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Is History Being Made or Repeating Itself?

January 9, 2014

April 28, 2003

TWO DAYS AGO, the bank started a rumour about there being no kyat (Burmese currency), so that initially the kyat value will go way up. The likelihood is that so much new money will be printed up that very soon the kyat will decrease so steeply, it will be worth nothing. People are lined up around the block to collect their kyat from their accounts, but the bank is only allowing a certain amount to be withdrawn each day. Inflation is stupendous. Already it is 700/1100 kyat to the Canadian/US dollar, as compared to 216/340 kyat per respective dollars two years ago. The price of everything goes up, but wages stay the same.

The difference in development between states is remarkable. Chin State, in northwestern Burma, borders Bangladesh and there is ‘one road in and out.’ Kachin State, in northeastern Burma, borders China and has numerous roads and much more industry. People here are very worried about a Chinese takeover. The Chinese control many businesses, and they have more money and more manpower than the Burmese (majority and ethnic minorities inclusively). The Chinese control many industries, including logging and gem trading, and the fear being they will make the States barren and do it fast. The Kachin want to regain some power over industry, but it is not clear how to do so. Indeed, locals are likely to do the same as the Chinese, but at the least, more slowly due to lesser means – of technology, resources and manpower.

There are huge and seemingly imminent conflict resolution/transformation needs here. People – especially minorities or “nationalities” – want respect, power, a voice. Ethnic minorities have no say in anything. The government can say no, the leader of the National Democratic League (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi, can say no, and the minorities – no small percentage of the population – do not get a say. Moreover, there are many divides between but also within groups – differences based often on age, religion, and ethnicity. Today’s youth, fueled by this lack of power, want to fight. The elders, remembering a similar up rise and subsequent slaughter in the late 1950’s-early 1960’s, do not want to fight. With far less people and resources than they even had decades ago, a gross and sweeping defeat (and repeat) seems certain. And youths do not speak up in the presence of elders. Communication and therefore consensus clearly seem blocked in ways. The Kachin Independent Army, too, is ready to fight against people trained and equipped to fight, and they would lose the very little ‘power’ – literally hydro and electricity, as well as money, voice and lives – they have now. The idea of surrendering would mean giving everything to the government, and many believe to the Chinese too, given their monopoly on businesses here in Kachin State. There is mounting unrest due to overarching oppression and political and religious entwinement. Infighting – among, youth, Baptists, or Kachins, for example – poses a great challenge in the minorities’ fight to have a voice.

I met with three conflict resolution workers here in Burma whose efforts are to promote ‘non-violent action’. Violent action would be the very quick demise of all minorities, as right now perhaps it is just a slow one. The traditional Kachin way is toward immediate results: ‘act now, think later’. They held a peace building conference last week in Yangon with “Ethnic Nationalities” leaders, but admitted it was disappointingly basic and that the general terms of ‘mutual respect’ and ‘conflict transformation’ were not grasped. The sense is that the concept of ‘conflict resolution’ is synonymous with ‘surrender’ to many.

How to dissuade people from fighting who feel they have little to lose by fighting, yet feel to not ‘act’ would be to lose all?

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From → Burma

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