This post is the latest in a series from our Bangkok correspondent, H. Numan. Tonight he is taking a look at Thailand’s next-door neighbor.
Right now the oppressive regime in Myanmar, or Burma, is once more featuring prominently in the news. The hated regime represents everything that left wing political parties abhor: excessive brutal force used to suppress the poor population, widespread censorship, strict military rule. You name it, the Burmese government does it. But… the government isn’t a right wing dictatorship at all. It is a socialist dictatorship!
Yes, you read that right: Myanmar is a people’s socialist republic, just as Cuba, Laos, and North Korea are. Myanmar was a British colony that gained independence in 1948 under the name “the Union of Burma”. It was a prospering democratic country. Rich in resources, rich in history, with many capable people. The first non-westerner to head an international organization was the Burmese U Thant: he became Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1961 to 1966. Unfortunately, Burma also had a few capable people who weren’t interested in the nation, only in wealth and power. Meet General Ne Win.
That changed in 1962, when General Ne Win staged a coup d’état. From that moment Burma shut down its borders to the world. He ruled for 20 years with an iron fist. Under his government the country became a socialist nation. Not just in name, but a real socialist nation. With all the trappings: the nationalization of industry, a government monopoly on just about everything, strong censorship, closed borders, and a one party government. Plus, of course, widespread poverty for everybody, even for the supporters of the regime. Only the top generals a few colonels and a major or two really bathe in luxury. is beats being a sergeant cracking the whip than being a civilian on the receiving end, however — the normal way socialism works worldwide, in other words.
In 1974 the regime changed its name to the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. In 1988 they again changed it, this time into “The Union of Burma”. It wasn’t what they really wanted, so in 1989 the country was renamed again, now as Myanmar. The name Burma still applies, but is officially not recognized anymore.
A rose would still smell as sweet even if you name it differently. The reverse, of course, is also true: manure wouldn’t smell any better under a different name. The government in 1988 named itself the “State Law and Order Restoration Council” or SLORC for short. When this gave the world a foul taste in its mouth: Why, we change it, of course! So the SLORC became the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997. Under this name the socialist regime is currently known — until the next change, that is. No matter under what name they operate, be in no doubt that Myanmar is a socialist people’s republic.
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From the moment Burma closed itself off from the outside world, the economy went up the creek. What was once a prosperous country with a good future to look forward to changed into a socialist slave camp. Maybe not as bad as North Korea, but certainly one of the worst in the socialist world. So bad, in fact, that even socialists do not want to be associated with it. Now, that really takes some doing!
Several Western governments are now being urged by left-wing organizations and parties to boycott Myanmar. The Dutch government in particular is rather vocal about it. Prime Minister Balkenende, who incidentally just announced he will refuse a referendum on the Euro constitution, against the wishes of both parliament and the entire population, asked for such an international boycott. Krista van Velzen, a member of parliament for the Dutch Socialist Party and the only member of parliament with a criminal record, is extremely vocal about economically boycotting this vile oppressive regime into surrender. Which is in line with her party’s policy, I might add.
This is completely useless. Boycotts are rarely successful. If they are, other factors play a much more important role behind the scenes. As much as the socialist fighters for world peace and solidarity would like you to believe: South Africa wasn’t boycotted economically into surrender. Exporting oranges formed just a little part of the economy (“Boycott Outspan”), exporting gold was far more important. Political pressure from the leading nations of the world changed more than not buying a few oranges. South Africa was anything but a socialist nation, so international political pressure did work.
In Burma even that doesn’t work. The government, in good socialist tradition, doesn’t give a hoot about the world or anyone’s opinion. If it did, it would have surrendered decades ago. It doesn’t like a boycott, but doesn’t care one way or another. Exporting rubies is profitable enough, be it legal or illegal. (A lot of the ruby export is done illegally the government itself.) Big companies, such as Shell, Heineken and Phillips have been forced out of Burma without any effect whatsoever, apart from some loss of revenue, and not even a significant loss at that. Since they are exploiting capitalist companies, that’s a side benefit in the eyes of our progressive fighters for the world proletariat.
In fact, the opposite would work: much more international business investment in the country would almost certainly topple the government. Big companies usually provide good health care and education for their staff and dependents. They build hospitals and schools. A healthy worker is a good worker. An educated worker is a profitable worker. Doesn’t sound altruistic, but that’s the way the world works. Luxury is addictive. Once business invest in Burma’s economy, it will improve everybody’s standard of living measurably. Sooner or later the regime will topple from within. It’s also much easier to convince a rich general to retire in comfort than force him to defend himself until the last bullet.
This was Bangkok reporting,