Friday, 10 August 2012

The Rohingya tragedy reflects Myanmar’s fragile change, DVB director says

Asianewsnet, 8 Aug 2012,

Aye Chan Naing calls for full citizenship for the Muslim minority. He calls on exiles to come home to contribute to the process of democratisation from within. The involvement of new politically active generations must be supported with better education. Today, opposing a dictatorship is not enough; building a nation is a must.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Pro-government groups have fuelled violence against minority Rohingya Muslims, who should have a right to Burmese nationality and be full part of Burma. The future of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement must go beyond fighting a military junta to find ways to contribute to the country's growth, not only in economic terms but also in the area of human rights. These are some of the elements of reflections proposed by Aye Chan Naing, director Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an online media organisation founded by Burmese exiles close to the pro-democracy opposition in a long interview with AsiaNews.

Among the most important Diaspora figures, he heads a network based in Oslo, Norway, that has reported several times on the violence of the military dictatorship against the civil population and Buddhist monks. Aye Chan Naing hopes to see Burmese refugees return home. However, they'll have to defeat "resistance within the opposition. Citing Aung San Suu Kyi in her visit to Europe, "democracy is Burma is still a long way to go."
Here is the interview Aye Chan Naing gave AsiaNews:

What do you think about events in Rakhine State and the Rohingya's tragedy? How can the government solve the crisis? Do they deserve Burmese nationality?The events in Rakhine state really show how fragile the process of change is in Burma.  This tragedy did not happen by itself. There are a lot of signs that some group in the government and the military as well as some extreme nationalist group were behind the whole thing. I do believe that Rohingya have a right to Burmese nationality.

The problem goes back a long way and revolves a basic right, that of citizenship.Of course! I am firmly convinced that they [the Rohingya] should be granted Burmese citizenship and treated as full Burmese citizens.

Which role can Diaspora Burmese play in the country's process of democratisation?Burmese in exile can play a major role in bridging the gap between the international community and Burma. They can help build civil society groups and democracy, preserve the environment, and reconcile ethnic groups, and much more.  They have been involved in all these issues over the past 20 years or more-more actively and openly than those inside Burma. 
And the key issue for Diaspora Burmese getting involved in current developments also depends on how people inside Burma view them.  There will always be resistance even within opposition circles to exiles coming back.  

In the past, Burmese living abroad were "essential" to report the junta's crimes. How can they contribute now?I don't think their importance will go away but they will have to get involve in different ways.  Now that it is possible to do a lot more inside Burma and the government seems willing to let people engage in grassroots activity, they would have to get into real ground work.  It is important that some groups are watching the current changes in Burma with critical eyes without compromising their independence.

After China, Thailand and India, Europe and the United States look at Myanmar. Are democracy friendly investments possible as Aung San Suu Kyi has called for?I don't think no one can stop them now from doing business in Burma, especially Western companies.  They have been waiting for this opportunity for long time.  And I also don't think one could push company to do "democracy friendly" investment.  For them, business means profit, nothing else.  The only difference is that Western company would have higher standard in term of labour rights, accountability, environmental protection, etc.  If they don't, people have higher chance to pressure them to do so than Asian companies for example.

Speaking about Aung San Suu Kyi, what do you think about her recent trip to Europe? Was it a political success for her?I think it showed how powerful she is in the West.  All the countries she visited in the West treated her like a head of state.  But it is dangerous as people in the West might think that things are getting better in Burma and that she is back in power. This is far from the reality on the ground.  This is why I think she has repeatedly said in her speeches abroad that democracy is Burma is still a long way to go.

Even the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are opening offices in Burma. Can rights and guarantees be promoted alongside the economy?It is difficult to shift media attention to life of Burma's ordinary people.  It has always been like that in the past as well.  Most of the attention goes to main political events and Aung San Suu Kyi. However, some coverage about fighting in ethnic areas has been done for example.
But now it is easier for tourists to visit Burma and journalists to get a visa. This will give average Burmese greater exposure to more tourists and foreign journalists.

Behind Aung San Suu Kyi, are there future Burmese leaders who can contribute to change?  What do you expect from the parliamentary elections in 2015?Young people in Burma are very much involved in politics.  For example, the 88 generation group has considerable influence over the public. They mobilized the public in 2007 when Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest. In turn, their initiative led later to Buddhist monks to rise against the regime.  Burma's younger generation is still pretty much aware of the political struggle ahead, of the fight for democracy and human rights. They are still largely immune to business influence.
But the long term imprisonment for political activists, lack of higher quality education, past isolation from the outside world and lack of trust between ethnic groups have definitely made the task of rebuilding the country very difficult, no matter who takes over state power in a new government. Rebuilding the country needs different kind of skills compared to leading the opposition against the military dictatorship.

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