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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

The second part series on the role of the military and civil society in Burma
(By Banya Hongsar, Canberra, Australia)
Can only the Burman (SPDC or Tadmadaw) maintain the Union of Burma and keep the nation strong in the future?  However, the SPDC has controlled power for over fifteen years, with little military might and political treaties by its opponents. The SPDC knows that the NLD cannot defeat them unless Daw Suu leads the campaign, and the ethnic armed groups have very limited resources to launch a military strike against Rangoon to defeat them.  After over sixteen armed groups reached cease-fire agreement with the SPDC, the SPDC mastered its political campaign to be accepted in ASEAN and won a place within the grouping. The SPDC’s military men persuaded UN and EU mission representatives that the country is in the process of turning over a new leaf.  The interest of Burma / Myanmar is to keep the "Union" strong and unified among all nationalities or “races”. But the international community is ill informed about the real situation in Burma, as there is no unity within the country. The SPDC played "a kiss with no love" hard to get tricky game to the UN missions and won.
A clash of dogmatic ideologies, the lack of a political will, no vision in the making, and self-serving political individuals who are entirely motivated by power are at the root of all the problems in the country. All there energy is spent on maintaining their status in the game, with the SPDC holding onto its rigid policy in playing an active role in power politics and the NLD holding steadfast to its mandate on the popular 1990 election results.  The UNLD+UNA remain glued to its policy of self-determination and federalist political agenda.  The exile and border based political and armed organizations waste a lot of their time clinging to its political goal in toppling the SPDC and military rule in the country. However, no political mindset has been installed that encompasses everyone’s motivations about community life and no massive campaign has taken place to achieve a consensus and reach for a common goal for the people. As a consequence, people suffer, with no end in site of poverty, displacement, ongoing conflict, lack of economic freedom and the lack of health and education programs for the community. People are not informed at all or are part of any decision making that goes on when foreign aid comes in, as none have been invited to give their opinions on the local, national and State’s political affairs, whether it be on AIDS, housing, education, etc.
A new mindset and simple politics:   Like it or not, a new political mindset on Burma is not a democracy cited from the pages of a US or western journal.  A single, but diverse mindset is needed, voiced by the local people, community leaders, men and women in the country, who are informed about and involved in the decision making process must be part of democracy building in the country, civilians ought to rule other civilians, not the military.  Military men ought to live in military camp and be trained to protest the people, such as external threats and be prepared to come to the rescue of the country during natural disasters, for example when mass flooding wipes out tracts of villages.  The police force must be motivated to maintain the rule of law for the good of the people and the administrative body ought to serve the needs of the public on education, health, employment and economic development. 
Unless all Burmese people have access to adequate schools, clinics, hospitals, shopping centers, the Internet, recreational sporting halls and other community institutions such as libraries, transportation and housing, water supply and electricity, none of the political ideology is best served by the community.  A new mindset ought to begin individually and collectively, the SPDC, the NLD and NDF+NCUB, led by ethnic leaders, ought to bring a new vision of hope to the local communities that promote economic and resource management, infrastructure and forest community development projects and bring to the book all injustices committed by Burma's soldiers, and insurgent groups and Tadmadaw members.
Community leaders must make it their top priority to move the reform agenda forward, bring together the SPDC, NLD and NCUB leaders to begin a dialogue on the political future of the country. Of course, the role of civil society groups and the rights of all people must be protected by a new Constitution. A big, top-heavy government is an ineffective government while a small government is much better at nation building being informed by the grass roots. Unless the role of non-military men and women, students, businessmen, religious leaders and local traders take center stage in nation building, our country will be weak and development will be hindered.  No military led government, dominated by one party has ever achieved prosperity and lacks the national capacity to maintain good governance. For example, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao and Indonesia are all poor countries and people continue to live under a “climate of fear” for many years. A functional change is not in the interest of Burmese politics but an institutional change would be in the national interest of Burmese politics.
U Aung Zaw, Editor of the Irrawaddy Magazine, declared at the Burma Debate in 2000, “I think that the democracy movement needs to be more critical. We need more critical thinkers, more open minded Burmese who want to promote democracy in Burma.”  His message remains on paper while many activists continue to stick to their narrow political mindsets.
Starting from Scratch?
To introduce a new political mindset in the community, public and private education, health system, financial and economic management, public administration and all forms of public services should be placed into the hands of local civilians.  Politicians and army-affiliated personnel should be willing to work with the people or step aside and find alternative employment for a living. A framework of democracy and federalism is required to promote community living and an independent media is a crucial tool to support this cause. There are hundreds and thousands of books and journals on Burma written in English while there are only a few books available in local languages for local people to learn, teach, and study to bring about change in their country. In brief, Burma failed to maintain its first parliamentary democracy in 1950-60s; again it failed to achieve the “Burmese Way to socialism" in the 1970-1980s. During a clash of ideologies among Burman's political elites, communism also collapsed in the country despite it gaining some support by local people. A new form of democratization is required in a broader sense that encompasses human rights and the right for self-determination for all non-Burman and Burman nationalities. We must ask ourselves, “Why is the military so resistant to learning to change?” The military men, politicians and community leaders (from all sides) need to rethink what kind of nation do they want to bring to Burma in the 21st century and beyond, we must all start again. 
Hundreds of thousands of armed resistances forces, political activists, human right’s workers, journalists, and workers from all walks of life have to be prepared to work together for a new campaign in the country.  A campaign to achieve a "just Burma" which meets our national interests on peace, equality, and tolerance in all political circles. No military man should be allowed to rule the nation forever and the people in the House of Assembly or Parliament should not tolerate a political elite bent on power.  The Burman is best served for the Burman community, while the Karen, Karenni, Mon, Shan, Arakan, Chin, Kachin and other ethnic peoples are best served by their own people, but the country as a whole should have a vision for the inclusion of all ethnic people.
No peace without equality, no harmony without tolerance, no unity without respect and no democracy without freedom of expression. The SPDC, the NLD and other politicians and leaders of all organizations have to heal all their wounds of the past and retreat from the disease of ideology and rein in their egos in clinging to power by way of the divide and rule policy. The SPDC and its friend the military stand guard in almost every street corner which creates fear that suppresses public confidence. Leaders of all parties (army leaders and political leaders alike) ought to lift up the spirits of their fellow citizens to take a more active role in local, national, and regional affairs in working together in creating a new policy, agenda, and framework that will work for their people. If leaders don’t listen to their followers or if the government does not care about the people’s opinion, then society will die and our future will be sorrowful.
From the table to the grass-root community activities
Over the last fifteen years, hundreds of seminars, conferences, training, and workshops have been conducted on Burma both in Thailand and overseas. Burmese experts, observers, policy makers, and NGOs workers, have learned how complex Burmese politics and its cultures are, that it involves several different histories and psychological aspects of Burmese history which never had considered the rights of people for over a thousand years. Hundreds of demonstrations took place in Bangkok and in exile communities around the world, "Free Burma" campaigns in the US and Europe has been actively and successfully working for change. Rangoon based foreign diplomats predict for better or worse scenario between SPDC-NLD relations. Meanwhile, students, Buddhist monks, and other religious leaders were suppressed in the political movement in the country. Corrupt and inept officials involved in trade both in the rural areas and along the border have flourished in public administration that have put children and women and all people at risk; everyone fears for their lives, women and young girls are being killed and raped, atrocities denied by the Senior General Than Shwe and his government soldiers.
Burma, in the next ten years remains unchanged unless a new political mindset emerges in community life.  The military has proven to be unchangeable; the nation needs a flexible political framework as a tool to serve the community and all facets of the community and all ethnic groups.  The role of local councils, the power status of the State Government, a new legislation for Provisional governments, and a framework for a genuine Union or "Federal Union" are all necessary elements to bring change and justice. Politicians, military men and local community leaders ought to see the bigger picture in national and international affairs. A growing population, a declining national GDP (Gross Domestic Products), along with more and more people living in poverty, and transnational crime in the region has emerged in recent years. We need the people to work together to strengthen the Burmese political and social environments to meet these challenges. The Burmese people have to ask each other, “Do we want to live together peacefully or do we want to kill each other,” before they go to bed at night.
Citizens of Burma (all nationalities) have to be active participants in political life and leaders of all parties must encourage the local people to develop their skills in politics.  An open society and a tolerant within the community are required to install democracy, it is foolhardy and disastrous for our country to think that a single political party leader or army commander can ever hope to achieve unity and feed over fifty million people in today’s global society.
End of Part Two


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