Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Myanmar Perspective

The ongoing tragedy in Myanmar has shined a spotlight on the isolationist government of the country more than any other event in recent history. Yesterday, I received an email from a well intentioned person asking me to post a link to a particular website that is championing regime change in Myanmar. I responded as follows:

Thanks for the email. One would hope that the current crisis in Myanmar would transcend political considerations on the part of the junta, but obviously that hasn't happened, at least to the extent that one would hope. I'm cautiously optimistic that the junta's acceptance of relief coordination from ASEAN is a move in the right direction.

As you probably understand, I've tried to keep Myanmar Relief completely non-antagonistic in nature, and avoid the political theater that's been going on for the past two weeks. My preference at this moment in time is to concentrate on what's working, in hopes that whatever positive developments have occurred can serve as guidance for other NGOs and nations that want to assist.

In some respects, I can actually understand the paranoia of the ruling junta. That doesn't mean that I support the regime, in any manner, but if I were a paranoid dictator in a country that was beset by natural disaster, it seems natural to suspect all external offers of aid as a trojan horse for regime change efforts by the international community. Again, that doesn't mean I support the regime - only that I understand the origin of the paranoia.

That being said, at this moment in time, I'm reluctant to potentially jeopardize the efforts of any of the agencies I've been working through by linking to your great efforts. I hope you understand that at this moment in time, we're operating in two different worlds, even though they're not necessarily at cross-purpose with each other. I'd be happy to explore the possibility of linking efforts and working together once we're past the immediate needs.

Best regards,


Readers of this blog will also note that I have elected to use the official name of the country of Myanmar in my blog posts, rather than Burma. There is a simple reason. It is the official name of the country, and assuming that someone in the Myanmar government stumbles onto this blog, there is no reason to antagonize the regime and potentially endanger some of the relief efforts being documented in this blog.

I've also noticed something about the coverage of the Myanmar crisis here in the U.S. - let's call it "editorial hubris". When a publication like Time Magazine elects to ignore the journalistic protocol of using the legal entity name of a country or a municipality in that country, it's a boneheaded editorial decision, and doesn't serve to help matters in the immediate crisis. Here's Time's disclaimer to a recent article:

The junta that rules the country unilaterally decreed changes in place names, including Myanmar for Burma and Yangon for the former capital Rangoon. The U.S. State Department has not recognized these changes. TIME has chosen to retain the name Burma.

And anyone wonders why the Myanmar government distrusts the intention of international governments and aid agencies? Because the U.S. State Department doesn't recognize the name, a widely circulated U.S. news magazine doesn't, either? I just don't understand this approach, particularly at this point in time.

There are many viewpoints, thoughts, and theories on why the government in Myanmar has been so reluctant to accept outside aid. Countercurrents offers an extensive analysis of this reluctance (note: I don't necessarily agree with some of the finer aspects of the article, but as a primer and overview, the article is great).

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