Written by U Ne Oo on 1993-08-05
Added Note: Following is a letter, which is also my first human rights activity in Australia, to a prominenet human rights activist in Australia, The Hon. Justice Marcus Einfeld. I wrote to him in connection with his AUSTCARE report on Burmese refugee situation in Bangladesh and Thailand in 17 June 1992. (& He was kind enough to reply my letter.).
At that time, there seems to be a lot of obscured and non-factual perception about Burmese people and Burma. I remember seeing a report which described the Burmese society, like that of the Indians', is ingrained with the `caste system': which totally shocked me. On the one hand, no Burmese of dated views on Burma really do not speak out, except the expatriates who already are in Australia since mid-60s, about Burma's political system and Burma's situations, which causing a lack of materials on a current situation within Burma. There were a lot of confusions among outside observers, especially the journalists, on the issues of the ethnic minorities' revolts and SLORC's deliberate persecution of Rohingyas; and about those of political struggles by Burmese students and NLD.
In my letter, there was an obscured choice of word: "ethnic". Of course, all people of Burma have their own ethnic origin. A more precise term should be "Indigenous nationalities" rather than "ethnic" in my letter.
The Hon. Justice Marcus Einfeld
Federal Court of Australia
I am a Burmese student studying at the University of Adelaide. I graduated from, and worked at, Rangoon University until recently. I have been in Australia for 4-years as a Scholar, pursuing a doctorate degree.
As a Burmese student in Australia, I appreciate Australians showing their interest in Burma. Since I am interested in Australians' opinions on Burma, I always search for and study publications about Burma. As Burma has been isolated for a long time, there were inevitably mis-interpretations in some of the reports. As I go through your report, I was encouraged that at least there is one in Australia, who certainly understands about Burma. Many thanks for your report which carries incisive information and, to the best of my belief, most promising recommendations that would help to built a democratic Burma.
As you have rightly pointed out, we agree that Burma is ethnically and culturally diverse. As an ethnic Burman, we are sure that we do not want to discriminate in any way --- socially or constitutionally --- against any of our minorities: Karen, Kachin, Mon, Shan and Arakanese. People of Burma have always lived in peace and harmony.
In this context, of course, we must draw a line between the military, which maintain hostility towards some minorities, and Burman themselves. The military's treatment of the minorities -- especially Karen and Rohingya -- which people outside Burma could interpret as religious or racial persecution, are not the responsibility of Burmese and Burmans.
Historically, there have been divisions between the Burmans and Karens. This division between ethnic Karen and Burmans, which is of little relevance to our generation, was created by British rulers in 1930's. In our colonial period, the Karens probably get along with the British better. The British therefore recruits Karens for the forces within Burma. In 1930, there was a revolt, also known as Sayasan-peasant movements, which Burmans peasants mostly were involved. This revolt was brutally put down by the British, using Karen forces. Since then there have been hatred between the Burman and Karens.
After our independence in 1948, the minorities has been waging war against Rangoon. The objective seems to be for a state of federations, or some with total independence. This has led Gen. Ne Win to took over power from U Nu, an elected prime minister. Burma's history, perhaps, is more distorted within the country than outside. We never heard the true version of what happened in 1948. Therefore, as Burmese of younger generation, the minority revolt is seen as unnecessary. Since the media within the country is just the Govt.'s mouthpiece, we have never heard of the atrocities that had been conducted by the Army. There is also propaganda, and to some extent could be true, that some ot some of these ethnic revolts are for economic reasons. We never thought that the ethnic revolt was a counter measure to Burman's repression on its ethnics. We have never been privileged as an ethnic Burman, economically or socially. We, Burmans, are just as poor and suffering under the military's repression as the ethnics. Since we have not discriminated against our ethnics - constitutionally or socially, their call for independent state is seen as unjustified. Therefore, it lead us to believes that ethnic revolts are for economic, rather than political objectives.
The 1988 events certainly change these views. Experiencing the Army's brutality towards our people and students, it conceded that these ethnic revolts are justified. The minority view on Burman, perhaps, also have changed. The acceptance of Burmese students by Karens forces certainly prove this.
The issue of Rohingya-Arakanese is more complicated. There have been a reluctance to accept Rohingya as an ethnic [ed. Indigenous Ethnic] group. The reason has been not of their religion, but its link with the Bangladeshi community. Although Rohingyas have lived within Burma for almost two centuries, it would not be claimed as [indigenous] ethnic. Since Burma have had a much earlier history, perhaps a few thousand years, it is simply unreasonable to claim same status as Karen, Mon, Arakanese, etc. Australians, probably, might have a different view on this. There is another reason why we wouldn't agree on this. Burma is geographically located between two giant natiant nation and therefore more sensitive in defining the term ``ethnics''. Of course, we cannot possibly give this kind of recognition as ethnics to what that might attract more complicated issues within our neighbors.
We therefore feel sad, much as being ourselves, that Rohingya-Arakanese have to flee from their inhabitant. Although there may be some complications, we must and we will, accept them as citizens of Burma. We however cannot possibly accept Rohingya as one of our [indigenous] ethnics. As you have correctly predicted, Burmese people will not support independent states of any kind - on religious or ethnics grounds. Needless to say, the sympathy from armed forces are out of question, if one were to promote such independent states.
Despite growing resentment towards its rulers and popular demands for democracy, the movements have an undertow from such facts. The military always justify themselves as the saviors of Burma from the separatists. To a Burmese, this claim of the military, clearly, is non-sense propaganda. However we do entertain fear that our Union might actually secede. The fact that it is a sensitive political issue, there are possibilities that the government itself might instigate the democratic forces to portray as separatists.
Although there have been such fears, we can not simply allow the present government and political system to continue. The state of federal system, which the NCGUB has endorsed, may be found more acceptable to both Burmese and the ethnics. There have been reports that the various ethnics groups have accepted NCGUB. A question of how Burma would be rebuilt seem far too early to be determined. First and foremost, the need is to restore democratic government, which observe an independent judicial power and freedom of speech. I feel sure that Burmese people will find no difficulty to observe the rules of laws, as our society have always been a lawful society. Once democracy is restored, social justice and peace is assured.
As a Burmese, I would like to express my gratitude to you in speaking out against the Australian companies dealing with SLORC. The Australian Govt. hasn't shown much willingness to raise the Human Right abuses in Burma in UN or even to call off BHP and other companies. Unless Australian public has shown interest in Burma, these politicians are unlikely to change their attitude. Therefore, I would like to make the request that you and other like-minded progressive citizens of Australia push Australian Government to take some action on Burma issue.
Sd. U Ne Oo