Written by U Ne Oo on 1996-11-08
One of the developments in the year 1996 for the Burmese pro-democracy groups is the recognition of the use of Internet as an effective tool for dissemination. Since the time of creation of soc.culture.burma in January 1994 - and also the burmanet-l in later that year - one can notice the changes in attitude among users, including the SLORC, about the Internet. It is evident that SLORC and its agents no longer afford to ridicule, as they had been in earlier years in 94/95, about the use of internet bulletin boards, such as soc.culture.burma and burmanet-l, for dissemination. The change is that SLORC itself have sought to send its media releases to the electronic bulletin boards. The Net, especially the burmanet-l, also seems to reach its maturity: there are less instances of SLORC being able to instigate the users of getting into squabbles.
More encouraging fact is that the Net have not only grown in the number of subscribers but also is improved by the quality of materials sent. Other Burma related mailing-lists, such as maykha-l and freeburma-l, including private mailing-lists created by the activists are all contributing to Burma democracy movement in general. Judging from the political contents of the messages sent by the Burma advocacy groups throughout the globe, it can be seen that we have reached to a point of consolidation, at least at the policy level.
INTERNET IS UNBEATABLE
One good thing about Internet is that it makes the geographical constraints to become irrelevant. This enable the grassroots activists across the globe to share ideas and activities. Local support and solidarity is still important - and is much appreciated - but become less critical factor as itical factor as far as advocacy work is concerned; So long as the accurate information is received via electronic media, the valuable work can continue. The role of traditional media in a campaign cannot be replaced by the Net; but the activists no longer need to rely too much on the traditional media to get the information.
One salient feature of networking on the internet is the impossibility to break the line of communication between activists. Because of the versatile and flexible nature of electronic communication (e-mails), no entity can possibly disrupt communication among the activists. Burmanet-l, for example, is a frequent target by SLORC's agents for disruption; then again there are the other lists, such as maykha-l, BurmaNews-l and freeburma-l, in which the information can freely flow on.
RESILIENCE OF THE GRASSROOTS MOVEMENTS
The democracy movement for Burma, especially by these expatriates (and of course of the refugees), is developing to become a truly "People's movement". One evidence was that more and more individuals and groups, particularly of Burmese origin, are seen to have spoken out about the human rights and political situation in Burma. In those days of 1988 events (at that time I was a Colombo Plan Scholar at the adelaide uni.), all Burmese expatriates have denounced the military's action. As the time goes on, the movement against military rule in Burma has never been dissipated: it is clear that a permanent change have taken place in Burmese people's mind about the Burmese military dictatorship since the 1988 events.
To my knowledge, there is no such thing as "foreign-inspired" movement among those expatriate/grassroots organizations. The reason these people are being able to speak out, and are continuing to speak out, is because of their understanding on the situation in Burma and the concern for their fellow country men. This knowledge on Burmese politics is making the organizations like OBLF, CRDB or TRW, for example, have some influence on the movement. These organizations are essentially made up of a circle of friends and colleagues who are interested in Burma. Their activities are mainly of disseminating newsletter/communications, organizing some informal-gatherings now and then, et cetera, et cetera. I myself work as an individual and the activity and support is self-propelled: in addition to these activities on the internet, I also organize snail-mails to some 60 or so of groups/individuals around the globe. Being a refugee & unemployed in Australia, this is as much as I could have managed to do. Our exiled -colleagues in India and Thailand can be of any difference to my situation, I presumed. The point to be made is that, in spite of such limitation on logistical supports, the value of our advocacy work and our influence on Burma policy of the decision-making bodies have never been in doubt. Thanks to our international human rights friends who consistently keep Burma situation at the focus.
If a political struggle is to be compared with a battle, then the political parties, such as NLD, can be compared with a properly organized army. The grassroots activism in this context may be considered as the guerrilla warfare: no chain of command structure is to be found among such activists. The objectives and operational procedures are also much similar: the selfless nature of participation in the movement, the ability to concentrate to get the right target (in our case of advocacy work, to get the politics right) and being able to operate with low profile at a low cost. At the grassroots level operation, the time and efforts can be totally devoted to movement building and to more fundamental political issues, instead of having to worry about the organizational structure. The Burmese communal psyche, on the other hand, appears to have more receptivity to such grassroots activities if one was to organize a political movement. While the primary objective of grassroots movements is to support the pro-democracy forces and the NLD, the freedom of speech facilitated by the Internet is serving us as a useful vehicle for the movement.
Doing politics is not merely about making protest activities and publicizing the cause; it is to be considered as consolidating and implementing policies. To be able to draw up a good and practical policy, one need to gather as many views as possible from the pro-democracy groups. The internet forums, such as this burmanet-l etc, are the best medium for putting forwards the views from various scholars and groups. We will need to have policy not only in politics but also in other fields, such as developments, economy etc. Hopefully, some good people in those field might come out and send their views.
THE BURMANET-L AS A VEHICLE
For those Burmese who subscribe to this list also have the opportunity to participate in the movement. It is understandable why majority of Burmese subscribers keep quiet on this list; but this do not stop you from writing to U.N. Official and the respective governments. Time and again, writing letters to those Officials has proven to be effective and is helping the democracy movement. Action calls and communications on this net do provide opportunity for individuals on this list to participate in the movement. There should be no let-up in the pressure on SLORC and lets just keep-up the good work.
With best regards, U Ne Oo.