tremendously anguished by events in Burma.
Briefly: an absurd fuel price hike last month caused (caused!) untenable price rises in transport costs and other trickle-down effects on the cost of rice and cooking oil, leading to small but numerous demonstrations around the country. The monks got involved when a particularly forceful dispersal on 5 September in Pakokku resulted in three monks being injured, for which no apology from the government was forthcoming. They increasingly took the lead in public protests; all this finally escalated into the enormous demonstration on 24 September, in which thousands responded to the monks’ call to march the streets of Rangoon. The first shots were fired on Wednesday.
the question most bandied about is whether this will be different from those fateful demonstrations in 1988, when there were no phone cameras and blogs and online activists to create this remarkable window into Burma, into which the world gazes aghast. It’s hard to tell from this side of the future — whether this is largescale enough to result in some cataclysmic ultimatum, or whether this will ultimately turn out to be a hiccup in an otherwise continuous and continuing military regime.
I find myself thinking, rather wishfully, that perhaps this is a moment future historians will decree, with the usual insufferable pathos, that “on 24 September 2007 modern Burma changed forever”. But I think it’s more likely that the crackdown will succeed, that might will triumph. Economic misery sparked the 1988 crisis; the Burmese monks were involved in 1988; soldiers broke rank and joined the demonstrations in 1988; the military massacred with terrible phlegmatism in 1988 — all as it is happening today. Perhaps the main difference will be international pressure, which is far greater today than it has ever been; but the junta is not particularly famed for listening to outsiders, Burma’s isolation means that international condemnation matters little, and anyway those in the strongest position to exert meaningful condemnation (esp. China) are trussed up in their economic commitments & are accordingly quite reticent about the whole thing.
My greatest anguish comes from this: that at times like these I understand more than ever the great need for our actions (and deaths) to mean something, to make it into history so we can, 20 years later, talk about 1988 in the way that makes it matter — but that ultimately all this energy and suffering, however much we eulogize, historicize and remember it, has no meaning whatsoever.
I do know, however, that if ever one needs an example of a “biased source”, one needs look no further than this little rag of government nonsense.