23 September 2007

Burma, Baby, Burn

Because Britney Spears isn't dead yet the major U.S. news outlets are still underplaying just about everything else. One of the biggest stories you're not hearing very much about is the escalating series of protests by Buddhist monks in Burma. The Burmese military government, in power for 40 years, is one of the last surviving examples of a pre-industrial government: a small self-appointed clique in control of a police state where all instruments of power are dedicated to supporting the leadership and the needs of the people are ignored. Burma is one of those countries where there's absolutely no good reason the place isn't already South Korea or Taiwan or something, except for the fact that they have rotten government--an evil government, according to the monks.

The junta has been threatened before by protests, and even once opened the country up to democracy, in 1990, but anytime they don't like the way things are going (as when their party didn't win elections in 1990) they storm in, shoot people, throw everybody they can get hold of into prison, and clamp down again for a few more years. These people are exactly why large standing armies are usually so frightening to people.

It's hard to say what will happen. The monks are, supposedly, untouchable as far as the military goes, meaning they won't get shot or detained. But that assertion may be a bit too rosy and I doubt the government much cares in the end as long as they stay in power. But the protests are growing, and the security forces reportedly seem unsure what to do.

This bears watching. You can be sure the U.S. won't do anything but stand on the sidelines and shout encouragement to the people who will end up getting killed, since Burma doesn't have oil and the Burmese intelligence service didn't try to kill George Bush's daddy. Doesn't mean this isn't an important story.

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