Socialist Worker

Protests in Burma show force for change

by Anindya Bhattacharyya and Charlotte Bence
Issue No. 2070

Burma’s military regime was being rocked by mass protests across its major towns and cities as Socialist Worker went to press.

The demonstrations, which have been led by a movement of Buddhist monks, started last month with protests against sharp rises in fuel prices.

These economic demands rapidly spilled over into a wider political attack on the military regime after the generals forcibly broke up a demonstration. Last weekend saw the monks’ protest widen significantly, with ordinary people joining big demonstrations.

The monks’ movement has also made links with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest in the major city Rangoon since 1990. The last major uprising against the Burmese regime was in 1988, in a movement led by students and intellectuals.

The generals savagely repressed those protests, killing 3,000 people. But this time round it may not be so straightforward for the regime.

Burma’s monks play a crucial role providing education and welfare services to the poor, as well as being a profession open to boys from all backgrounds.

Threatened

They are directly linked to the mass of ordinary people and are held in high regard across Burmese society. This makes it difficult for the generals to openly repress the monks’ protests.

Nevertheless, on Monday the military regime threatened to take action against the monks. But, initially at least, these threats led to the protests swelling.

The bravery of the Burmese people stands in sharp contrast to the hypocrisy of Western politicians who claim to support their struggle.

Gordon Brown praised the protesters and lectured the regime about the sanctity of human rights during his Labour conference speech. Yet it was the British imperialism that Brown so loves that tore apart Burmese society.

Burma was a British colony from 1886 to 1948, when the British were forced out by an independence movement led by the nationalist Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San was assassinated in mysterious circumstances in 1947, just months before independence.

After his death the country was caught in fighting between the army, Communist rebels, right wing militias funded by the US and other groups. In 1962, General Ne Win led a coup that installed the present regime.

The current protest movement stands a good chance of succeeding in toppling the military dictatorship. But it could also go much further and see the Burmese people take real power over their lives – a move that will not be welcomed by the West’s rulers.


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