One hears a lot these days about how the Burmese lack discipline and therefore are not fit for democracy. This is rather reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s famed wisdom in his considered opinion that the Burmese were not ready for independence at the end of the Second World War. Those who have no wish to grant us freedom or democracy have the same thing to say, naturally. Only it is not so black and white today since it happens to be our own kind that expresses this view. That exactly is where class comes in – the ruling classes share the same interests and employ very similar strategies, some of them perhaps more violent and ruthless and others showing some finesse. It is a message that ties in neatly with the concept of “discipline flourishing democracy”. Whose discipline imposed upon whom and how may this be enforced, one might rightly ask.
Another opinion, not unconnected to the first, that has gained currency in certain circles is that left wing student radicals like Aung San should never have sought to drive the British out by violent means, and that instead pragmatism and prudence should have prevailed in letting our benevolent colonial masters gently and smoothly guide us in an evolutionary process to prosperity like we see in Singapore and Malaysia. An undisguised paternalistic vision with no faith whatsoever in the ability of a people to shape their own future – because they cannot be trusted since like children they do not know what is good and proper for them, so easily manipulated by “unscrupulous elements” and “power mad groups”.
It is of course again the same kind of people who criticize, and indeed smear, the current students’ campaign for a modern democratic education. They appear to have distanced themselves historically and in spirit from our independence struggle where our youth, notably students, and our elders like Thakin Kodaw Hmaing and the Dobama Asi-ayone, provided leadership in the forefront of our historic struggle. And of course the inception of our ownnational liberation army, their own roots – the BIA, just as they have conveniently forgotten the independence struggle of Malaya led by Chin Peng and the communists.
Ironically and perhaps inevitably they overlook the violence systematically and invariably meted out to the peoples of Burma by the ruling military elite over these long decades. Disciplined is presumably the preferred term since it is only us the people who are given to unruly, undisciplined and violent mindless behaviour. At this rate the way events have been unfolding from the first days of the new improved nominally civilian regime with its “reform, democratization and peace processes up to this increasingly eventful new year of elections, it looks like they ain’t seen nothin’ yet.