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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 26-Sep-07
Burma: Growing demonstrations by the "88 Generation" raise fears of new slaughter

Web Log - September, 2007

Burma: Growing demonstrations by the "88 Generation" raise fears of new slaughter

At the UN, President Bush announced new sanctions on Burma (Myanmar), as signs grow that the military is preparing to use force.

The last major nationwide demonstrations occurred 19 years ago, starting on August 8, 1988 (8/8/88). Student-led pro-democracy demonstrations at that time were joined by Buddhist monks and many civilians. The demonstrations were crushed when the Burmese army fired on students with machine guns, killing thousands.

Tens of thousands of Buddhist monks demonstrated in Rangoon, forming a sea of red <font face=Arial size=-2>(Source: CNN)</font>
Tens of thousands of Buddhist monks demonstrated in Rangoon, forming a sea of red (Source: CNN)

New demonstrations by the "88 Generation" began last week, triggered by an abrupt government decision to double the price of gasoline.

The new demonstrations have been led by over 100,000 Buddhist monks, in demonstrations across the country, especially in Rangoon (Yangon) and Mandalay. The army has not interfered with them yet, but there are signs that the army is preparing for a confrontation. Many people fear a new mass slaughter, like the one in 1988.

Here's what President Bush said in his UN speech on Tuesday:

"Every civilized nation also has a responsibility to stand up for the people suffering under dictatorship. In Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Iran, brutal regimes deny their people the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma, where a military junta has imposed a 19-year reign of fear. Basic freedoms of speech, assembly, and worship are severely restricted. Ethnic minorities are persecuted. Forced child labor, human trafficking, and rape are common. The regime is holding more than 1,000 political prisoners -- including Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party was elected overwhelmingly by the Burmese people in 1990.

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The ruling junta remains unyielding, yet the people's desire for freedom is unmistakable. This morning, I'm announcing a series of steps to help bring peaceful change to Burma. The United States will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers. We will impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members. We'll continue to support the efforts of humanitarian groups working to alleviate suffering in Burma. And I urge the United Nations and all nations to use their diplomatic and economic leverage to help the Burmese people reclaim their freedom."

The speech references Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a heroine of the 88 Generation, having been a leader in 1988. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since 1990, and late news stories indicate that the government on Tuesday transferred her from her home to a notorious prison.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, Burma is in an Unraveling Era. Large demonstrations of this type are typical in Unraveling Eras, but they fizzle out quickly. For example, think of the "Million Man March" in 1990s America, or the massive demonstrations against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in May of this year. Both of these are examples of large Unraveling era demonstrations -- begun enthusiastically, but fizzling out quickly.

The new Burma demonstrations will undoubtedly fizzle out quickly as well, even if the army overreacts. But an overreaction now would set the stage for increasing conflict that would lead to a full scale civil war within 10-15 years.

Brief generational history of Burma

The following is a brief Generational Dynamics history of Burma (Myanmar):

Burma (Myanmar) shares long borders with China, Thailand and India.
Burma (Myanmar) shares long borders with China, Thailand and India.

Crisis war: 1727-1752: Various rebellions against the Toungoo throne at Ava. The crisis war climax occurred when the Ava throne fell in in 1752, after a siege by a combined army of different ethnic groups, ending the Toungoo dynasty.

Crisis war: First Burmese War, 1824-26. British victory. Britain annexes the southern portion of Burma, which becomes part of British India.

Awakening Era war: Second Burmese War, 1852-53. Britain annexed additional territory.

Crisis war: Third Burmese War + civil war, 1886-1891. The war with Britain itself ended with a quick Burmese surrender to Britain, but violent civil war among various ethnic groups continued until 1891.

Awakening: 1920 - A generational split between old and young (presumably between generational "Artists" and "Prophets") members of the Young Men's Buddhist Association. Younger members rename the organization the General Council of Burmese Associations, dedicated to anti-colonialism.

Unraveling war: World War II, 1940-45. Occupation by Japan.

1948: Independence, formation of the Union of Burma.

Note: Aung San, commander of the Burma Independence Army, is considered to be the founding father of Burma. He was assassinated six months before final independence.

Crisis war: 1948-1958: Civil war among ethnic groups, with intervention by Chinese. Climax in 1958 when the army took over power, and turned power over to a civilian government.

The army overthrew the civilian government in 1962, and has remained in power since then.

Aung San Suu Kyi in 2003(?) <font face=Arial size=-2>(Source: CNN)</font>
Aung San Suu Kyi in 2003(?) (Source: CNN)

Awakening Era climax: On 8/8/88, hundreds of thousands of students in the "88 generation," joined by monks and civilians, marched against the military government. Soldiers opened fire on demonstrators with machine guns, resulting in thousands of casualties.

Note: Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Aung San, participated in the 1988 demonstrations, calling for democratic government. In 1989, she was placed under house arrest without charge or trial. In 1991, she won the Nobel Peace prize.

Today: As the 20th anniversary of 1988 massacre approaches, there are massive new demonstrations in Burma, led by monks and nuns, but now joined by many ordinary citizens. The tension in Rangoon is great, and the military government is evidently trying to decide whether to let things be, hoping the demonstrations will fizzle, or repeat the violent reprisals of 1988. Since this is an unraveling era, it would seem that the demonstrations will indeed fizzle, unless the army overreacts.

Note: Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest, and is considered a goddess by today's demonstrators. However, late news indicates that she was apparently transferred to a prison on Tuesday. (26-Sep-07) Permanent Link
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