ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK-WORLD BANK
The Problems of
David I. Steinberg
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I Introduction: The Contextuality of Social Cleavages
II Cohesion and National Unity: Cleavages, Tensions, and Confrontations
Nationalism and Ethnicity: The Unity of the
2. The Military-Civil Nexus
3. Globalization and Nationalism
4. Centralism and Pluralism
5. On Orthodoxy
6. Religious Tension
7. Geo-Political Issues
III State-Sponsored Attempts at Cohesion
2. Burman Control
5. The Military
IV The Tatmadaw: Cohesion and Division?
Approaches to, and Perceptions of, the
VI Possibilities for Change
VII Lessons Learned
VIII Possibilities for Future Action
The Problems of
David I. Steinberg
I Introduction–The Contextuality of Social Cleavages
Myanmar is an ‘imagined community’–a state that is not yet a cohesive nation, an entity created sequentially through three 19th century wars evolving out of colonial economic and geo-political interests. The internal bonds that seemed to cement that country before independence in 1948 were based on the exercise of colonial power, serving both to force an artificial internal cohesion while simultaneously creating detached and separate ethnic groups, some of which were governed under a different British administration. Governments since independence in 1948 have, sometimes unintentionally, exacerbated existing cleavages and created new ones, thus reducing national cohesiveness even as it was titularly strengthened under a unitary state and creating divisive forces that will be difficult to re-meld. The rhetoric of national cohesion must be analytically examined in the light of the reality of its attempted enforcement.
Although this paper will focus on ethnic and religious cleavages, these issues cannot be separated from a complex of other problems facing the societies, each of which contributes to enhancing the intensity of the forces for divisiveness. The dilemmas facing the peoples of Burma/Myanmar are multiple, as are those the state must address, as well as the issues connected with the potential roles of foreign observers, analysts, and potential donors.
cleavages within the country since independence have not been by class or rank,
contrary to those in other societies, for the Burman area of the state were
perhaps the only place in
Since independence in 1948, a series of cleavages have developed or become more acute based on a complex of historical and attitudinal perceptions that profoundly affect the present and future of the state. The Union of Burma that was created in 1948 was politically highly delicate. The fragility of the Union was evident from the beginning, and was built into the compromise for the first constitution (in 1947) which allowed the large Shan State and the smaller Kayah State (the latter having its independence recognized by both the Burmese and the British in 1876) to secede from the Union after a ten-year trial period and a plebiscite. This was an unrealistic option, but the perceived threat that this might happen and that the Union of Burma might in effect be partly dissolved was the excuse for the 1962 coup.
Union of Burma (later named the
Important fissures developed in the civilian period. Some were political, such as that between the government and the above-ground and legal leftist-oriented party, the National Unity Front, and two underground communist insurrections. The left wing believed that the moderate socialism of the new regime was insufficient to resolve the economic plight of the poor. Muslims in the Arakan and the Karen, perhaps one-third of whom were Christian, were soon in rebellion, and other minorities became restive because they felt that they contributed more to the central government through the exploitation of their extensive natural resources than they received in return, and the Burma army often behaved with arrogance in those regions, a major problem that continues.
Starting in 1962, this modest autonomy was demolished by the military junta that ruled centrally by decree, and in 1974 was legalized and made permanent under a new unitary state constitution run by the military with a single-party political mobilization system reminiscent of some of the Eastern European nations. There was a fictive balance between the seven minority ‘states’ (provinces) and the seven Burman ‘divisions’ (also provinces). Power rested at the center titularly with the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), but actually with the military, whose high command was Burman, and which controlled the party. That system was again changed in 1988 after the third military coup (the first was in 1958 and was constitutionally approved by the civilian government, and after eighteen months governance was returned to civilian rule in a free election; the second was in 1962 and ended with the third coup in 1988 to shore up the previous collapsing military regime). Since 1988, government has been by decree from the military high command–the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and its reincarnation in 1997, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), both military with the same top leadership. Of the 52 years of Burmese independence, 40 have been under military rule.
Ethnicity was likely less important in the pre-colonial period than it is today; for as state nationalism has developed so ethnic nationalism has arisen. The population then was sparse in an extensive land, and an increased population of any ethnicity was desirable for economic and political reasons as enhancing military capacity, the labor force, and the tax base. Such expansionist policies over diverse ethnic groups also demonstrated the political efficacy of the ruler. Ethnic nationalism is a more modern phenomenon.
colonial powers in Southeast Asia established strict administrative boundaries
where none previously existed, and extended the authority of the center out
laterally to the arbitrarily designated borders that ignored ethnicity,
language, cultural patterns and unities, sometimes watersheds or other
geographic features, and often complex systems of multiple tributary
relationships that were deemed under European dominance to have no place in the
modern world. The colonial power created
a Burmese state (first governed from
ethnic problems were exacerbated by the
British through induced and tolerated immigration. They encouraged (and sometimes subsidized)
immigration of Indians (all those from the subcontinent) to assist in
governance and in staffing some lower and intermediate professional positions
and certain occupations. Rangoon became
an Indian city, and the Burma Army until World War II was composed of only 13
percent Burmans, while 37 percent were Indians, the remainder recruited in
ethnically based regiments from the ‘martial [minority] races’ along the
periphery, on the model established by the British in India. Two groups of Chinese entered: one from
II Cohesion and National Unity: Cleavages, Tensions, and Confrontations
of cleavages have led to tensions and confrontations within this state that
affect its capacity to create national unity and the equitable sharing of the
fruits of development, should that opportunity arise. Indeed, the argument is circular, for these
very cleavages and tensions are among the major causes of the lack of
development and the continuing poverty that has become virtually the hallmark
of the modern Burmese state. Poor
economic policies have certainly retarded economic development; they have had a
profound effect on an entity that should have been the richest country in
For analytical purposes, these cleavages, tensions, and confrontations are separated into a series of broad categories, but in fact they intertwine in complex patterns so that no single one can be separate from any other. Ironically, as these cleavages create tensions for cohesion at a variety of different social and regional levels, they also create a degree of commonality at more restricted levels. As the government stressed ‘Burmanization,’ thereby splitting off the minorities, minority ethnic nationalism and identity has increased. There have also been attempts by the governments of Burma/Myanmar to create or foster forces for national unity and cohesion as well (see Section III). As the divisive forces have within themselves limited unifying themes, the attempts to create unifying themes have also inherently within themselves the elements of divisiveness. Thus, the complexity of the social forces facing the state and its peoples are various and profound.
however, and complicating further the problems facing resolution of societal
ills is a more abstract and fundamental, but nonetheless critical, element in
considering social cohesion and conflict prevention: the concept of the finite
nature of power and its personalization. As in many traditional societies, power is
considered finite, not infinite, and personal--neither institutional nor
ideological. This reluctance to share
power occurs at governmental, institutional, and personal levels. Central governments are uneasy in
transferring authority to local or regional entities. Organizations are run from the top. From the Pagan period (1044-1298), loyalty
was personalized to focus on the individual monarch, not to the monarchy. Personal loyalties have remained the defining
characteristic of power in
personalization of power then results in factionalism, with resulting
entourages around key leaders, which has been an obvious and continuous
component of Burmese politics and leadership in general. Factionalism within the ruling Anti-Fascist
People’s Freedom League (AFPFL), the coalition that governed
cleavages and tensions within contemporary
1. Between Burman nationalism and a relatively new and diverse ethnic nationalism, which is a component of center-periphery issues and relates to the issue of national unity;
2. Between civil and military sectors of the society;
3. Between globalization and nationalism;
4. Between centralism and pluralism;
5. Between orthodoxy and competing views of the role of state and society;
6. Among religious groups; and
7. New geo-political, international rivalries that affect the internal attitudes of those in authority.
The two most critical issues related to social disharmony at the national level in the contemporary period have been, and continue to be, first, ethnic relations, and second, the rise of a dual society–the latter not the usual definition of the dichotomy between a modern and traditional economy, but rather between the military and civilian sectors of society. The latter has exacerbated the former.
1. Nationalism and Ethnicity: The Unity of the Union of Burma/Myanmar
Since the second military coup of 1962, the constant and overarching theme of the two military administrations (the Burmese Socialist Programme Party, 1962-1988; the SLORC and SPDC, 1988–present) has been national unity, a unity that the military themselves feel is fragile and is under constant internal and external threat. Only they, they believe, as the most cohesive organization in the country, can hold the state together. The divisive forces are, in their view, first ethnic, but exacerbated by foreign elements and states. The continuing, explicit goals of the military include national unity and national sovereignty. These forces for centrifugal change were real, and the military concentration on national unity as their guiding goal was not irrational in the past, as there was ample evidence of internal demands for independence by some ethnic minorities and external support of ethnic and other insurrections designed either to split from the center or take it over. Today, such charges have become irrelevant as independence has been abandoned by all minorities, although they persist and guide much of military thinking, exacerbating some tensions already extant, and creating new ones.
Although the ethnic problems are real, since 1962 the military have used the issue as a means to delay or diminish the transfer of any form of state power to peripheral groups, no matter how large. The military government of Myanmar now claims that there are 135 ‘races’ in that country, although the previous military regime played down ethnicity in international fora when it suited their purposes. The figure purporting to list ‘races’ in fact is a British calculation from the 1930s of the number of linguistic divisions within the state. The number of ethnic or linguistic distinctions beyond dialectic differences is far less–some two dozen or so languages (see appendix), although this does not diminish the complexity of the problems facing the state in attempting to forge national cohesion. Ethnic diversity has been used by the military to perpetuate direct rule.
The present military junta and government, designated as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has charged that the British divided and ruled, destroying the cohesion that existed among various ethnic groups in the pre-colonial period. Divided they were, as the colonial authorities separated ‘Burma Proper’ (or Ministerial Burma, governed directly by the British and composed of the heartland of the state of Burmans and the Arakanese, Mon, and some Karen) from the highlands, which were separately governed, some under local and traditional administrations.
Although such charges are accurate, unarticulated are the policies of the governments of the past two generations that have contributed to the decay of social and ethnic cohesion and exacerbated conflicts. Although the government probably sincerely believes in the need for social cohesion, it is a cohesion that they have attempted to define in their own interests, to forge under their own leadership, to coerce the population into accepting, and that reinforces their own superior position in society. These motives have gone publicly unadmitted by all these regimes, and although the coercive power of the state is probably the greatest it has been since independence, the military has built into its approach the virus of discontent and enmity. Instead, the tatmadaw (armed forces) have claimed that they have acted toward the minorities with cetana (a Buddhist concept of good will to which no proper-minded person could disagree), and to demonstrate the efficacy of their own policies, the military have claimed, by dubious techniques and with a major intellectual leap of faith, that as early as the stone age in what is now Myanmar different ‘races’ lived together in harmony, that this tradition was destroyed by the British, and that only the military is capable of bringing the peoples together.
The single most important and enduring problem facing Burma/Myanmar is that of the role of minorities, which affects social cohesion, permeates conflicts, and is destructive of dispute resolution. These internal issues have been exacerbated by external involvement.
of internal conflict and external collusion in some of those conflicts began
with independence and continues today on a reduced scale with a number of cease
fires established, but which may be ephemeral unless structural changes are
made in the distribution of power. On
and shortly after independence, two separate communist party rebellions (the
‘Red Flag’ and the ‘White Flag’) broke out, supplemented by the desertion of a
significant number of the militia (‘People’s Volunteer Organization’-PVO). A large number of the Karen armed forces and
ethnic group went into revolt; the result in the early 1950s was that the
appellation of the
foreign powers aided and abetted some of these rebellions for their own
purposes. The People’s Republic of
2. The Military-Civil Nexus
military has controlled power, it has controlled budgets as well. The real spending of the state on the
military is closely guarded, but the published figures of approximately
one-third of the budget are clearly understated, and observers believe that
perhaps half the annual government
budget is devoted to the military. In
the impoverished state, the social services are grossly underfunded,
and official figures of increases in spending in local currency in these
categories are misleading; they in fact are diminished expenditures considering
inflation and increases in population.
This situation is likely to become worse because the introduction of
higher technological military equipment from
The military has assured itself of its continuing control of a critical portion of the economy. Through military run corporations, such as the Union of Myanmar Holding Corporation, a wholly-owned military group initially capitalized at K. 10 billion (about US$1.4 billion, or about 20 percent of GNP at the time and at the unrealistic rate of exchange), they will remain in economic control no matter what government comes to power. The military have commandeered much of the foreign investment though joint ventures with military groups.
3. Globalization and Nationalism
As nationalism continues to be a pervasive force in the society (see below), the need for foreign investment, trade, and tourism has created a major dilemma for the regime. At the same time as they appeal to nationalism to legitimate their government and criticize foreign support to the opposition, they recognize the need to generate foreign exchange, and have gone to extreme lengths to do so.
attacks on foreigners have been prevalent in the controlled media. They concentrate on past injustices, present
support to the NLD, and charges that foreigners want to destroy Burmese
culture. This results in many potential
foreign investors rethinking their interests in that society, which remains
attractive because of low wages and a controlled labor force. Foreign investment approvals totaled over six
billion dollars (small compared to
The need for foreign exchange has resulted in the realization that tourism could be an important economic force. Extensive investments in hotels have produced little compared to goals of ‘Visit Myanmar’ year (500,000 tourists a year, but the actuality was about half that goal), but tourism, even on the modest scale that has resulted, has brought with it social dislocations decried by the state. The opposition NLD has decried tourism and foreign investment as economically strengthening the military regime.
4. On Centralism and Pluralism
Yet it is evident that minorities and even Burmans in local areas want a greater say in their local affairs. Some local autonomy will likely be introduced, but power will remain with the military–either at the local level or at the center.
Pluralism has been denied, not only administratively, but in civil society. The command structure brooks no independence of administration or intellectual thought. Yet at the same time the diverse nature of the state, the growth of population, and the more complex economy means that this centralism is likely to be both increasingly ineffective and eventually destructive of the very goals intended.
5. On Orthodoxy
of ideas or institutions in
The question of orthodoxy has developed to be an important aspect of the power struggle. As the military has demanded adherence to their stated positions, the NLD has done the same. When some 25 members of the NLD were critical of a decision by the leadership to create a new opposition committee to act as a National Assembly, they were branded as ‘traitors.’ When some years earlier, an insurgent student group charged that some members were informers or disloyal, they were summarily executed. The demands for ideological rigidity are related closely to the personalization of power, where a leader’s decisions are not to be questioned. This has been apparent under the leadership of General Ne Win, and is deeply rooted in the society.
6. Religious Tension
apparent religious toleration in
important religious issue, however, relates to the Muslim community, which is
extensive in the Arakan along the
In the past, as regimes have economically faltered, they have sometimes provoked anti-Muslim rioting to take pressures of the government. The possibility of this reoccurring (or being directed against an increasingly obvious Chinese minority as in 1967) should not be dismissed.
7. Geo-Political Issues
social cohesion and conflict prevention would normally be seen to be internal
affairs of the state, they are affected in multiple ways by the foreign
community. These include both immediate
practical issues as well as longer-range conceptual ones. Conflict in
At a more
abstract level, foreign contacts are still important. The Burman ethnic group is the only major
ethnic group that exists solely within the present borders of the state. All major
minorities have extensive populations in neighboring states. (There are,
for example, more Kachin in
To complicate further the picture and increase the insecurity of the military authorities purportedly caused by foreigners, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has kept up an extensive and successful campaign to solicit international sympathy for her democracy movement. As the military have attempted the slow castration of the NLD, the NLD has responded by relying on foreign moral support for their sustenance. Over the past two years, the NLD has done this by creating a series of confrontations with the military authorities. What effect these have had internally is not clear to this writer, but it is evident that the international press reports on them have garnered considerable positive publicity for the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi, and have thus been successful in those terms, and have kept the opposition alive in the world’s view. The picture of a beleaguered, intelligent, attractive woman standing up to military oppression has been an important international rallying symbol for human rights and advocates of Burmese liberalization. The military counter that she is an ‘axe handle’ or tool of the foreign imperialists who are out to split up the country and destroy Myanmar culture, and that the funding for her party and for anti-military activities on Thai soil and in cross-border activities has come from foreign sources. Because she was married to a foreigner (who died in March 1999), and has ‘mixed blood’ children, she is considered both inappropriate (by the military) as a Burman and ineligible for public office under rules that are likely to be introduced by the military under a new constitution, which they are interminably drafting under a National Convention that has not met in two years but that started in 1993.
Foreign influences are more than simply suspect. They, and their internal supporters and external progenitors, have systematically and constantly been vilified in the press at the same time that foreign investment has been encouraged and tourists enticed. The tension in state policies between nationalism, invoked to provide legitimacy for the military, and globalization, is pronounced. This tension is exacerbated because, should the government appear publicly to be supportive of globalization and things foreign, their central argument against the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi is undercut, and indeed the NLD then acquires greater legitimacy.
extended influence of
III State-Sponsored Attempts at Cohesion
Each government directly and indirectly has advocated some form of ideological focus–a common emotional and intellectual bond--by which to hold the state together and create that sense of community. Such efforts not only attempt to create cohesiveness when none existed before, but also to provide political legitimacy for the regime in power, whether that be military or civilian. Some of these themes have been constant, although their relative emphases may have shifted. These are:
2. Burman dominance
4. Socialism, and
5. The military.
Nationalism, Burman control, and Buddhism have continued to be essential elements of political legitimacy and the endeavor to create national identity under all regimes.
All governments have drawn upon strong nationalistic, or xenophobic, tendencies in a Burman population that has continuously felt under siege internally and externally, and that feels that its culture has been threatened. These themes are constantly replayed in the media and have continuously struck a responsive chord among all Burmese governments. The Burmese are constantly reminded in the controlled media that foreigners do not ‘love’ them, and that preoccupation with foreign ideas, clothes, dress, music, food, or other factors is wrong and ‘un-Myanmar,’ Performers have been jailed for performing in too Western a manner.
2. Burman Dominance
All governments also since independence have been Burman dominated, and it is the Burman ethnic group that has considered that they have the inherent right to govern both because of historical precedent and because they number two-thirds of the total population of 47 million. To succeed in Burma/Myanmar under any government was to play by Burman rules, speaking Burmese (education in minority languages has not been allowed in public schools) even if the constitutions provided the fig leaf of ethnic cultural diversity rights as a cover for internal Burman hegemonic power and cultural domination.
The support of Buddhism has also been a critical element in political legitimacy, even if its aggressiveness (or rather the aggressiveness of the state in fostering it among non-Buddhist minority peoples) fomented some rebellions along the borders, and no regime could long survive that did not take into account the importance of that religion and make proper obeisance to it and its sangha (monkhood). Prime Minister U Nu’s attempt to make it the state religion in 1960 (it always had a special role, and all civilian heads of state who rotated among ethnic groups had to be Buddhist) encouraged ethnic rebellions among minorities that were heavily Christian or Muslim. It was not until 1980 that the military succeeded in controlling and registering the Buddhist sangha, the official hierarchy of which is firmly under military domination. Yet all leaders of Burma/Myanmar from the monarchy to the present have adhered to Buddhist practices both because of personal beliefs and to ensure political legitimacy. U Nu, General Ne Win, General Than Shwe have all built important pagodas, and in1999 General Khin Nyunt (Secretary-1 of the SPDC and head of intelligence) supervised the refurbishing of the most illustrious Buddhist shrine in Burma, the Shwedagon Pagoda, with a ton of new gold leaf. All leaders are pictured in the press as paying obeisance to the monks, and Aung San Suu Kyi in April 1999 gave a Buddhist memorial service for her husband.
Socialism, under the auspices of the military-led BSPP, was for one-third of the independence period the secular banner under which the state was to come together. A moderate socialist policy had been the hallmark of the previous civilian administration, but after 1962 it became virulent with the complete nationalization of most of the large and small manufacturing base. This ill-conceived effort failed because of an incompetent administration that had been so weakened by the military that it could not be effective, as the military replaced professionals with military officers who had enthusiasm and loyalty but not the required skills to manage even a rather simple socialist economy. Very highly placed authorities of that period have confided that they believed it was not socialism as an economic concept that failed; rather, it was an inoperable and elaborate feedback system under which local complaints and problems could (theoretically) be brought up the chain of political command to the top authorities for resolution. This system, according to commentators, did not work because of the climate of fear in the society–a fear that has been and still is endemic, with civilians fearing the military, and lower-level military fearing the high command, and even those in the cabinet fearing the top leaders. Chairman of the BSPP Ne Win in 1987 publicly recognized the problem, stating that the regime had to stop lying with statistics to please those in authority. It did not work. Even the modest economic reforms proposed by the World Bank in the 1970s and 1980s that were designed to give the State Economic Enterprises (the public sector) more authority to set prices and hire and fire personnel also failed because lower level officials were afraid to invoke the wrath of the higher authorities by making local decisions and being innovative.
It was the Japanese in 1988 that prompted the military in the last days of the BSPP to reform their economic system and abandon socialist ideology and open the state to a more market, although still highly dirigiste, economy. Under the SLORC, the foreign and indigenous private sectors were encouraged, although the military has retained direct and indirect control over substantial portions of the the economy.
5. The Military
Finally, under the present military administration, socialism has been replaced not with capitalism, but with the adulation of the military as the only cohesive force in the country, as the savior of the state, and as the idealistic force fighting for the common good. A new mythology has selectively been instituted, new revisionist books written, and institutions created (historical commissions and museums) designed to perpetuate the new orthodoxy. Although the private sector is encouraged within bounds, capitalism has not been seen to be in harmony with some Buddhist ideals. But Buddhism, nationalism, and anti-foreign sentiment (even as the state encourages foreign investment and tourism) are constantly put in the service of the state’s extensive propaganda mechanisms that are ubiquitous under the stringent control by the military of all media, publishing, and distribution of information. This pervasive emphasis on the military in its present ‘efficacious’ role and past ‘accomplishments’ is a marked change from previous ideological formulations around which the population was supposed to rally. Now, instead, it is the military itself that is the focus for legitimacy, efficacy, honor, and prestige, relegating to the civilian population (and to the minorities who no longer hold high military positions) secondary status and exacerbating the problem of social fragmentation.
This focus on the military itself creates obvious problems for amelioration of social and political cleavages, for one party (the military) holds itself up as the ultimate unifying force, thus denying to the other party (the opposition) in any potential negotiations any legitimacy and any neutral ground that could provide a common basis for compromise.
IV The Tatmadaw: Cohesion and Division?
The Tatmadaw (armed forces) of
In addition, they have formed a unitary state which creates the administrative fact of cohesion even as it fosters the elements conducive to its own destruction. First, the military ruled by decree from 1962 to 1974; then they created a unitary state with all power in the army and the center through the BSPP, which was a single-party, military-dominated, mobilization system. Then, following the coup of 1988, they have again ruled by decree until the present, and the future system they are likely to install under a new constitution will be one in which power will still reside in military hands. It is apparent that the military have no intention of giving up essential power under the multi-party political system that they claim will be ‘democratic’ or a kind of ‘disciplined democracy’ toward which they continuously say to be moving, although the pace is glacial.
They will point to many of these accomplishments with pride, including major road, bridge, and infrastructure construction (many of the major undertakings with Chinese assistance), claiming that all of these actions induce national cohesion. In a sense this is accurate, but it is a cohesion that is forced on a society reluctant to be so subjugated, and this cohesion is likely to be unstable. At the same time they have built a bifurcated society–military and civilian-- in which separate is not equal.
All this has changed. Two societies have been created–military and civilian, and even the civilian society is controlled by the military. The military now dominate all avenues to mobility and advancement– not only through the military itself, but through control of higher education, the Buddhist sangha hierarchy, and through mass organizations all of which are under military sponsorship and domination. The military is still a desired career. With it comes the access to schools and medical facilities (properly equipped and of a much higher standard) when these are closed or not available to the civilian population. They also have access to the necessities of living through their commissaries and other shops that sell goods at reduced prices, and receive rations that means that their modest incomes go further. They have access to power, and mistrust the civilian bureaucrats. Perhaps half the government’s budget is surreptitiously devoted to the military (about one-third is overt), and in addition at local levels the military units often live off neighborhood villages, increasing the already widespread poverty and further marginalizing the peasantry.
role of the military and the opening of the economy to the indigenous and
foreign private sectors after the coup of 1988, a move that might have been the
most important reform in the state since 1962, has created a further dichotomy. This is the possibility of corruption, which
was once rampant but at a relatively low and inconspicuous level, but has since
mushroomed. State salaries are so low (a
director-general of a ministry makes about $400 per month at the official, but
unrealistic, rate of exchange, or about $8 at the curb market rate) that
virtually no one in the public sector can live on their salaries. This not only invites, but demands,
corruption in a number of forms and multiple sources of family income. Thus there is an increasing discrepancy in
incomes between those who are poor, and about 50 percent of the population are
either below the poverty line or just above it), and those who have access to
either power or capital. Income
differentials are rapidly expanding. The
domineering role of the Chinese, who now are seen to control a major portion of
the economy of
The minorities have been cut off from access to power. They are no longer in the upper reaches of the military, nor in the higher levels of the subordinate civilian bureaucracy. As they are on the geographic periphery, they are have been relegated to the power periphery, and under present military plans are likely to remain in this position.
dichotomy facing the state has been exacerbated because of the lack of
meaningful dialogue between a military that is intent on remaining in power,
and a civilian opposition, led by the NLD (one of 10 legal parties, but the
others are inconsequential), that has been denied power even though they
overwhelmingly won the elections of May 1990.
As a condition for the cease fires along the periphery, the minority groups and armies are allowed to keep their arms and engage in their traditional agricultural pursuits. The administration is supposed to deliver to them increased educational opportunities, better health care, and improved agricultural facilities. The military will likely be hard pressed, given the state of the economy, to do so. The crisis may occur when, as the military demand, all arms be turned in after a new constitution is promulgated and before elections take place. It is unlikely that the minorities will be willing to do so. The problem is further complicated by the issue of opium production. The central government may be trying to eliminate opium production and the resultant heroin and related narcotics that flow from that practice. The state’s interest in this is disputed by others, but in any case it is predictable that the lucrative trade is so important that there will be tensions between any central government bent on opium eradication and local producers who yet have no economically viable other way to earn incomes beyond subsistence, and local officials (military or otherwise) who can ‘tax’ the narcotics trade or otherwise profit from its continuation. In the past the government could claim a lack of responsibility for this production because they did not control these regions, but with the cease fires this will no longer be possible.
as a matter of rhetorical convenience rather than as an analytical fact,
discusses the military in the singular.
Although the military is more cohesive than other institutions, it has
elements of possible fission built into its current organization and size. The expansion of the military under the BSPP
and the SLORC-SPDC regimes has created a duality within the military of line
officers who are involved in either fighting or managing the peripheral areas,
and those who are more administrative.
The change from the SLORC to the SPDC may not have changed policies, for
the four top military figures held their posts, but the SPDC added all the
regional military commanders who now have assumed a greater role than
heretofore. They were virtual warlords
over their regional areas, especially those far removed from the Burman centers
of population, but they now also have authority in the critical arena of
decision-making. There are also said to
be personal and policy differences between the commander of the army, General
Maung Aye, and the head of intelligence, General Khin Nyunt. No overt split is yet apparent, and there are
a number of reasons why the military would want to appear to have a united
front, not the least of which is the fear of what might happen if the military
should split. Should the military leave
power, the fears of retribution are real, and the example of General Pinochet
One of the central cleavages that has developed between many of the minorities and the Burman population is because the Burma Army has acted like, and been perceived to be, an almost foreign military force occupying a subjugated area. Until there are reforms of the military occupation performance, these antipathies are likely to continue, increasing ethnic tension.
Approaches to, and Perceptions of, the
It is a
tautology to say that Burmese problems must be resolved by the Burmese themselves
and bama-lo, in a Burmese manner. Yet the
foreign community has numerous roles to play in assisting a process by which
resolution may be accomplished. One of
the most important, to be played by the multilateral aid agencies and the
academic community, is the development of analyses that will present
alternative perspectives and scenarios on the situation and its amelioration,
and to break though the cloud of partisan cant that now epitomizes the
polarized statements emanating from various sources within and without the
country. The climate of fear that is so pervasive within
If we are
so concerned with the current, dire situation in
of forces have created what seem to be a new set of lenses for our focus on
reality of a lack of freedom within
There is evidence that before the election the military did not see themselves as remaining in direct power for a long period, although it is my belief that they would have retained power behind the scenes for the indefinite future. They specifically eschewed longer term economic planning because they viewed themselves as a transitional government (although not perhaps the military as transitional). There are even suggestions that if the election had not been so lopsidedly won by the NLD, the military might have been willing to deal with a divided opposition they believed they could manipulate or control. But with their ignominious defeat, or that of the party they quietly backed, they began to make long-range plans to control the political process and remain in power. Thus, longer-term economic planning was instituted, preparations for a new constitution were begun, and the formation of a mass mobilization organization among the population as a whole inaugurated that would service the military’s efforts for control.
for its part, became firmly entrenched and not willing to compromise, believing
that by the modern criteria of elections they had the legal mandate to govern,
while the military constantly played up their adherence to Burmese culture,
tradition, and values. When the military
appeared intransigent, the NLD held a rump session of their elected delegates
Foreign governments, especially the United States, which previously had called for the opening of Myanmar and the participation of that state in international fora to enlighten a regime that had for too many years been isolated, hardened its attitude, prompting the imposition of sanctions on all new U.S. investments, denying the appointment of a new ambassador (but having the U.S. Embassy run by a charge’), and attempting, unsuccessfully, to keep Myanmar out of ASEAN.
various governments and organizations have approached
these tactics has worked.
question then must be asked: why have none of these tactics induced
change? And the answer is complex and
disconcerting to those who hope for reform and progress. Although some of the activists promoting
liberalization have invoked the analogy of
This writer believes that there are fundamental aspects of the structure of power and attitudes toward power that must be understood if we are to consider appropriate paths. These attitudes shape negotiations, exacerbate tensions, create confrontations, and diminish the possibilities of conflict prevention. These are as follows:
These elite, strongly held military views that affect negotiations may be divided into those internally and externally focused.
Burmese military views--Internal Assumptions:
* The military believe that they are the only present and
future institution capable of keeping
* The tatmadaw consider past political leaders as venal, corrupt, ineffective, and incapable of running the state and assuring its unity.
* The military believe that the minorities are inherently inferior (culturally/socially) and would split from Burman authority if given the chance. The military also believe the minorities are distrustful of the Burman majority (including the military) and fear Burman domination. They provide only lip-service respect for minority culture through ritualized holidays and propaganda efforts. They equate Burman Buddhist culture with the state and want some form of central (Burman) control. Advocacy of Buddhism, association with the sangha, building or repairing of Buddhist shrines (including adding one ton of gold to the Shwedagon Pagoda in 1999), are part of the search both for political legitimacy and personal religious merit. The state goes to great and continuous lengths to demonstrate its reverence for the sangha, and the leadership is continuously depicted in the media as supportive of Buddhism. Buddhism is intimately associated with political legitimacy.
* The military view economic progress, reform, or liberalization as secondary to maintenance of political control, or indeed as a means to such control. The primary function of an improved economy is greater military power, general political acquiescence of the population to military control through military delivery of greater economic rewards for loyalty, and improved political legitimacy, and not directly the betterment of the human condition. To this end, the military believe they must control the economy and have set up direct (Myanmar Economic Holdings Co., military-run factories, Myanmar Economic Corporation, etc.) and many indirect mechanisms (‘private’ banks, USDA businesses, etc.) to do so.
* The military view any form of pluralism within the administration at any level, in the dissemination of information, and among non-governmental organizations as a threat to the state and their control.
* The military have no intention of giving up essential power even though a civilian facade for their control is likely eventually to be established.
* The military have no intention of granting to minority groups any significant degree of power at the national level, although some modest local self-government will be given to some groups with which cease fires have been arranged.
* The military (at least as long as Ne Win is alive) have no intention of allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to play any significant role in any new government.
Burmese Military views--External Assumptions:
* The Burmese regime believes that the country is surrounded by enemies–real and potential. These threats no longer take the form of territorial aggrandizement, but economic domination and the possibility of encouraging minority separatism. This fear is based on a reality once extant, but now completely outmoded. These past instances of such foreign support are well documented, and include American assistance to KMT forces in Burma, Pakistani-Bangladeshi support for Muslim insurgents, Thai help to a variety of insurgent groups (both ethnic and Burman), Indian backing of anti-SLORC groups, some British support for the Karen, Chinese aid to the Burma Communist Party, the inclusion of northen Burma in early KMT and PRC Chinese maps, and a general perception that Christian minorities have closer support and contact with foreigners than do the Burman Buddhist minority.
* These fears include
* The military regard the United States as highly significant to them because of its international influence, but distrust U.S. motives and influence, believing that if sufficiently provoked the U.S. might intervene militarily in Burma.
* Foreign public criticism of the SPDC simply forces a nationalistic response, and foreign pressures for reform are viewed as infringements of Burmese sovereignty, and foreign support for the NLD undercuts the NLD’s potential legitimacy (in their view).
* The military is out to destroy the party.
* The military is intent on splitting Aung San Suu Kyi from the party.
* There is a potential role for the military under a truly civilian (NLD) government, but one under civilian control and review.
* The immediate needs are to maintain the NLD as an entity and seek to continue international support, including sanctions.
* Deny the military any possible avenues leading to increasing their public legitimacy internally or externally. This includes opposing any humanitarian assistance that benefits the SPDC or its agencies (e.g., USDA), and the operations of foreign NGOs in Myanmar, as well as denying to the government the foreign exchange generated by business, investment, or tourism.
Because of the world role of the United States, its influence with other potential bilateral donors, and with the multilateral institutions of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the IMF, it is important to consider under what assumptions and constraints it operates, as well as its policies toward Burma.
* There is a significant lobby within the Congress and in the U.S./international non-governmental community insisting (minimally) on greater political and civil rights, and more comprehensively that the military relinquish its authority as a result of the May 1990 elections and for Aung San Suu Kyi to assume the reins of government.
* The Executive Branch in the
* Although the executive and legislative branches are in formal agreement at this juncture, should this administration desire to shift its present policies, it will not be prepared to use up any political capital it still might have on confronting the Congress, or individual legislators, on Burma issues.
* This policy will limit the capacity of any U.S. administration in the near future in agreeing to multilateral donor assistance beyond most humanitarian aid to Burma without clear quid pro quos.
* If such amelioration were to take place in the near term, it would be opposed by Aung San Suu Kyi unless it were accompanied by the release of political prisoners and the freedom of the NLD to operate as a real political party.
* Other more important policy issues with
* Individual congressmen or women believe they cannot be
seen to be supporting a pariah regime, and thus will follow a minority strongly
opposed to amelioration of present
* At the same time, there is a significant body of businessmen or women who, perhaps for either intellectual or financial reasons, believe that private sector activity will bring (perhaps eventually) democracy.
* Japanese potential assistance is important to the country. Its past role has been essential to survival of previous Burmese governments and it has strongly influenced positive change (the shift to the private sector) in the past.
* Although Indian relations with the Burmese regime have improved since Rajiv Gandhi, India views with suspicion a Chinese presence and influence on its undemarcated northeast frontier, which was the scene of fighting in the Sino-Indian War of 1962, as outflanking its unstable northeastern states, and Chinese access to the Bay of Bengal.
VI Possibilities for Change
The prospects for alleviation of the present political stasis seem bleak. That does not mean, however, that change is impossible. What are possible avenues or opportunities for change?
It is, of course, conceivable that the economic distress in which the country is mired may cause the state to agree to make more than superficial accommodations in both the economic and political sectors. Since, however, economics has been considered as subordinate to political issues, it seems unlikely that the regime would agree to more than cosmetic changes that would affect the structure of power in the society and heal social and political cleavages.
A highly controversial question is whether the military would remain relatively solid upon the death of General Ne Win, who is now 89. There are those, including this author, who believe he has been an important glue holding the military together through the force of his personality and history even after he retired as chairman of the BSPP in July 1988. He became, in the view of this author, the Burmese equivalent of a Cardinal Richelieu, operating behinds the scenes on only important policy issues, but out of the direct, prosaic power line. When he passes to his karmic reward, will this change? Will the fragmentation of the military occur based on personal power issues rather than ideology? This cannot be definitively answered, but it is a distinct possibility that should not be ignored. If this were to happen, then we might find one element of the military seeking political accommodations with the opposition or with some minorities that might allow reform to take place under various guarantees for military security and the unity of the state. Now, fears of retribution may be a critical force in ostensible military cohesiveness.
Will the cease fires with the minorities hold? If they do, the center is strengthened. If not, then there could be further divisions within the state and the military. What about the younger military themselves. Are they in agreement with the senior commanders, and could they rise against their own military colleagues who perhaps appear to be corrupt or destructive of the prestige of the military? This is a possibility, but it does not seem likely in the near term. The military educational institutions are in large part catering to the sons of those in, or retired from, the military.
And what about the people? Could they rise once again and try to complete the people’s revolution that almost succeeded in 1988 but eventually failed? All evidence at the present time is that this seems unlikely, although not impossible. Authoritarian regimes often have had some of their lower functionaries make mistakes while trying to please their higher command, and it is possible that some egregious act might set forth a revolution. The price of rice, the surrogate indicator of well being in the region, is an important indicator to watch, as are other prices of necessities, such as cooking oil.
the NLD do now that there is this concerted, quiet, governmental effort to
marginalize it and its leadership? Can
it hold together over time? In the
shorter term, time seems on the side of the military, but over the longer
period regime change and liberalization seems inevitable. The military have attempted to picture the
NLD as rigid and uncaring, as well as foreign controlled. How effective this is within
In additional to fundamental issues connected with internal political dynamics, discussed above, the new World Bank report on Myanmar of 1999, sets forth a set of problems and priorities and requested a written response from Myanmar authorities on whether the government was interested in serious negotiations on any of these issues. It links economic reforms to political changes, but does not specify the latter. The Burmese government has now responded, but the reply lacked the specificity that the Bank had stipulated.
There are at present a number of basic possibilities for change assuming at this stage the singularity of today’s Burmese military leadership. At one end of the potential spectrum is that the military will be intransigent and will make no moves to satisfy the World Bank or potential bilateral donors, such as the Japanese, on either fundamental economic restructuring or major political reforms. At the other end, the military will agree to both reform of the political power structure and major economic restructuring. The former option seems the most likely response at the present time, and the latter the least likely.
But there are intermediate possibilities: the military might agree to major economic reforms in accordance with the World Bank recommendations, or some minor economic reforms (such as those connected with certain public sector industries) but no essential political liberalization. It is unlikely that they would agree to political reforms while neglecting the economic issues, if the analysis is correct that politics, not economics, are in command. There is the possibility that the tatmadaw might pursue political dialogue with the NLD as a cosmetic move to placate the foreign community with no real intention of moderating their position on essential power.
Even remembering that Dante said that soothsayers go to a lower circle of hell, let me hazard the following possibilities:
· It is least likely that the military will agree with comprehensive political and economic reform–unless there is a change in present command positions.
· The next least likely possibility is major political reforms but not major economic reforms. I believe the military view economics as an integral part of political power, and thus do not envisage economic reforms unless they are perceived to be supportive of their conception of power politics.
· The possibility of major economic reforms but no political change seems marginally plausible, but still unlikely, but modest economic changes but no political changes is more possible, if not probable.
most likely eventuality is for the military in effect to deny major political
or economic changes. They may do so
believing that the donors will block assistance without substantial changes
which might threaten the power base of the government. If it is true that the regional commanders
play a greater role than heretofore, their insulation from the outside world
may seem to make the option of ‘going it alone’ more plausible. If this were to be true, then the donors
options might concentrate on the slow building of civil society and pluralism,
together with training of a future bureaucratic and business class for some,
one hopes, more liberal future regime, through non-threatening humanitarian
assistance and the operation of NGOs. This may be about all that can be done by
external powers under these circumstances.
This approach, the building of civil society, has been denounced by the
National Coalition Government of the
These predictions, which are art, not science (and we all know what we like in art but on which there will be fundamental disagreements), are based on my perceptions of how the military view their own position in the society. That is:
· The present military (again, assuming they are in the singular at the present time because to assume otherwise would be imprudent without more evidence, but noting that this situation is likely not to hold over time) have no intention of giving up effective power.
· They view economic change as subordinate to political power.
· They may be ready to engage in cosmetic changes, such as political dialogue, but with no intention of letting that dialogue change the structure of power. They would do this to placate the Japanese and ASEAN, with the goal of inducing Japanese aid and rejuvenating ASEAN investment.
· The military have no intention of engaging in any sort of dialogue with the minorities that would produce a federal system, although they will allow a degree of local autonomy for selected groups (Wa, etc.) but without national power.
· The military fundamentally distrust all foreign countries and organizations, and thus would only agree to foreign-induced changes or programs if they felt such changes, support, or funding could be manipulated in their own interests. This they were able to do in the 1970s and 1980s. Thus any foreign aid plans should consider what in foreign assistance are called the ‘unintended consequences’–that is, what happens if foreign plans produce results other than what was anticipated; e.g., a strengthening of a repressive regime through the building up of certain institutions or individuals, etc., rather than growing economic capacity to assist the poor, or minorities, or pluralism. The military have demonstrated a capacity to underestimate the possibility of reforms through indirect channels, such as the building of civil society, so there may be opportunities for modest progress there.
VII Lessons Learned
The past dozen of years since the coup of 1988 were not created de novo. Much of what has transpired have their precedents, if not their origins, in previous actions of the earlier military governments, some in the civilian period, and some are ingrained from pre-colonial times.
We should have learned that coercion will not work. It creates a backlash based on nationalism and xenophobia that instead of accomplishing the goals set by foreigners, in fact reinforces the policy positions of those whom we hope to change, and also increases their legitimacy in the eyes of their own people and will be employed by the regime to do just this. Further, we should note from the 1970s and 1980s that the simple provision of economic or other assistance in the hope that this will bring changes in attitudes and policies is erroneous. Indiscriminate giving just reinforces the status quo and is destructive of reform. We should know by now that assistance must have strings attached, but they must be appropriate strings.
It is also evident that negotiations with the Burmese authorities since independence are better carried out in private, avoiding the media. Statements for the foreign press will be countered with statements from the controlled indigenous press. Negotiations of a serious nature should be held in private. Whether democratic regimes operating under conditions of relative transparency are capable of such quiet negotiations is another, important question, but it is subordinate to the need to allow the other party to the negotiations to retain the dignity of an equal, no matter what economic or military disparities may exist. Dangling money in front of the regime alone will not work, for they will respond that they cannot be bought (as they have said).
as well that the attention span of the Burmese in dealing with issues within
their own boundaries is going to be far longer than that of foreigners. Foreign governments and even NGOs will be
redirected to other crises while the Burmese authorities will hunker down to
protect what they regard as their rights.
It seems evident to this observer that this is what is presently
seems evident that the threat of retribution at very high levels if they
relinquish control is probably an important reason for the military to want
continued power. Any accommodation with
the military must somehow take this into account and establish rules under
which any future government will operate.
This is likely to be a contentious issue, as it evident in
VIII Possibilities for Future Actions
alternatives for foreigner well-wishers of the state and its people are
limited. It may be necessary to
recognize that the military will be there, will be important, and must somehow
become a part of both the negotiating
process and the end product. This was
true in the civilian period as well as at the present time, although this is
sometimes overlooked. It should be
completely clear that this in no way endorses the concepts of ‘Asian values,’
which have been patently used to subordinate populations to governments less
than democratic. They have been so used
Democracy may be an ultimate goal, but it may be important not to push for the ultimate change (democracy, however defined), but incremental changes (pluralism, the building of civil society, etc.) that would be less threatening, but in the long run accomplish more than the strident stance that may be as morally satisfying as it is ineffective. It may be better to move toward liberalization and pluralism that to demand a full-blown democracy born from the forehead of a military Zeus.
In a sense,
the status quo as perceived by outsiders may not be perceived that same way
At this time, the resumption of traditional foreign assistance programs (beyond humanitarian aid) would accomplish little, and could even have negative effects on the population, although such effects might be positive for the military.
dangers to the state, to the military, and to the people that privately the
military might be made to recognize.
Although they deny, for example, that there is an AIDS/HIV crisis,
neutral observers agree that this is the case, and no matter how many times the
authorities stridently maintain that such a crisis is impossible in
counter-narcotics program contribute to alleviating some of the tensions in the
society and lead to more cohesion?
Certainly the narcotics issue has to be addressed. The experience in the region, however, has
not been effective. Previous support for
anti-narcotics activities by the
It was once
argued that anti-narcotics programs put the foreign advisors in close contact
with segments of the Burmese military with whom contacts were otherwise
difficult. This is unlikely to be a
sufficient justification for such a program.
But it raises a further important consideration: if engagement with the
regime is appropriate, then is engagement with the military appropriate? Is
military training something that should be considered? Would such training and exposure to more
humane and responsible military establishments be effective, or would such
efforts further legitimate the regime?
Although there is a theoretical argument in favor of increasing the
contacts of the military with the outside world, the
for improvement in
The multilateral donor community should insist that if they are to be involved in anything more than technical training for some new, unknown, and more liberal government, that some economic reforms are essential, and some political moderation and compromise are required. The alternative, so that the poor in Myanmar are not abandoned both by their own government and the outside world, is for the international NGO community to proffer limited humanitarian assistance if they are allowed to conduct legitimate humanitarian programs in accordance with their charters and that they would have the responsibility for careful monitoring and evaluation of their assistance. The outlook is still dim, but it seems imperative to attempt to influence positively changes for the well-being of the diverse peoples of Burma/Myanmar, and to begin the slow process of minimizing and then eliminating the cleavages so evident and disastrous for the society.
is Director of Asian Studies,
Linguistic Groups of Burma/Myanmar
Kachin (Chingpaw), including Atsi, Lashi, Maru, etc.
Naga (divided into many subgroups)
Karen (including Pwo, Sgaw, Bre, Karenni, Padaung, Pa-O)
Ethnically Related Rebel Groups in
Abi Group (Lahu)
Arakan Liberation Party (Rakhine Liberation Army)
Arakan National Liberation Party (Rakhine Muslim Liberation Party, Mujahids)
Kachin National Union (successor to the Karen National Defense Organization)
Karen Liberation Army
Karenni National progressive Party
Kayah New Land Revolutionary Council
Lahu National Unity Party
National Democratic Front (umbrella organization)
Muslim Liberation Front
National Socialist Council of Nagaland
Palaung Patriotic Army
Palaung State Liberation organization
Pa-O National Organization
Rohingya Patriotic Front
Shan State Nationalities Liberation Group
Shan State Volunteer organization
Shan United Army
Shan United Revolutionary Army
Wa National Army
(unnamed) Chin group
Other Rebel Organizations
Arakanese Communist Party (Rakhine Communist Party)
Yang Hwe-Kang group (Chinese Irregular Forces)
Ethnic Cease Fires (July 1998) 
Main Cease Fire Organizations Date
State Party (or
Shan State Army/Shan State progress Party 1989
New Democratic Army 1989
Kachin Defence Army (KIO 4th Brigade) 1991
Pao National Organization 1991
Kayan National Guard 1992
Kayan New Land Party 1994
Shan State Nationalities Liberation Organization 1994
New Mon State Party 1995
Other Cease Fire Forces
Democratic Karen Buddhist Army 1995
Mongko Region Defence Army 1995
Shan State National Army 1995
Mong Tai Army 1996
Karenni National Defence Army 1996
Karen Peace Force (ex-KNU, 16th Battalion) 1997
Mergui Mon Army 1997
Forces in Revolt (July 1998) 
Arakan Liberation Party
Chin National Front
Karen National Union (1995-96 talks broke down)
Karen National progressive Party (1995 cease fire broke down)
Lahu National Organization
Mergui-Tavoy United Front (ex-BCP)
National Socialist Council of Nagaland
National Unity Party (Front) of Arakan
Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front
Rohingya Solidarity Organization
Shan United Revolutionary Army (reformed 1996)
Wa National Organization (1997 talks broke down)
Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Suu Kyi. Freedom from Fear and Other
Brandon, John, ed.
Carey, Peter, ed.
Hautmann, Gustaaf. Mental
Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics. Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League
Holt, Claire. Ed. Culture and Politics in
Morley, James, ed. Driven
By Growth. Political Change in the Asia-Pacific.
Mya Maung. The
Mya Than & Joseph L.H. Tan.
Pedersen, Morton, ed. Burma-Myanmar.
Renard, Ronald D. The Burmese Connection. Illegal Drugs and the Making of the Golden
Rotberg, Robert I., ed.
Silverstein, Josef. Burmese
Politics: The Dilemma of National Unity.
Spiro, Melford. Kinship and Marriage in
Steinberg, David I. The
Steinberg, David I. Burma/Myanmar: Issues of Authority and
Legitimacy Since 1988.
Robert. The State in
Victor, Barbara. The
Lady. Aung San Suu Kyi. Nobel Laureate and
. The use of the name of the state, ‘Myanmar’ or ‘Burma,’ with the military government mandating ‘Myanmar’ for all of of that country’s history and the opposition insisting on ‘Burma,’ indicates more than political alignment, although that is immediately evident as well. This country may be the only such one in the world today where even its name places one in a political camp. But the disputes over changes in names, and the military designation of ‘Bamar’ for the principal ethnic group, are dramatically indicative of the lack of social and ethnic cohesion within the state, the present military government stating that the name change increases inter-ethnic cooperation while the opposition disagrees. The uses of the names in this paper implies no political bias– ‘Myanmar’ will be used for the regime since 1988 (the name was changed in 1989), ‘Burma’ for the earlier period, both together to indicate historical continuity, ‘Burman’ for a member of the major ethnic group, ‘Burmese’ for a citizen of that country, and as an adjective and for the language of the majority ethnic entity.
 The term
‘imagined community’ comes from Anderson,
Benedict, R. O'G. Imagined Communities:
Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.
women are not only among the freest in
. For a discussion of the comparative rise of
 In Benedict
Anderson, ‘The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture, in Claire Holt, ed. Culture and Politics in
. For a
discussion of these issues, see David I. Steinberg, ‘The State, Power, and
Civil Society in Burma/Myanmar: The Status and Prospects for Pluralism,’ in Burma-Myanmar. Strong Regime,
. In 1983,
when the director of the intelligence services, General Tin Oo, was considered
by Ne Win to be a political threat because he was so popular, he was purged
from that position, along with all those in that organization associated with
him–his entourage. The resulting
. This is evident in the elections of May 1990. Of the 93 political parties that eventually contested the elections, 36 had minority nationality names,
military is in fact the most cohesive institution in the country, but this is
true because they first destroyed, and then have not allowed to develop, any
other institution that might play a similar role. The most heinous crime in
some groups in the
. This was based on the model of the Indian
states within the
. The Burma
Communist Party before its collapse along the
problem was exacerbated because in World War II the Karen sided with the
British, and the Burmans at first jointed with the Japanese. There were massacres by the Burmans of the
Karen in the
. The Thai were most concerned about the perceived Vietnamese threat on their ‘Eastern front,’ and wanted to ensure that their Western borders remained protected.
. The most recent (March 2000) example is a decree that all Burmese overseas must remit 50 percent of their overseas earnings to their families. No mention is made of those without families, and severe hardships will result, thus further isolating the regime from its citizenry. Shortly after this decree was issued, it was said to have been recinded.
. In 1988,
pattern of forced urban resettlement was begun by the military in
. Although the hierarchy, and thus the Buddhists as a national power force, are controlled, individual village Buddhist monasteries are one of the few elements left of civil society–groups not under state domination or control, and where people gather together to pursue common goals.
. Some 15,000 firms were nationalized in beginning in 1963. Land ownership had been vested in the state since independence, and it remained in private hands even though the government had plans for large-scale management of agricultural land through producer cooperatives and eventually communes, but this never came to pass.
. See David I. Steinberg, ‘
. The opposition overwhelmingly won the May
1990 election, which the military have refused to recognize. The voting may have been as much against
military control over the society as it was a positive vote for the National
league for Democracy (NLD), for earlier in 1960 the population essentially
voted against the military’s continuing role in direct governance. A
distinction should be made between the military as individuals, as a national
defense force, and as a national administration. It is the latter that is deplored. The May 1990 elections, for example, were not
a repudiation of the military per se.
Forty-two of those elected were retired military officers, and 145
retired service personnel, along with 54 lawyers and advocates and 50
doctors. Working People’s Daily,
. This is not new. The military attempted to end the insurgencies in the 1960s by forming local rebel groups into the KKY, which was a kind of local militia. They held their arms, and as long as they did not shoot at the government troops, they could engage in their traditional pursuits, which included opium production.
. Opium production was said to be about 2500 tons in 1998, but has decreased to about 1750 tons the following year, partly because of bad weather but also because of government surveillance.
. As President Marcos in the
. It should
be understood that the
. In a
survey in 1995 (before US sanctions), a survey of 193 Japanese firms in Myanmar
(102 responding), indicated the top problems facing these firms (in order of
priority) were: the dual exchange rate (71.3%), lack of infrastructure for
transportation and distribution(60.4%), the political situation (50.5%), the
ban on ODA from Japan (43.6%), insufficient information on Myanmar (43.6%),
undeveloped laws and systems (25.7%), shortages of electric power (21,8%). Of 467 local manufacturing firms in and
around Rangoon, in 1996 most complained about shortages of electricity,
troubles in financing, and shortages of materials and spare parts.
Majesty the King of Thailand spoke quite strongly against sanctions toward
following is from David I. Steinberg,
Socialism, the hallmark of political legitimacy in the early years of the
. Yet in
1990, the military entered monasteries and pagodas in
influential Chinese officials realize the potential danger. One was quoted as having said, ‘We [Chinese]
are walking on eggshells [in
However farfetched this may sound to Americans, it was viewed as a real
possibility in 1988 when a
Although the evidence for this in
. Speech by
Prime Minister Sein Win, NCGUB,
. One might argue that because the NLD and NCGUB oppose NGO activity in building civil society, then the military might agree to it.
2000, the military has allowed the publication of a new newspaper, with an
Australian as editor, that is purported to be autonomous. At the same time, it has officially
‘published’ via internet a comparatively moderate set of articles by one ‘SA’
that is more compromising in tone, although still severely critical of the
NLD. Do these events indicate an oblique
signal? Military intelligence officials
have been aware of the shortcomings of the official press, jokingly ascribing
it to Chinese training. It seems likely that any public amelioration of the
rigidity of the regime will not affect its conception of its power role. It is significant that the weekly newspaper
will be subject to self-censorship, as the editor indicated. These articles by ‘SA’ were not internally