A Spectre That Haunts

By | March 8, 2015

To borrow the opening line from the Communist Manifesto a spectre is haunting the ruling military clique in Burma – the spectre of communism. No sooner did the students’ boycott and protest march from Mandalay to Rangoon start to gain popular support and momentum than the generals (smug in their confident intransigent position over the new education law, completely out of touch and unpopular with the very people in the world of education, both educators and students alike) panicked and started to hurl accusations through their minion, the education minister, of the protest movement being “inspired by communist ideology and manipulated by certain elements behind the scenes”. [1]


There is a palpable fear of the march reaching its destination where they seem to believe they run the potential risk of the students joining with other currents of social unrest and grumbling dissent – in Shwepyithar and Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zones, and in the agrarian sector – victims of land confiscations over the years at Michaungkan just on the doorstep of the former capital and commercial hub. [2][3][4] This became evident when a peaceful demonstration by students joined by the public in front of Rangoon’s City Hall, against a potential violent crackdown of the marching students now corralled in by massive police presence 85 miles north at Letpadan, faced exactly that – a violent crackdown spearheaded by plainclothes regime thugs wearing red armbands marked “duty”. [5][6] An obvious attempt at nipping it in the bud in Rangoon while Letpadan can wait.


As various politicians and civil society groups reacted to this latest outrage widely reported in the media, both international and domestic, even more notably in social media, the “new reformist” government justified its action by citing an arcane law from colonial times over the use of what they themselves called “vigilantes” but in reality hired thugs, denying they were Swan Arshin notoriously deployed in the Depayin Massacre of 2003. [7][8] Curiously in the context of this horrific personal experience as well as in the parliamentary context of being in the position of chairperson of the committee on rule of law, the opposition leader who luckily survived an obvious attempt on her life showed seeming unconcern when the media asked for a response by pleading ignorance and leaving it to the media to investigate! [9][10]


What is not curious but rather overlooked by those who cry wolf – striking fear, they believe, with the Burmese equivalent of Reds under the bed – is the historical fact that the student unions predate the communist party which did not exist until 1939 in Burma. [10] One may not be wrong even to say that the student movement gave birth to future communist leaders such as Aung San and Ba Hein, not the other way round. There is a unique place for students, not only in the public’s bosom, but in the annals of Burmese history – their heroic role at the forefront of the struggle for national liberation would rightly put to shame today’s bogus “nationalists” licensed to instigate racial and religious conflict in the service of the generals. After all it is a history they would rather we all forgot.


​ Despite the students’ assurances at the quadripartite talks and since that their explicit goal was to achieve a genuine modern democratic education, and not ​about wresting political power from them or even planning a general strike, the ruling nominally civilian military clique is running scared. Then again, lacking both the political will and veracity, they never were any good at looking for peaceful political solutions be it for achieving a lasting peace in the land or important socioeconomic issues. Some prophecies are said to be self-fulfilling. Perhaps they are heading for one.



1. ​http://www.elevenmyanmar.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9165:ministry-accused-of-education-law-propaganda&catid=44:national&Itemid=384

​2. ​http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/police-arrest-protesting-garment-workers.html

3. http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/13265-protests-highlight-labour-law-shortcomings.html

4. http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/authorities-clear-remnants-michaungkan-protest-downtown.html

5. http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/police-crack-down-on-student-protestors-in-rangoon.html

​6. ​http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/plainclothes-vigilantes-make-a-comeback-in-rangoon.html

7. http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/88-generation-denounces-violent-dispersal-of-rangoon-protest.html

8. http://www.irrawaddy.org/commentary/junta-era-thugs-are-back-on-the-streets.html

9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5hSbI6zsCM

10. http://www.irrawaddy.org/contributor/a-new-generation-takes-to-the-streets-in-burma.html




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