New Internationalist

Write vs Wrong

March 2007

Defiant public blitzes junta with letters

A handwritten letter to a military dictator may sound like an ineffective and risky way of conveying defiance, especially in this internet age where emails, blogs and websites have combined to threaten political authority in a number of countries.

But in Burma, where a strict censorship regime is in force and access to IT is limited, the good, old-fashioned letter is being used by the country’s long-suffering people to express growing dissatisfaction with Rangoon’s incompetent, corrupt and oppressive junta. A letter-writing campaign, launched in the first week of the New Year, has involved tens of thousands of people in and around Rangoon.

‘This is an effort to break the silence. To get people to write openly about their grievances to the military government,’ explains Naing Aung from the Forum for Democracy in Burma, a group of Burmese political exiles. ‘It is not enough just to complain. This is to get people to show their courage by standing up and openly identifying themselves as critics.’

The month-long letter-writing drive, known as the ‘Open Heart’ campaign, is the latest effort by an organization of former university students known as the ‘88-Generation’. ‘It is a peaceful way of expressing the public’s views,’ says Naing Aung, ‘because protests are banned, the media is censored and there are no elections.’

The 88-Generation comprises people who, as students, led a 1988 pro-democracy protest that was brutally crushed. This effort builds on the success of their other recent campaigns – such as the petition in October 2006 calling for the junta to release all political prisoners, including detained opposition leader (elected prime minister before her arrest) Aung San Suu Kyi. An estimated 60,000 people signed it.

Yet the act of directly addressing Burma’s leader, Than Shwe, involves high personal risk – including a prison term – if it provokes the ire of the regime. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta is officially known, currently holds over 1,100 political prisoners in jail including opposition parliamentarians, Buddhist monks, journalists, writers, students and political activists.

‘The people want to co-operate in this campaign because of the growing suffering. Some people don’t care what will happen to them because they are just angry,’ says Zaw Min, spokesperson for the banned Democratic Party for a New Society.

Last year the price of rice, a staple dish in the Burmese diet, rose by 30 per cent. At the same time Than Shwe’s daughter was married in a lavish event where champagne flowed, the bride was decked in diamonds and pearls and the newlyweds received gifts reportedly worth millions of dollars.

Another factor triggering this rising tide of discontent was the arrest of Burma’s former Prime Minister and intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt and his allies. Khin Nyunt, who received a 44-year suspended sentence in July 2005, had close contacts with the country’s business community and was viewed by many as a moderate.

Marwaan Macan-Markar

This column was published in the March 2007 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

Comments on Write vs Wrong

Leave your comment







 

  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

...And all is quiet.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

Get our free fortnightly eNews

Multimedia

Videos from visionOntv's globalviews channel.

Related articles

Recently in Currents

All Currents

Popular tags

All tags

This article was originally published in issue 398

New Internationalist Magazine issue 398
Issue 398

More articles from this issue

  • The Cave of the Yellow Dog

    March 1, 2007

    DVD: The Cave of the Yellow Dog directed by Byambasuren Davaa.

  • The Uncomfortable Dead

    March 1, 2007

    The Uncomfortable Dead by Subcomandante Marcos and Paco Ignacio Taibo II

  • The Mirage

    March 1, 2007

    What do people in poorer districts think of Ahmadinejad? Ali Moazzami finds out.

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.

Subscribe