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Last Updated: 10/09/2007Resistance, Not Repression, Is the Real Story From Burma
originally published by Truthout on October 9, 2007
Note: the events within Burma described below come from a member of the exiled pro-democracy leadership of Burma 8888. This individual is now deeply involved in the current movement's strategizing and communications, and is in regular contact both with groups on the Thai-Burma border and within the country. Because of the sensitive nature of his work, he has asked to remain anonymous.
With the junta now claiming that they've found weapons caches in Buddhist monasteries, signs are that the regime in Burma is becoming more intent on discrediting the pro-democracy movement which, thus far, appears to have done an impressive job of maintaining nonviolent discipline in their resistance against one of the most heavily armed and repressive security forces in the world.
In contrast to the junta's claims of "normalcy" and "restored stability," sources inside Burma are telling some extraordinary stories of ongoing resistance over the past several days. These forms of resistance represent several categories of nonviolent tactics, and they serve as further support for the thesis that the uprising in Burma is more than a spontaneous series of protests by a few disgruntled students and monks. Some of these tactics include the following:
In any struggle for rights or freedom, a critical variable for a movement's survival is its ability to adapt, to continue to come up with new and creative tactics that keep the oppressor on notice, and remind the people the will to resist is shared by their neighbors and countrymen. Observers of nonviolent resistance will sometimes point to extreme use of violence by a regime as evidence against a movement's potential success. But an oppressor's willingness to use repression is not necessarily a determinant of nonviolent success or failure (refer to the cases of Chile and South Africa) because it is not up to the members of the regime themselves to do the shooting, but those in the security forces whose job it is to carry out their orders. In the Burma case, members of the security forces are just as able as any ordinary person to see the regime has committed violence against the heart and soul of Burma. By exploiting this conflicting set of loyalties among soldiers - to the regime (who in most cases has conscripted them) on one hand, and to their Buddhist (and human) values on the other - the movement is showing signs they have been able to effectively sever most of the remaining ties between the regime and the people. In describing this phenomenon in the Serbian case back in 2000, one of the pro-democracy leaders there said, "We together [with the security forces] were victims of the system, and there was no reason to have a war between victims and victims. One [group of] victims were in blue uniforms and other [group] was in blue jeans, but there was no reason for blood[shed]." When a regime's own defenders begin to doubt its ability to survive, it can no longer count on them to enforce its mandates. In any kind of system, authoritarian or democratic, the authority to rule comes from the people themselves and as said by Hannah Arendt, "where commands are no longer obeyed, the means of violence are of no use."
With no moral authority, no remaining political legitimacy, increasing pressure from the international community, an increasingly tenuous hold on the country's remaining sources of economic support, and more signs that its own defenders may be less willing to risk being on the losing side of the actual - as well as moral - conflict, the issue is becoming not whether this regime will disappear, but when. There's no doubt this group of generals has thus far appeared unwilling to budge, but stubborn reliance on repression can be just another form of denial. And there's no denying the people of Burma have had enough.
Cynthia Boaz is assistant professor of political science and international studies at the State University of New York at Brockport and is on the academic advisory board to the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.