Fighting fear: End repression in Burma

By Peter Truax

I first learned about the existence of Burma as more than a colored block on a map as a sophomore in high school. I was simply reading the news one day, and there it was, obscured from the minds of most Americans I’d wager, but nonetheless something unforgettable after learning of it. Burma has been ruled since 1962 by a series of military juntas that have ruthlessly suppressed all opposition and dissent through violence, fear, and imprisonment. This military government is a known violator of human rights, afraid of its own people and woefully out of place in a world that is becoming more and more progressive and free.

For me, the name of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Laureate and the imprisoned leader of the Burmese opposition party whose rise to power was forcibly halted by the military, is a name that belongs alongside those of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. She has remained imprisoned, either within her house or at the notorious Insein Prison since I and many of you were babies in 1989. Despite this, she has remained the symbol of hope and freedom for Burma, and indeed for many people across the world, including myself. Burma itself has a different connotation for me.

A BBC reporter who recently wrote a series of articles on Burma called it an ‘Orwellian society,’ where the military government employs and encourages its citizens to spy on one another, where schools teach government propaganda, and where fear of imprisonment, loss of livelihood and even death are rampant. These descriptions echo such past regimes as East Germany at the height of totalitarianism, South Africa during apartheid, and many others.

In the last week, however, I was surprised to see that change was beginning to occur. What began as a fuel price hike and the beating of a few protesting monks turned into a nationwide movement calling for the overthrow of the ruthless military dictatorship. For the last week, I’ve been on edge as to what will come next, and hoping strongly that all will turn out for the best, in spite of the dangers of the worst. In 1988, thousands of people were massacred by government troops for daring to challenge them. The same is happening today, and already hundreds of people have suffered beatings, tear-gas, jail and yes, some have died.

As I write this, the United Nations is holding an emergency session over the Burma crisis. For me, it is not a crisis, but a cry against terror. So why should we care, here at Macalester, thousands of miles away and only viscerally connected, at best? Because in our insular, intellectual community here, we may know better than most where human suffering exists more than most people, but I wonder if we know where to find the hope and change to challenge that suffering.

If my words cause indignity, I apologize, but I’m trying to stir others to learn about Burma, to speak to your friends, your families, and everyone you can think to speak to and ask them to learn and speak out against the oppression and fear in Burma as well. Most importantly though, don’t forget about Burma. It has been my whole lifetime since change of this magnitude existed, and I hope that positive change there continues for the rest of my life.

Aung San Suu Kyi once said that, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” Stop the fear. Free Burma.