When I visited Burma, I started to get an understanding of the regime, but most of all, of the people: its situation under dictatorship, with a distant occident that would not come to its help. During the recent events there, I did not feel the urge to share that partial and incomplete understanding I have about the situation. But faced with the catastrophic response of Occident in that crisis, I can't help but to communicate.
If some aspects of my point of view on Burma seem surprising, or unclear, please send me questions and comments, I will answer. After my visit in Burma in September 2006, I had already written a bit to try and explain the situation there, and the mentality of the Burmese. See in my blog the entries dated sept 17th 2006
, I think they help to understand.
A short while ago, Burma was in the headlines. These monks, demonstrating pacifically, supported by a population oppressed for decades... where are they now? It is the time of cleaning: night raids, torture and abductions without returning. No need to extend on that, we have known how to do it in our countries too. There is not much we can do about it, and when it all started it was already too late.
And in Occident? Indignation, of course. We proposed sanctions, immediately, naturally. But suddenly, there are these other countries, who do not share our humanistic values, and who oppose the sanctions. Well, our indignation is so great, that we will apply sanctions without them, because it is our moral duty. We take our responsibilities… really?
Thinking about it for a second, Burma was already cut from Occident… these sanctions are therefore totally ineffective. Hence, why take such a stand, paying tribute to the dignity of the oppressed, thinking we share their ordeal? Looking at it, it seems altogether a bit too simple, and if we get closer, it starts to smell of well-known constants. Good will and cynism, inseparable.
What startles me is that common sense is at the opposite end of our response. 20 years after the events of 88, when the opposition was eliminated in a bloodbath, we have today postponed by another 20 years our help to the Burmese people, by isolating it instead of giving a hand.
International mobilisation, sanctions proposals, and action: we did not loose time; US and Europe took their dispositions to enforce sanctions. But for what results?
By applying economic and diplomatic sanctions, we probably hope to bring about a weakening of the regime, by suffocating its resources. Beautiful idea already put in practice for ten years in Irak, for example. Have we already forgotten that sanctions reach only to populations, and not to dictators? But maybe, without daring speaking it out loud, are we perfectly aware of that. A people that starves is a people that will revolt, right, and if it needs a little help to build up the hatred and despair necessary to act, why not? Not very correct, but truly, that is what we think. But that is our history, our mentality… we tend to forget that the rest of the world is not thinking occidentally.
And that is the point: Revolution in Burma is a western concept. Of course, in a sense they would like to deal once and for all with the military junta. But in the discussions I had with the Burmese, more than 15 years after the 88´ bloodbath, they still refused, categorically, to solve the situation with violence. Pacifism is for them the only acceptable way. These last weeks they could have revolted, but they did not. Why? Because of refusing violence. Because they are extremists. Buddhism extremists. That is something difficult to understand for us.
Applying sanctions to push to an unsustainable situation is therefore of no help to command change. But even without considering the anticipated effect of sanctions, we forget that the real, practical effect of sanctions is… nil! Burma carries out full scale trading, with its neighbours, of its immense riches: teak wood, natural gas, ruby, heroin and methamphetamines. And we are part of the final consumers, of course.
So there we are, standing loud as defenders of the Right, setting up sanctions that would have no positive consequence if they were of any effect, and that have anyway, de facto, negligible effects.
And still, we display so much verve. We started by claiming in the media, our firm intention to vote sanctions within UN. But did we not know that these sanctions would be immediately and definitively refused by the Security Council? Certainly not. Russia, by principle, refuses any type of ingerence in affairs that it qualifies of "internal", for a very obvious reason: it has a number of such "internal" affairs going on and coming up. China, on its side, is in a dominant position in Asia, and soon in the world. As such, it has no reason for patronizing to an important economic partner. China does not naturally address human rights issues either, of course.
In short, in basic diplomacy, before showing off in front of the Security Council, you have a few discussions, a little bit of anticipation and coordination at least, right? Unless you are looking for confrontation. Diplomatically, to force Russia and China to take position openly on the subject of the sanctions is part of the present geopolitical game. These differences will be used later, a little additional weight in future discussions. But for internal politics, the result is quite interesting as well: a good occasion for politicians to show their commitment to our moral incorruptibility and our humanistic crusade. A good occasion to insist on the differences between us, westerners, and these Russians and Chinese who grow in influence on the international scene, with an effect on our daily lives. Another milestone for nationalisms.
So that was my point of view on the situation: ineffective sanctions, that would be anyway without positive consequences. A humanistic commitment from the western peoples, of course, but steered by a good deal of cynism from our politicians, who are buying a bit of good conscience, dirt cheap, while at the same time moving small marbles on the geopolitical chessboard.
This is quite pessimistic and leaves little room for constructivism. Unless of course, that we consider that talking about and understanding the mechanism and forces that drive our world, is a prerequisite for being constructive. A prerequisite to refuse that cynism should waste that huge amount of good will that Occident has to offer.
In practice, in the case of Burma, what "solution" then? It seems to me, that the safest way is that of exchange: during the last century, the fathers of Europe did not make great declarations… they just exchanged, they forced themselves mutually into interdependence, they waved the invisible networks that link the peoples: those of trade. To an extent where any decision, any crisis will call for dialogue. It worked, it is working. There is no miracle recipe, there were tricky steps, but eventually, the thinking was straightforward, the objective was clear and simple: Peace and prosperity. So how is it, that we'd like to export our bloody paragraphs of violent revolution and heroic death, instead of our chapters of construction and peace?
The solution is, or rather was, simple: lift all sanctions. Invest in Burma, go to Burma. Doing so, sharing the benefits with the military junta: a very negative performance ethically, of course…. But that is what we do all over the world. And above all, above all, in the medium term, what would the results be?
First of all, support to the people. Financial support, through the expenses of expatriates and foreign companies. Ideological support, simply by exchanging views and opinions, and through the effort of mutual understanding. And personal networking: when you know people going through dangerous times, you consider the situation with a very different intensity.
But more than anything, economic integration with the rest of the world would result in making the repression as we have seen it much more of an issue for the junta. Today the generals can joke about the sanctions, if they care at all. If Myanmar had a few xillion euros of commercial exchange with us, they would take sanction threats more seriously… and we wouldn't be in that situation, gesticulating without results. There would be a bit more activity in embassies, and "diplomatic" solutions would emerge: certainly not ideal, but definitely better than the present impunity of the regime.
And we should note that the junta is not monopolizing control over Burma: ethnic groups and drug lords have complete regular armies: in case of violent revolution, of radical change, stability would be far from guaranteed. Solution is in the long term. It lies in dialogue. And dialogue is achieved through economic interdependence, principally.
I did not really want to get into these considerations. But faced with the cynism and uselessness of our diplomatic response, which takes advantage of our misunderstandings, even though we are driven by genuine commitment; and most of all faced with the massacre and silent horror that is going on today in Burma, I had to write. To denounce, with rage but without too many illusions. To give my point of view on the situation, whatever it is worth, after visiting that country and meeting that marvellous people. And above all, because I can't keep in my panic, as we are taking irremediable positions that cut completely the Burmese from the western world. We got to the opposite of what we had to do, for years. Now the popular opposition has been destroyed, the free and the brave might have shown dignity in their death, but today their flesh is already decaying. The wrong has been done.
What is there left? You, me, those around us. What can we do? First of all: understand, not let ourselves sink into easy representations. Reality is: death and horror, cynically used by some.
But reality is also the Burmese: the kindest of hearts, and a smile that knows no sleep. A Buddhist extremism, far from anything we can imagine, almost impossible to understand. A different way of facing issues. A mix of ethnies and customs, but always, always, the joy to meet the foreigner, to ask about the world, to tell about the reality of their life. Not the misery, no. Just the joys and the sorrows, as anywhere else. And what counts, are the good times shared, a beer, a dance, a joke, a smile.
What we can do, what we must do, for them and for us, is to pay them a visit. Of course that is applicable to all countries, and to our neighbours also. But today I am writing, so that in a month or in ten years, you go to Burma. Because it is a people that enchanted me, and because all those I met there asked me to send them visitors. Just go.
Adrien Carriay, October 6th 2007