9. Jun 2008

By Mikael Gravers


Why is it so difficult to get international aid into Burma and to help the survivors of the cyclone? And why is the regime afraid of foreign humanitarian assistance?

Sr. General Than Shwe and the junta are possessed by a genuine fear that ‘neo-colonial elements’ will use the disaster to undermine their power, install a pro-western rule headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and control Burma’s natural resources. The generals also know that many Burmese would like to take revenge for decades of sufferings, killings of monks, torture, organized rape, burning of villages and churches, forces labour, forced resettlements, internal displacements, closed universities, corruption and economic bankruptcy all of which has hit a majority of the population. Thus, the generals focus 100% on keeping control of the situation and maintaining power. They fear that any small crack in their huge power controlling ‘firewall’ can lead to the demolition of their entire infamous Panoptikon. Every Burmese is under strict surveillance in their homes, at work, and in their movements and activities. The regime’s front organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Organization (USDA), numbering more than 20 million, force the majority into a profound dissimulation when they are called to attend mass meetings and listen to the simple propaganda of the regime, as for example on the ‘success’ that 99% voted at the recent constitutional referendum and that 92,6% voted yes.

 The generals are widely believed to use astrology before taking any major decision such as moving the administration to the new capital Naypyidaw. Than Shwe imitates the Burmese royal rule and act as a universal ruler (cakkavattin) who uses the necessary force in order to keep the Union of Burma and its weak state from fragmenting into ethnic states and from being destabilized by ‘internal & external destructive elements’ (read: the opposition & the West). Democracy is a Western cultural construction and not compatible with Burman culture, according to the generals. Their new constitution promotes ‘discipline-flourishing democracy’ – a ‘fuehrer-democracy’ (cf. Max Weber) with the Tamadaw (the army) in full control of al institutions, positions and national modules, including culture and history. Their system of control is sadly or ironically is a mimicry of George Orwell’s Nighteen Eighty Four: “Who controls the past controls the future: Who controls the present controls the past”. Any resistance merely a confirms the generals in their world view.

 Than Shwe and most of the generals have little experience with the outside world.  Their general education is so limited and their worldview so xenophobic that normal international dialog and compromising is more or less impossible. They can only act unitarily and they guard each other in order to preserve unity and consensus.. Any internal critique is dangerous and will be seen as disloyalty. Many officers are believed to be very critical of the lack of assistance to the cyclone victims, which includes relatives and families of the army. But they have to be careful before. Than Shwe removed his rival Khin Nyunt in 2004, including his staff in the Military Intelligence and his astrologer as well! Maintaining army solidarity is synonymous to maintain the national sovereignty and solidarity. Khin Nyunt had good relations with ethnic organizations and was more skilled in communicating internationally and thus increasingly seen as a threat to Than Shwe’s power. So, when Than Shwe hear any small sound of cracking he promptly acts in order to stop a possible collapse of his power.


Rumours, distorted information and fear are a consequence of this autocratic rule and produce more fear, which again generates the political paranoia – the fear of loosing power. When a US warship anchors up near Burma’s cost is can start a flood of rumours of an imminent international intervention. In recent days the generals have criticized foreign journalist of giving a distorted picture of the regime’s assistance to the victims. In the minds of the generals the outside world is hostile and has to be kept away in order to avoid destabilization

If the international community wants to cooperate with the regime on human security it has to understand the roots of the political paranoia which goes back in the colonial and post-colonial situation and realize that the generals will never compromise unless the are recognized fully as the rulers of Burma. Sanctions will not make them surrender – on the contrary, sanctions are neo-colonial interventions and  increase the paranoia, infortunately.