New Internationalist Issue 280
Jun 05, 1996
New Internationalist Issue 280
From this month's editorI am delighted to have edited, with Vanessa Baird, this special issue of NI on Burma. Since the uprising against the military dictatorship I have wanted to reclaim on film a sense of the epic events of 1988 which, unlike their equivalent in Eastern Europe the following year, have been largely overlooked. My film-making partner David Munro and I began planning the assignment more than a year ago. The problem of how to get into Burma, to film widely and get the film out, seemed insurmountable. Then the Rangoon generals declared 1996 'Visit Myanmar Year' and we knew we had been handed an unmissable opportunity.
When David and I filmed secretly in East Timor in 1993 we transformed ourselves into 'travel consultants' working for a London firm, 'Adventure Tours'. Our documents, in several languages, were designed to reassure our hosts should they suspect us of being, heaven forbid, journalists. We were described as 'specialists in exotic travel' who, if allowed to pursue our professional activities, would dispatch in our wake plane-loads of tourists laden with foreign exchange: just the sort of folk to be warmly welcomed by dictators craving dollars and the dubious respectability that goes with mass tourism and foreign investment.
As this subterfuge allowed us to talk our way out of trouble at least once in East Timor, we decided it was appropriate for Burma, where the generals are banking on tourism to assist in covering their crimes (as it has done in Indonesia: tourists in Bali are unaware that the carparks in their hostels cover mass graves) and in making their regime acceptable to the World Bank, the IMF, ASEAN and all the other pillars of the 'global economy'. I trust that this special issue, together with our ITV film for Carlton, Inside Burma: Land of Fear, offer serious impediment to these endeavours.
David's skill with the camera under pressure deserves special recognition. Many people helped us. There are a number of remarkable Westerners who live in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, who care deeply about the Burmese and their right to freedom, and I am grateful to them, especially Faith Doherty and Shona Kirkwood for their superb ground work. My appreciation also goes to David Boardman and Zunetta Liddell. Bertil Lintner's Outrage, a brilliant journalistic record of the uprising, was an early inspiration, and I am sorry I never met the author.
Above all, I pay tribute to those Burmese who willingly gave me their testimony, however painfully. They are as far afield as Oslo, where the Democratic Voice of Burma transmits hope to its many listeners in Burma; and Thailand, where the heroes of 1988 have to battle the local authorities as well as the trauma of their dispossession; and the Karen-held liberated areas; and, of course, in Burma itself. After all these years I suppose I am a 'specialist' in exotic travel and I can say unreservedly that I have seldom been as moved as I was by the courage and grace of the Burmese I met, from Aung San Suu Kyi to those ordinary people who understood exactly what we were doing yet insisted on looking after us, regardless of the risk. They deserve more than tourists and profiteers. This issue is dedicated to them.
for the New Internationalist Co-operative
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