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Burma's Destroyed Opposition

Filed under: Asia ~ Myanmar

Pro-democracy writer Bo Nyein pens a extremely quality article over at Pajamas Media telling of the completely disorganized Burmese opposition -- and how that amounted in large part to its failure to overthrow the military junta a couple weeks ago. If you found my article "When People Power Fails" insightful, then you will enjoy this. Whereas I focused on the strengths of the military-business regime, Bo Nyein focuses on the abhorrent weaknesses of the democratic opposition, which includes both those in the country as well as the organized expat NGOs and Western government. There is no cohesive strategy or connection between that outside and the actual, on the ground reality.

What astounds me is how the optimists believe the opposition had every chance of actually succeeding in overthrowing the military junta while in such a disorganized state. Of course, much of this can be blamed on the strength of the regime itself, but nonetheless certain comparisons should be made to other people power revolutions since the end of the USSR.

For one, the regimes in Central and Eastern Europe were much less cohesive, much less savvy, and much less oppressive than the Burmese military junta. As far as we can tell right now, the U.S. barely has its foot in the door with an American embassy in Burma, but is under such surveillance that little can be done to help. However, from the mid-'90s through the present, some independent media (radio and television) as well as native NGOs were able to set up in Central and Eastern Europe. The U.S. government, through pro-democracy institutions such as NDI, NED, and IRI -- not to mention George Soros' Open Society Institute above all -- were able to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cash, equipment, technical/logistical support, training, and advice that was able to organize the opposition in countries from Slovakia to Serbia to Georgia to Ukraine.

And while in these countries, sure, the democratic opposition would rally around a single charismatic leader, Bo Nyein points out that perhaps this is the wrong strategy in Burma. In Central/Eastern Europe, these leaders had an extremely strong organized support behind them. In Burma, however, Aung San Suu Kyi has been made into a golden idol who cannot possibly achieve democracy for her country alone when there is no organized, cohesive strategy behind supporting the people who support her.

One other point of Bo Nyein's that I would like to point out which I found very interesting is the extreme disconnect between the expat NGOs operating around the world for a free Burma and the situation with the domestic opposition. While these NGOs work tirelessly to promote awareness and influence foreign governments, very little has been done in terms of actually organizing the domestic opposition to deal with its struggle. Believe it or not, there are classes you can take at universities about democratization, and one of the things you will learn is that foreign influence is almost always second or third tier when it comes to a regime transition. Many of the NGOs and independent media that these foreign NGOs helped out and trained were native organizations that were simply given the boost they needed. Burma has very little of this.

Now, I'm not going to quote any of the article itself. I highly recommend that you click the link though if you're interested in Burma. Just keep these thoughts in mind as you read!

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