I spent last semester in Chico, California, where occasionally the issue of Burma/Myanmar would come up. A number of people in Chico are well-enough read that they have familiarity with the issues there primarily through writing in the western press, particularly The New York Times. The western press highlights the role of the Nobel Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She was a hero of the West for her opposition to the military government which ruled the country from 1962-2015, and continues to play a very very influential role. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as an activist advocated non-violent resistance now holds political power along with the military which formerly imprisoned her.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won the first more-or-less free election in 2015. The bulk of their support was from the ethnic Bamar (Burmese) who make up about 2/3 of the country’s population., A sub-group of Bamar continues to control the still strong military which wages battles with militia from the wide range of ethnic groups who seek autonomy from the central government. There are 15+ of these groups around the country’s periphery some of whom are in active revolt, and others who are in various ceasefire arrangements.. With the victory of the NLD in 2015, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi became an extra-constitutional “State Counselor,” and constitutional Foreign Minister in the new government. The military party though retained control of the Department of Defense, and other security functions—in other words the guns. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in turn appointed the new constitutional President.
In this political context, the Muslim Rohingya were thrust into the world’s attention in August-October 2017 when villages were burned by the army, and the UN and world’s press claimed a genocide was taking place. This took the western press off guard–the “problem” of Myanmar was assumed to be solved by the electoral victory of the NLD who were assumed to be “good guys” in the New York Times. and other western sources. After all, she had won the Nobel Peace Prize! for non-violent resistance to the military regime!. It was as if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a leader in the new government betrayed them.
But of course this is not a Myanmar-based view. And this brings me to the main point of this blog which is to highlight the writing of my PhD student Mon Mon Myat in the Irrawaddy Times, an online newspaper published in English and Burmese. Her views are a perspective from Myanmar, though hardly the only one. But more importantly, it is not that of the New York Times and the western press, either. Mon Mon herself has long been a journalist in Myanmar (a sometimes dangerous occupation), as well as a film-maker, and poet. Below are linked opinion pieces she published in the last year. For the people back in places like Chico who want to get beyond the New York Times view of Myanmar, her articles are a good place to start.