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Will There Be A Real transition?

Will there be a real transition in Burma?

By Hre Mang
Mizzima News - March 4, 2002

A regime change in Burma is unlikely to take place soon. The potential for transition is vested in political transformation monitored by the regime in compromise with the opposition and under agreed exit guarantees and the promise of an adequate political role in future government for army personnel.

After more than a decade of struggle, there is no clue as to the overthrow of the military government, and it is anyone's guess what kind of political transition may be likely to take place in Burma. The military government's first attempt at distracting attention from demands for political transition, the multi-party national elections of 1990, deceived and misled many democratic activists and supporters.

The second attempt, the so-called covert dialogue, which has been taking place since October 2000 offers the military government an effective political strategy to persuade the international community for its ultimate commitment and to distract democratic activists. It still remains unknown how political transition is going to take place in Burma and what form it will take.

Enthusiastic student activists have dispersed throughout the world and fragmented into multiple parties and organizations, and some even have become professionals. The future of the exiled government run by the 1990 MP-elects is uncertain while its political approach has been ineffective, not strong enough to overthrow the military government. The international community's attitude towards the Burmese military government was moderated by its subtle way of dealing with ethnic insurgencies, the so-called "Armed Peace," its covert talks with the opposition leader Daw Suu, and by its release of some political prisoners.

Where does the future of Burma's political transition lie?

Compared to the immediacy of the student force after 1988, the strength of Burma's student activists has been dispersed into many different parties and organizations around the world. Cease-fires in many instances of ethnic insurgency have been negotiated by the military government, including with one of the strongest groups, the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO). The KNU had been facing usual internal factionalism. Armed groups do not command enough power to overthrow the military government in absence of a supporting military intervention by the international community. Armed struggles in Burma have almost been cracked down almost entirely by the military government.

The importance of Burma in the Asian regional politics has increased, especially among the Asian super powers, China, India and Japan. China, which shares with Burma a history of cracking down on student activists and of accusations of human rights violations, seems willing to protect the Burmese military government if necessary. China has become Burma's economic and military backbone, especially after 1990 and after the collapse of the Burma Communist Movement. China's role in Burma's political transition is very important, not only because of its status as a regional power but also because of its veto power in the UN. Without the consent of China, the United Nations is unlikely to be able to take any effective action in Burma.

The UN envoy's and delegates' intervention merely publicizes the regime's political deals and gives the regime an opportunity to underscore its international legitimacy as though it did in fact intend true political transition from a military to civilian government.

India, with its internal insurgency problems in the northeastern region and with fear and jealousy of China's advantage in relations with Burma, has started to make a positive gesture and deal with the Burma military government. On the military level, Burmese and Indian soldiers conducted several joint counter-insurgency operations along the Indo-Burma border in order to tackle Indian ethnic insurgencies and Burmese democratic fighters. India is enthusiastic about building a cross-border trade road, connecting regions inside Burma with Moreh in Maipur and Champhai in Mizoram. India's contribution to the progress of Burma's democratization is thus unlikely to weaken the regime, which on the contrary, is strengthened militarily and economically by India's constructive engagement.

At the same time, Japan, which is unwilling to yield the Burmese market to China, has interacted with the military government on the issue of humanitarian assistance. Thailand, on the other hand, traditionally an uncomfortable neighbour, shows little interest in Burma's internal politics, with the exception of domestic problems created by Burmese refugees in the country. Singapore has been one of the countries extending much support to the military government, without much concern for the Burma's internal politics, as a faithful neighbour holding up the "no interference to others' domestic problems and peaceful co-existence" policy.

The impression this picture gives is that there is little political pressure from Burma's neighbours towards its timely political transition from military rule to civilian government. In absence of the corporation of the Asian neighbouring countries, however, effective pressure on the regime by means of economic sanctions looks unlikely.

Asia's regional organizations ASEAN, APEC and ADB, are much less institutionalized and politicized than their western counterparts like NATO. Their constructive dealing with the military government will only, within a limited capacity, help to liberalize it. Overall, the Burmese military government does not encounter any potential threat either politically or economically in its regional context. The absence of such threats makes western pressure grow ineffective, too.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a non-violent democratic leader, without any public information about her covert talks with the Military government since 2000, has to liberalize her stand for a persuasive manner as the only possible way for political transition.

As the Burmese public has been excluded from politics for more than four decades, the role of civil society in the potential political transition is negligible at this time. It is for this reason that civil disobedience in a bid to overthrow the military government after the 1988 example is unlikely to take place. Unlike the example set by other countries' political transformation from military regime to civilian government, the Burma military government will not voluntarily give up political power and return to the barracks.

The Burmese military regime, unlike the ones in Argentina, Greece, and Panama, is unlikely to collapse by itself very soon, having sustained itself through four decades of experience.

After the experience of the 1988 massacre, civil disobedience is unlikely to take place (although it can happen at any time) as the military government has proven its tactics of brutal oppression towards any act of civil disobedience. Moreover, there seems no sign for fraction within the army in the near future as internal cleansing has taken place. The Burmese government, one of the world's most brutal regimes will not give up power for economic reasons inspite of its citizens' economic starvation.

Generally, many countries' political transitions from dictatorship, monarchy and military regime to civil government took place under conditions of internal collapse within the regime, balanced political power on the opposition side, with support of international intervention. After receiving proof of public disapproval since 1988, the current Burmese military regime does not claim to have a legitimate political role. Rather, it has been playing games to legitimize the military's political role based on its claim regarding nationalism, national peace and security.

While the regime is unlikely to give up political power voluntarily, the only scenario for transition is transformation in which the military regime will monitor and design the future government with exit guarantees for its personnel.

Should this scenario not come about, "people power", the mass mobilization of outraged citizens, is necessary to press demands for political transition. It is obvious to the regime that among the people of Burma, there is no ideological confusion over democracy and dictatorship.

The regime has stopped to impugn Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her democratic ideology. On the other hand, it has tried to influence the people with its nationalism, anti-colonialism, anti-Westernism and with the importance of the military's historic political stance for the peace and security of the people in Burmese politics.

The military leaders' understanding of democracy within the Burmese social, cultural and political context is much different from that espoused by Western democracy. Besides power competition, there exist incompatible ideological differences between the military leaders and the opposition.

Therefore, while there has been no balanced political power between the regime government and the opposition, only when there is a compromise from the opposition, the regime government is likely to proceed with political transformation (not replacement) in which body (for example an interim government) both the military leaders and the opposition will share power.







A Total Replacement or Peaceful Negotiation (Burma)

Hre Mang , Mizzima News

December 17, 2003




The recent political development on the process of democratization in Burma has further frustrated many observers, activists, politicians and sections of the general public. There are two major identifiable models of political transition which opposition groups are advocating. First, a peaceful negotiation with the junta and second, a total replacement of the junta.

The military leaders' open approach is through a peaceful political process by which they consider themselves able to monitoring the political transitional process in their favor. In order to keep the keys to political transition in their hands, the regime leaders have been accumulating political capital through a road map of peace-talk and cease-fire processes with insurgency groups. The military leaders appear to be clearer in their approach towards potential transition than the opposition. For among the opposition, there are not only diverse political segments, there are also diverse ideas and approaches toward the potential transition.

On September 6, the Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee (ENSCC), announced a new road map for Burma's political transition, adding a few more political requirements for the deal to the SPDC's road map. In their December 9 press release, the Free Burma Coalition (FBC) cautiously welcomed the SPDC's plans for a National Convention. Inside Burma, 16 ethnic insurgency groups are under cease-fire agreement with the SPDC, while the KNU has engaged in cease-fire talks. These divergent positions point to a steep challenge for the opposition to keep their political approaches for potential transition transparent and mutually supportive in their direction. One awkward outcome of this situation is that the regime leaders could come out appearing as "peace lovers" in the eyes of Asian neighboring countries and international sympathizers. At the same time, serious ideological chasms could appear - or may have already begun to appear - between the opposition groups promoting a peaceful negotiation approach and those holding to a total replacement model.

Some thinkers have suggested not only policy revision but also structural and strategic reformation among groups in the opposition movement. Professor Kambawza Win, in his article “Strategy of the Junta and How to Resist It,” advised strategic change by dismantling the NCGUB to reform the political structure of the hard-core opposition force. This is unlikely to take place, because it is more likely that many of the opposition leaders would defend the status quo as much as the regime leaders would. Should such reformation and re-capitalization take place, the opposition force would definitely be strengthened.

To revise the various stances in the current political standoff - as for example, in the case of the ENSCC road map but not necessarily as in the cases of the cease-fire groups - the whole opposition movement would have to moderate their baseline political positions to effect immediate change. In light of a clinical political calculation, the regime’s political point-scoring currently outweighs the force of the opposition. Therefore, if the opposition is to continue to hold their long-standing political demand for the total replacement of the military junta, political change is unlikely to take place soon unless an unexpected miracle happens. Thus, examining the political factors that contribute to the overall process of Burma’s political development, the regime holds a stronger position than the opposition, at least to defend its temporary status quo. This is despite, theoretically and politically, the opposition holding more rational ground. In an obvious political scenario, the majority of the opposition, without significant political policy transformation over the years appears to be holding the same old rod; a total replacement model transition.

For a total replacement model of political transition to be appropriate, the opposition has to have absolute control of the political process such that the regime would have no other political option except to surrender or be killed. For this to eventuate, four critical factors need to occur which have not yet happened. First, there would need to be the internal collapse of the regime. Second, there would need to be the military or political victory of the opposition. Third there would need to be the inevitable public uprising, and fourth, there would need to be international humanitarian (and possibly military) intervention.

The least expected of these four factors for opposition groups, the internal folding of the regime, seems to have all but disappeared since the death of U Ne Win and the arrest of his son-in-law and grandsons for an alleged attempted coup d’etat. Second, through constant internal political and administrative purging, the military has been re-energizing its strength to defend its political survival. Needless to say, the opposition has no competitive force to amount change militarily. Politically, there is almost no chance for the opposition to overthrow, arrest and try the military leaders in the current political environment as a total replacement model suggests. Third, having witnessed the brutality of the military regime, such as during the “8888” massacres, further public uprising is unlikely to take place inside Burma. In saying that, however, it could happen at any time. As the regime has been reinventing its social capital building strategy through the USDA movement and other means of social construction, there could be serious public confrontation should there be another “8888"-like public uprising inside Burma again. Fourth, there is no clue to signal a possibility of an international military humanitarian intervention. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other major opposition voices, having a non-violent political resistance, are unlikely to ask the foreign military intervention. Even if international military intervention was requested, the US and other western democratic countries are unlikely to get militarily involve in Burma’s domestic politics.

From the perspective of the military regime, such political transition will be resisted until the last breath and bullet. Without guaranteed safe exit for the military leaders, such that they would not be brought to trial, there will be no peaceful political transition. Persecution for human rights violations is a clear future political nightmare of the military leaders. Although the reformers and some leaders within the military might be willing to give up their political role in the country, to return to their professional barracks and handover governance to the elected officials, no military leader will be ready to welcome such personal nightmare. This is not an option for them. Therefore, if the opposition leaders are ready to include the military leaders in the political process, they should also make sure of their stand on the exit guarantee for the regime leaders. Otherwise, political attempt to take revenge on each other will result with no end to this heinous and vicious circle.

Therefore, the regime leaders, although they are sure enough about their future political challenge, have been playing not to have the political process turn against them. They have been accumulating the political capital by persuading the ethnic insurgency groups through peace deals and by the so-called “Khin Nyunt political road map”. In summary then, with the 16 ethnic insurgency groups under cease fire agreement while the KNU is engaged in the process of talks, and with the support of the neighboring Asian countries for a peaceful negotiation, the regime government has reserved enough political capital to defend itself from facing a total replacement model political transition. This understanding encourages the opposition to strategically yet cautiously welcome the military leaders at the political round table or to confront it with another course of actions.

On the other hand, to maintain a policy of a total replacement model of
political transition, the opposition must at least revise its strategy if it cannot moderate its stance. Restructuring the opposition, as Professor Kanbawza Win advised, is unlikely to take place. However, without dismantling the current political mechanism, the opposition has to learn from its past weaknesses and prepare for essential change - reinventing the assertive ideas of the contemporary revolution. Without this, a gradual evolutionary development Burma's road to democracy will take another decade or so.




The Politics of Recognition: Burma

Hre Mang: December 2004




Abstract: This article focuses on the identity politics that demands mutual recognition and respect in Burma, between the Burman majority and the non-Burman ethnic groups, among the institutions such  as the military and the non-military institutions, and equal liberty and equal distribution of resources and opportunity. Laying at the bottom of the Burmese political crisis, until and unless all  mutually  recognize and respect  each other’s identity, the identity politics will always drag the Burma political process down and unable to reach the mutual instrumental end goal of the citizens. In Burma, the name of the country itself creates an identity politics, subjugating the identities of the rest of the non-Burman ethnic groups under the banner of the ethnic name “Burma,” while “Myanmar”  offers no alternative solution.


Some scholars, politicians, and writers considered the Burma political crisis as constitutional, while others wholly blamed on the military dictators. When tracing the history of the Burmese people’s political psyche and social behaviors, the root cause of the political crisis laid far behind the superficial political interaction and the social contract between the military and the general public and between the military leadership and the non-burman ethnic groups. The politics of mutual recognition, misrecognition, and identity politics reveal the in-depth nature of the Burma political crisis, underlining the ideological and behavioral foundations of the driving factors for the long and lasting nature of political conflicts.  When the cause of any problem is a simple technical error, it is much easier to fix than when the ideological and behavioral factors naturally generate political conflicts in the society, as people’s ideological and behavioral foundations are firmly laid down and deposited by generation after generation.


Since time immemorial, the Burmese political leaders have violated the laws of the Buddhist god and the law of nature and after the independence and the establishment of the Union of Burma, the laws of the Union and the general fundamental contract for the peaceful co-existence had been nullified and subjugated several times. If the Burma political crisis were a mere constitutional, the problem would have been solved several times. None of the past Burma constitution ever allowed rape, forced labor, or any type of human rights abuse, although it opened the chances of the dictators to practice their tyrannical rules. The day to day practices of the military leaders and army personal reflect the long standing social political behaviors of the Burmese civilization. Even during the short rule of the democratic government since the independence, the Prime Minister U Nu once announced Buddhism as the only national religion which caused remarkable political setback in the modern Burma history. U Nu kept the non-Burma ethnics under the absolute control of the central government with the banner of democracy, where the non-Burman ethnic identities were subjugated, ignoring and marginalizing  the reality the non-Burman ethnic identities with their racial, social and cultural heritages. In reality, the components of the non-Burman ethnics’ ethnicities were misrecognized and subjugated. Therefore, under the rule of Rangoon government, every non-Burma individual has to live and survive as a second class citizen. It was not a constitutional problem but ideological discrepancy, addicted and fixed into the minds of the dictators, descended down from the ancient Bama nationalism, the political aspiration to expand the rule and influence of the Bama kingdom. This is the problem until today. In other word, the Burmanization ideology, which is deeply rooted in the political psyche of the Burmese leaders, has necessitated the maintenance of a coercive force against the non-Burman ethnics. Moreover, the Bama traditional political school of thoughts had been influenced by patriarchal and warrior type of heroism that the Bama kings, unlike many ancient kings,  were warriors and fighters that the people’s submission to the king was always more coercive than willful submission based on a consensual social contract in exchange of mutual recognition and respect. Meanwhile, the Burmese society, with its hierarchical social order, still stays untouched by the 18th and 19th century enlightenments and the modern philosophy of societal leadership that left the society as rude as that of the primitive model of top-down political tyranny.


The name of the country, “Burma” or “Myanmar” itself is exclusive term that lulls many politicians and activists and misguided many Burman politicians and thinkers that the non-Bama citizens are required to share the Bama’s exclusive identity under the “Burmese” citizenship. In reality, after 50 years of a deadly struggle, even the Karen ethnic stronghold bowed down to consensually join the Union of Burma if there will be a mutual recognition and respect. Indeed, the political process turned in favor of the majority Bama identity as the name of the country bears the Bama exclusive term. After more than the 17 ethnic insurgency groups’ negotiation with the Rangoon government, the real color of the dictators became more apparent that even when the existence of the non-Burman ethnic insurgency is no longer a threat to the peace and stability of the country, the military dictators keep playing  the political game to keep control of the central political power. This is an obvious political strategy of the military dictators, to partially recognize the non-Burman ethnic groups’ claimed identities and to persuade them to join with the Burma political process in which the military handles the determinant keys, while marginalizing the forces of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the pro-democratic dissidents. Nevertheless, this is a historical landmark from which the military leaders gain unearned political credits that none of the non-Burman ethnics struggle for independent nation any longer but humble themselves to be ignored in the face of the universe as an independent nation but to share the “Buma” identity in the international political phenomenon. Therefore, based on the politics of identity, the majority Burman politically gain over the identities of the non-Burman ethnic groups that the non-Burman ethnic identities are subjugated under the Burma identity. That is the Bama identity politics the military dictators have been rudely playing that overrides and subjugates the non-Burma ethnic identities which political consequence will last until mutual recognition and respect for each other’s identity occurs.


As the result of the implementation of the greater Burman dominion, under the Rangoon government, the non-Burman ethnics have been kept under control without opportunity to develop their own ethnic identities: teaching non-burman ethnic languages in schools are prohibited, social cultural development have been limited, no non-burman national history is taught is schools, no non-Burman ethnic tradition and cultures are officiated publicly, to name a few subjugation programs enacted by the military dictators. In other word, the Burmese political leaders misrecognized the natural components of the existence of the non-Burman ethnic identities, ignoring the reality of the multicultural co-existence as the basic foundation of the modern Burma, a union country. The Burmese leaders’ misrecognition of the non-Burma ethnicity involved misdistribution that seriously hurt the relationship between the Burmas and the non-Burman citizens.  For the non-Burman ethnic individuals, there is almost no chance to get higher official job positions such as in the cabinet level official position, as a diplomat in foreign country, etc. The Burma civil services and public sector top official positions are always occupied by the Burman ethinics, and not only that even in the private sector, the non-Burma ethnic individuals have much less chance to access the publicly available opportunity unless any particular individual is assimilated into the Burman way of life or associated with the top Burman officials. The discrimination against the non-Burman ethnic groups in Burma is deeply rooted and affected in every function of the society. As the result, the non-Burman ethnic groups had to live as second class citizens, longing for the survival and equal recognition of their own identities. Therefore, if the politics of recognition is rightly understood, the complexity of the Burma political crisis would be much easier to analyze and to find ways to solve the political conflicts. In other words, the long lasting Burma political problem is not the issue of just the superficial socio political interaction, social contract, but the identity politics or the politics of recognition, deeply rooted in the permanent behaviors and political psyche of the Burmese leaders.


Since before the WWII, the wars between kings and kings were ended and when the modern nation state came to replace the rule of primitive monarchism, the world political movement had focused on competition among modern nation states. By the end of WWII, the decolonization and democratic boom occupied the world political phenomenon followed by the cold ward between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. The cold war represented the world’s political ideological conflicts between the democratic liberalism and the communism. After the retreat of the communism by its own internal collapse, the world activists, thinkers and scholars, and politicians tend to focus on the individual civil rights, indigenous rights, human rights etc. However, the product of theses quests for human common satisfaction proved that the politics of recognition laid the foundation of human struggles and conflicts of interests. In the post modern world society, the politics of recognition becomes more important and obvious as the advanced technology allowed the fast and timely exchange of information and business transactions: the issues of the misrecognized people groups and diminishing identities become more apparent. And now, what the past tyrannical rule of the monarchs and authoritarians bypassed reoccurred that is the quest for recognition of the natural components of the identity and their appropriate place in the society. “Who you are,” “how people recognize you,” become the driving factors of the common questions of the current world political movement. The politics of recognition has three main layers: individual, group, and national levels.



The “politics of identity” laid at the foundation of the “politics of recognition.” The politics of identity, based on survival politics, tries to identify a person with her own intrinsic components of life, such as race, color, belief system, language, social cultural, sexual behavior, etc. whatever attached to her own existence as a human being, demanding an appropriate place and accommodation in the society with equal distribution of public resources and opportunity. When the individual autonomy is misrecognized, individual citizens feel oppression and the pressure of coercive force of the ruling class. The western individualistic society, although, tends to be recognizing the individual autonomy by granting individual freedom with the least interference from the government, the politics of identity still raises the problems of equal distribution. Especially when conflicting interests and ideas occur while the available means to meet the conflicting expectations is limited, there is always someone with dissatisfaction and sense of misrecognition, resulting self withdrawal from civic engagement or further struggle to be recognized and have equal access to the means of the society.


          Although, the level of the struggle for individual autonomy differed based on the general norms of the respective society, when the individual autonomy is misrecognized, it creates the unending struggle for individual autonomy. Within the Burmese societal context, individual’s life satisfaction is based on how she is recognized by the society that shapes her social image and self esteem. Historically, a normal citizen has almost no voice regarding how the public resources are distributed to each individual in the society. During the rule of the Bama king, the public administration and distribution had been top down that a normal citizen is to humble herself under the rule and distribution of the king. The society had been patriarchal and the political ideology authoritarian ever. General Aung San, the leader of the Burma independent movement was the leader of the 30 comrades who went to Japan for military training. Following the traditional school of thoughts, the political mindsets of the Burmese military leaders has been authoritarian and tyrannical that according to the military mindset the place of individual citizen in the national’s political administration is determined by her military contribution in defense of the nation. Democratic decision making process by equal contribution of the citizens had been lacking in the minds and practices of the military leaders, and traditionally, assuming the military body is commonly accepted and recognized by the people as the highest ranking national institution in the country. In other word, in the minds of the military leaders, the political identity of the military in Burma history has been legitimate and paramount within the Burma political and societal context, without which the nation would have been remained under the control of the foreign power or disintegrated into several pieces. In such a way, the military leaders both individually as well as an institutionally gratified their human curiosity, illusively projecting themselves to meet their social and political expectation in the Burmese society.


However, out of no alternative option, the recent changes of the military dictators’ foreign and economic policy create a paradoxical confusion for the military leaders.  That is the politics of recognition: how the regime government is recognized or misrecognized by the Asian neighboring countries and the international communities. Unfortunately, the Burma military regime gains the international recognition more than it deserves: no nation or international community refuses the regime’s representative as the official representative of the people of Burma, although the people of Burma obviously and internationally denounced the regime government in the 1990 general election.  Compared to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had been recognized by only three foreign nations, when the US invaded in 2002, the Burma regime has almost nothing to worry about the international communities’ misrecognition. For the Burmese military dictators, the westerners’ criticism, economic sanction, complaint over human rights abuses, are nothing more than a lovely father’s discipline to his beloved children. The military leaders fear only a balanced force. Restoring the military institution’s historical identity at the top of the nation’s public square, the dictators will always defend the status quo of the military identity even with the expenses of the lives of millions of the people of Burma.

What is lacking in Burma is not a legal institution or constitutional governance but mutual recognition of identity whether it be ethnic based or otherwise that entails civic inequality, unequal liberty and opportunity. Although the Burmese dictators’ burmanization policy has been partially successful from the aspect of the dictator’s elimination of the ethnic identity programs, the consequential political problem will not end until the non-Burman ethnics are recognized as they are endowed by nature. Before, the British colonization, most of (if not all) the current non-Burman ethnics of Burma had never been under the rule of the Buma kings, having their own ethnic identities as unique peoples, that under the rule of the Burmese dictatorship, the non-Burma ethnic experienced misrecognition of their own ethnic identity reality: not able to keep their own ethnic identities with their rich social cultural heritages.  None of the non Burman ethnic group claims what the Panglong agreement entitled them, the right of secession, a complete separation, but agree to join the Union of Burma if mutual recognition is restored at both national and individual level under the rule of a democratic government, disqualifying the claim of the military dictators to justify its existence and control of the central power by blaming the existence of the ethnic insurgency as a threat to disintegrate the Union. What Burma now needs is not only the general legal frame to underline the basic social and legal contract of co-existence, but also mutual recognition and respect of multi-ethnic-identities that would guarantee both politically, socially and morally for the satisfaction of all ethnic groups for the survival of their identities.

There are certain problems with the politics of identities among the non-Burman ethnics and the dissidents who identified themselves as democrats and liberals against the tyrannical rule of the military regime. The military regime numbered 135 ethnic groups in Burma. In other words, there are 135 ethnic identities struggling for each of their own respective identity survival that, according to the regime, the country cannot be divided into 135 separate nations. Although the military’s claims are not politically correct, there is certain reality within the complex ethnic settings of the non-Burman ethnic groups. For example, within the Shan state, there are some who do not identified themselves as Shan, such Wa, Pa Uh, Palong, etc. Likewise, within the current Kachin state, there are Lishu, Rawong, etc. and within Chin state, Kukis, Zomis, Laimis, etc. The military regime appeared to rightly understand the politics of identity for its own political advantage that it has been playing the ethnic identity politics. Not only that the Burmese regime also skillfully played the politics of religious identity among the Karen dissidents that broke up the opposition stronghold, the KNU. Offering self-administered zone for the misrecognized and smaller ethnic groups is also the tactic of the regime government’s identity politics that offered an independent ethnic image where the members illusively would feel more convenience than being identified themselves among the larger or the major ethnic groups. Therefore, the non-Burman ethnics, while struggling for their ethnic identity survival, should better be aware of the politics of identity among themselves, for neglecting this would returns unexpected political consequence which will unnecessarily advance the political role of the military.

Among the Burmese democratic dissidents, the problem with identity politics is individual and ideological rather than ethnic based. After the 1988 national wide democratic uprising and after the regime government’s rejection of the result of the 1990 national election, every dissident identified himself or herself with the pro-democratic force, associating one party or organization to claim the moral or political correctness of  the dissident’s stance and to fight against the ruling regime. It became apparent that the mutual recognition and respect had been equally lacking among most of (if not all) Burmese citizens whether an individual is identified with the military regime or the dissidents, although the level of the negative political consequence of misrecognition, of course, is not the same. The remarkable thing was the exclusion of the ethnic insurgents in the formation of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), established by the 1990 MP-elects which General Bo Mya, the longtime leader of the Karen National Union, regrettably revealed just before he went to Rangoon to talk with the Rangoon government for cease fire deal. Had the 1990 MP-elects united the all opposition forces when they formed the coalition government, the process of the Burma democratic movement would have reached much further. If the 1990 MP-elects and the prominent dissident leaders struggle just to maintain their own political identities of being political elites of the country, that would fall below their moral claim, when defending their identity requires overriding the fundamental principles of justice and democracy. Hence, misrecognition of identities among the dissidents draws lines after lines among them. The political fragmentation among the dissidents into mulit-organizations is one the negative consequence of the politics of misrecognition. Out of such misrecognition by both the regime and the dissidents, the political aspiration of the non-Burman ethnics group necessitated the formation of their own political alliances, such as the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC), National Democratic Forces (NDF), etc. where the non-Burman ethnic leaders feel more convenience to express themselves, projecting their own identities and political images. Although, no war has been declared between the Burmese dissidents and the non-Bruman ethnics, there has been a constant relationship gap between them due to misrecognition of identities and unequal misdistribution of resources and opportunities.


The identity politics has both negative and positive impacts. The people who have been misrecognized feel more convenience and better self image when they identified themselves with their own race, ethnics, social or political groups and feel comfortable to express themselves socially or politically. On the other hand, when the role of identity overrides the role of justice and the basic fundamental principles of democratic and liberal values, it returns unexpected and unwanted social and political consequences. This kind of problem is common among multi-cultural societies. This is also true to individual level when a person’s claim for individual identity and autonomous overrides the basic principles of democracy and liberal values and the role of justice and fairness, the social and political force is diverted and usually fragmented. Within the context of the Burmese dissident community, this usually is the major weakness that has been occurring among almost all groups and organizations that fragmented the opposition force. Moreover, the worst thing is when the identity politics turns to hatred politics that kills the moral quality of the political principles it upheld. The identity politics demands mutual recognition and respect, equal liberty, equal distribution of resources and opportunity that are for the good of all concerned individuals under the peaceful co-existence, presumably guaranteed by democratic principles.  But the hatred politics is non-negotiation, non-co-existence and total elimination of the opponents. This is also one of the biggest problems of many Burmese dissidents, which dragged them down to self contradictory and un-winnable battle ground: while practicing a non-violent political passive resistance, one cannot practice a hatred politics, because both demand two opposite results out of the movement. Unfortunately, this has been caused by the long time Burmese people’s political psyche and the four decades rule of the authoritarian dictators where people lacked the general common sense to place one’s identity appropriately in a peaceful society, without interfering the autonomies and identities of the other individuals of the society and without being filled with fear psyche and incorrect-self-esteem.


 Rethinking the multi-cultural existence of the country, all Burmese political activists, politicians, thinkers, intellectuals, scholars, writers, students, military personnel, and all citizens have to understand the politics of identity that demands mutual recognition and respect, equal liberty, equal distribution of resources and opportunity. As an essential institution, the military should have its own identity and role in the country as much as other essential national institution would have recognition and respect. The existence of multi-ethnic groups must be wholly recognized and no-ethnic group must be subjugated to serve the identity of any other ethnic identity. In other words, there must be a mutual recognition and respect among multi-ethnic groups of Burma with equal liberty and equal distribution of resources and opportunity that would enhance the peaceful co-existence of all ethnic groups in the Union Country that will eventually bring back once the beautiful and glorious name of the people and the land, the “Union of Burma