Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Burma's bloggers

I must have missed the changeover. When, exactly, did we go back to calling it "Burma" and not "Myanmar"? I'd been raised on an aural diet of "Burma" for years, so the switch to "Myanmar," which admittedly reflects what the country calls itself, was annoying to me. Attachment to name and form, if you will.

But now we're back to Burma. Good.

And Burma's back in the news. Bad.

I'm not too familiar with the history of government oppression in Burma, but I somehow doubt we can expect anything like the recent near-bloodless coup in Thailand (that article links to Justin's own posts at Cosmic Buddha, but for some reason, clicking the link from the French-language blog causes my IE browser to crash-- click at your own risk). The Burmese junta has no compunctions about gunning down protestors by the thousands, according to this BBC article. Another article notes that Burmese bloggers are playing a major role in disseminating information to the outside world.

Images of saffron-robed monks leading throngs of people along the streets of Rangoon have been seeping out of a country famed for its totalitarian regime and repressive control of information.

The pictures are sometimes grainy and the video footage shaky - captured at great personal risk on mobile phones - but each represents a powerful statement of political dissent.

"It is amazing how the Burmese are able through underground networks to get things from outside and inside," says Vincent Brussels, head of the Asian section of press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders.

"Before, they were moving things hand-to-hand and now they are using the internet - proxy websites, Google and YouTube and all these things."

The use of the internet as a political tool is one of the most marked differences between the latest protests and the 1988 uprising, which was brutally repressed.

Thanks in part to bloggers, this time the outside world is acutely aware of what is happening on the streets of Rangoon, Mandalay and Pakokku and is hungry for more information.

I wish the Buddhist monks luck as their protests continue, but like Malcolm, I'm pessimistic that there will be a bloodless outcome. While I'm not a fan of missionary zeal, I do admire the courage of the monks-- many of them young-- who have put their lives on the line in the name of freedom. If they rally the citizens to their cause (and many citizens appear to be shielding the monks during their protest marches), we might-- just might-- see some welcome changes in that part of the world.

If not, the Burmese bloggers will have a sad story to tell. And there's always the chance that they might become the sad story.


No comments: