrow.

#24 Comment By Free Burma! On 1st October, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

Free Burma!
International Bloggers’ Day for Burma on the 4th of October

International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.

[13] www.free-burma.org

Article printed from Pickled Politics: http://www.pickledpolitics.com

URL to article: http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/1413

URLs in this post:
[1] red shirt day: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=18267307704
[2] A. Tory: http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/style-over-substance-mr-brown/
[3] Simon Tisdall: http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/simon_tisdall/2007/09/the_burmese_blame_game.html
[4] Burma campaign: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/pm/india.php
[5] Sepia Mutiny: http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/004750.html
[6] rapidly expanding group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=24957770200
[7] The TUC: http://www.tuc.org.uk/international/tuc-13761-f0.cfm
[8] FB event page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=18203329336
[9] crackdown: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/II26Ae01.html
[10] Link: http://www.newsdeskspecial.co.uk/2007/09/army-mutiny-rep.html
[11] http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/dirty_list/dirty_list.html: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/dirty_list/dirty_list.html
[12] http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk
[13] www.free-burma.org: http://www.free-burma.org