As the world watches the violent crackdown on the “Saffron Revolution” in Myanmar there is a new element at play that the military government has never had to confront before.
While the bravery of the Buddhist monks who’ve risked their lives to call for freedom is at the center of the protests that have shaken Burma – behind the scenes computer-savvy students have given the world a front row seat into the junta’s brutal repression via the Internet.
Even those involved in Burma’s democracy movement since 1988 have been a little surprised at how this new element has turned out to be an essential part of the recent protests.
“Nobody really thought the kids cared about Burma any more. They only seemed to be interested in their phones or computers. But they are making all the difference in getting the word out. The Junta can’t stop them,” observed Zaw Tun, a Burmese expatriate living in Thailand who has been with the Burmese democracy movement.
The government has made an effort to block sites, restrict Internet access and cut off phone service but to no avail – the intrepid bloggers have found ways around the clumsy efforts. So as the Junta issues “statements” and the government-controlled TV stations provide ridiculous claims of calm, the bloggers have given the world’s media access to videos and photographs as to the severity of the crackdown shot with cell phones or digital cameras and in some cases transmitted live.
In the past totalitarian governments have controlled and restricted the media. But today they now face the problem of every citizen potentially being the press. This unfortunately won’t stop the bloodshed, but it makes it impossible to deny, and the world is no longer able to turn a blind eye to such events. This may very well influence the outcome.
“In 1988 many of the soldiers where ready to switch sides,” says Zaw Tun. “I think that is the same now. Maybe even more so. No one is happy with how things are. But there would have to be a leader to emerge and take control.”
Prospects of outside assistance from the UN don’t instill Zaw with much confidence. His reaction to the mention of the UN was harsh.
“The f***ing Chinese and Russians are screwing everything up at the UN. You can quote that too. Before 1962 Burma was one of the richest countries in Asia. We have lots of resources and the Chinese Government wants easy access so they support the Junta.”
Zaw, like others in the Burmese democracy movement hope that the world will not forget China’s complicity in the current situation how ever it may turn out. He would like to see a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games or other trade-related measures.
While the Junta play “Whack-a-Mole” with the bloggers their violent crackdown on the red robed Monks has backfired in ways they never imagined. Within Burma the images of bloodied tiles in monasteries and troops charging crowds of unarmed civilians has only furthered the pro-democracy movement’s cause and increased its popularity. The same bloggers have also opened a window on Burma for the world to see into.
Unfortunately, at this point, the government appears to be more successful at closing it, at least partially.
At 4:30 pm Friday Bangkok time Zaw Tun sent an email:
“Can’t call either the landlines or cells in Burma. We are trying to get through some sat com. Thought you’d wanna know.”
Burmese Pro-Democracy Blogs