"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Monday, 5 April 2010

Burma, then and now

As a teenager I was lucky enough to spend a few months in Burma during 1980. That was before Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest and before the regime in Burma became a pariah state. At that time the only English language newspaper available was the Rangoon Working People's Daily, which was little more than a laughably dull list of the activities of government officials. I laughed, but at the time I was too young to understand.

Since then things have worsened. The government's refusal to recognise the outcome of national elections was followed last year by further crackdowns on street protests, widescale round-ups and imprisonment of dissenters. At around the same time a Burmese blogger was sentenced to 59 years in prison for posting up video footage following Cyclone Nargis. Burma heads the Committee to Protect Journalists' list of worst countries to be a Blogger.

On 10 March this year a UN report called for an investigation into whether the generals running the country are guilty of war crimes against their own people. I do wonder whether the threat of war crimes tribunals may be counterproductive, helping to dissuade the generals from any relaxation of their grip on power, encouraging them instead to dig in further. Then again it may be naive to suppose that they would ever give up power voluntarily. There are indications already that this autumn's elections will be a sham.

Looking back to earlier and happier times, Wendy Law-Yone has written an interesting article in the Guardian about her childhood memories of her father's pioneering editorship of the old Rangoon Nation newspaper, prior to the 1962 coup. Once it carried a headline:
Burma has only twenty dentists but every Tom Dick and Harry is pulling teeth, Rotarian says
I can't imagine such a headline ever appeared in the Working People's Daily.

Update 14 May: Simon Tisdall has written an interesting review of the state of Obama's policy of "positive engagement" with Burma.

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