Blood, Dreams and Gold: The Changing Face of Burma
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Burma is one of the largest countries in Southeast Asia and was once one of its richest. Under successive military regimes, however, the country eventually ended up as one of the poorest countries in Asia, a byword for repression and ethnic violence. Richard Cockett spent years in the region as a correspondent for The Economist and witnessed firsthand the vicious sectarian politics of the Burmese government, and later, also, its surprising attempts at political and social reform.
Cockett’s enlightening history, from the colonial era on, explains how Burma descended into decades of civil war and authoritarian government. Taking advantage of the opening up of the country since 2011, Cockett has interviewed hundreds of former political prisoners, guerilla fighters, ministers, monks, and others to give a vivid account of life under one of the most brutal regimes in the world. In many cases, this is the first time that they have been able to tell their stories to the outside world. Cockett also explains why the regime has started to reform, and why these reforms will not go as far as many people had hoped. This is the most rounded survey to date of this volatile Asian nation.
if the Buddhists attack the Koran and continue defaming the Prophet, as the 969 movement does, then it will become correspondingly easy for extremist Islamist terrorist groups like Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiyah “to recruit young men, unemployed and poor, to the cause, young men who have seen their houses burned down and their family members killed. Until now we have seen no such connections, but if these ultra-nationalists [Buddhists] continue like this, it will happen.” Myint Thein tells me that
1872, there had been 58,255 Mahommedans (those of Indian Muslim descent, also called Chittagonians from Bengal); in 1911, there were three times that many. The population of the native Arakanese, however, had increased only from 171,612 at the census in 1871 to 209,432 in 1911. The result, concluded Smart, was that “The Arakanese are gradually being pushed out of Arakan before the steady wave of Chittagonian immigration from the West.” In Akyab town itself Smart estimated that “no less than 60
for what was then the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (now the Rakhine National Party), a resolute and opinionated schoolteacher called Shwe Maung, talked me through it all in the party’s dusty, dilapidated headquarters on the main street in Sittwe in 2013. Like the Kachin and other ethnic minority groups persecuted by the Burmans, he argued, “To be a genuine union we have to be a federal state … for five thousand years we [the Arakanese/Rakhine] had sovereignty, and after 1948 we agreed
Yangon, it was a very different story. Clearly, discontent with the economic situation in the country had now reached such a pitch that tens of thousands of citizens were prepared to take the risk of protesting. They marched with the monks, and when the police, army and Swan Arr Shin went in violently, the result was bloodshed. They shot into crowds of protesters, wounding and killing scores, including monks. The regime succeeded in quelling the protests. But in deeply Buddhist Burma the killing
contrast, allegedly, a mere 592 signatories favoured scrapping the clause. This was all disputed by the NLD, of course, but it proved that the military were determined to cling on to all the safeguards that Than Shwe had bequeathed to them. This is a consequence of top-down reform. The new constitution might have made some concessions to the opposition and to democracy, but it still left the political system heavily weighted in favour of the military. Just as pertinently, it may also be true