Myanmar Military DictatorshipThe Myanmar military dictatorship
Burma: The military in the back?
Burma has seen great changes in politics that have recently put the chief of the Democrat oppositions to the military dictatorship and National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi, in office. Renéud Egreteau has released a publication in which he shows the degree to which the military in Burma stays very much in control, despite its openness to democracy, and seems willing to comeback.
Military and politic changes in Myanmar, you say that the changes in Myanmar's regimes since the 2010 election open the doors to something else, something unfamiliar that could either come near a democracy or transform an authority. Is there a serious risk of a resumption of military dictatorship?
That will be dependent on the new generation of military commanders. Burma's military sees itself as the "leader" of a transitional period that has been under way since the 1988 military putsch. The military has controlled this as well as obeying its own set of regulations. Now, the military has succeeded in achieving what its commanders had been planning since the early 1990s: the role of referee on the world stage, backed up by comprehensive assurances of parliamentary immunity. 3.
So it is by no means certain that the military might turn around, re-form a ruling junta and reclaim all powers. Although the military is confident that it is important, it seems ready to abandon civilians - especially the historic National League for Democracy (NLD) - to take on the day-to-day administration and politics of the state.
That' s near the present state of the military in Burma. However, since the country's 1948 independence, the military has been restructured so that it can take action. When it becomes more and more elusive to rule, when there are new revolts, when societies fall into new wave of municipal tension - especially between Muslim and Buddhaist people - there is a good chance that the military will regain it.
However, if Burma's civil population, as resistant as it has been since the 50s, continues its liberalization and democratization effort with a certain degree of economic prosperity, the military could live with its present privilege as long as it is not called into jeopardy and the civilian population could be left to the government as much as it can.
We are seeing in this interim situation the emergence of tension and conflict, which has been bubbling for a long while, sometimes even being dampened by the military dictatorship. This is a phenomenon peculiar to any kind of transformation or revolutionary process that redefines the policy equilibrium between the elite of a given community and between the elite and the people.
It is this mixture of (re-)emerging societal conflict, civilian turmoil, the rise of new rival political élites calling into question the post-dictatorship order and the rise of new political and ideological structures that are challenging the management of this hybride state. Myanmar is no different, and there is a good possibility that the institutions of this "post-junta" government will begin to be called into question, while the military will remain in a firm stance.
This is still relevant because none of the consecutive regimes - democratically, militarily or semi-militarily in the 1950' - were able to find a permanent settlement to ethical and spiritual sentiments. It has also paid tribute to decade-long blockades, civilian conflicts, enforced or optional migrants. Myanmar has never really resolved the problem of the division of churches and states.
Apart from honourable aspirations, the NLD was rather discrete on these matters and preferred a very long interethnic dialog to a major policy and administration reform of the state. In page 47 of your pamphlet you write,"(....) if Myanmar is a signpost, there are serious grounds for being rather gloomy about the ability of the reappearing multi-party community to go beyond fragility, patronage and the personalization of the Force.
What will the NLD, a red tape machinery, be able to keep its leader in charisma alive and get over its possible errors, defeats and policy-errors? This question has been asked for all of Burma's leading independent politicians who have never been able to institutionalise themselves or establish the necessary in-house mechanism that would allow them to successfully cope with their own rivalry, unconventional voice or conflicting ideology.
All too often they have been used as a means and a tool for the interests and aspirations of a narrowly loyal Catholic group. Myanmar, like many other developing countries, has both personalised and personalised governance. Myanmar ruling factions are fighting dissidents from within, just as they are fighting for the deaths of their rulers.
That might account for the enormous number of splitings and other splitings within all Burma's leading politicians. It is clear from the text that the military has not completely withdrew from various committees and institutes. There is now a danger that the military will move from a position in which they "are the state" and embody it - as Louis XIV asserted in his day, "the state is me" - to a position in which the military establishment becomes a "state within the state".
With the NLD and its legislative overwhelming beginning to move the borders that the military have allocated to the political parties, notably through the 2008 constitution, there is a good possibility that the military will protect its resources, its financial basis and its immunities while working less and less with the civil world.
I came from India and the sub-continent, to which Burma has many of its own local civic and culture tradition, not Thailand and Southeast Asia, like many of my peers. How was it possible to carry out socio-scientific research in a cohesive, military-run state?
What is the best way to get first-hand information? There was a genuine opening that made it possible to train a new breed of scientists and reporters specializing in Myanmar issues in 1988. At that time, protesters and student and pro-democracy protesters in Rangoon and Aung San Suu Kyi came to the world for the first time on the local stage.
In spite of the September 1988 putsch and the creation of a new dictatorship, the state did not confront itself with General Ne Win as it did between 1962 and 1968. It has enabled many humanists, philologists, linguists, geographers, politicians and even foreign correspondent to move through large parts of the state.
During the 2000s, I found Burma's community through frequent field work from Yangon to Myitkyina, Sittwe and Kengtung, and from the boundaries of Yunnan county, Thailand or even Bangladesh and Indian Manipur. In Myanmar in the 2000s, North Korea was not and for everyone who knew where to go, a great deal of dates, observation and even interviewing was possible here and there.
Nevertheless, one can envisage that the opening - although I understand the concept should be thought through with care - and the passage that has been apparent in Myanmar for some years now will facilitate accessibility to research work. Do you have archive privileges? Prior to 2011, there was almost no entry to the elite.
Encounters with enemies in particular were a major hazard, as was the distribution and collection of surveys, an instrument widely used by policy makers. However, since 2011, a foreign national can hit a former deportee in a closed room without attracting the secret services' heed. Naypyitaw also allows government agencies such as the parliament or government departments to be accessed or even to hold meetings with high-ranking military officers.
Mary Callahan was one of the few experts in the Myanmar military to be authorised in 1991 to visit the Burma Military Archive for the time before 1962. It is not the issue of accessibility in itself, although it can often be obstructed for no good cause.
One of the major problems is the poor organisation, effectiveness and methodological categorisation of the archive holdings, even though a large part of Yangon's domestic archive was moved to the new capitol Naypyitaw in 2005. In many cases, Myanmar archivalists do not even know whether the rally actually existed or whether it was grouped.
Nevertheless, it is possible to research in the Swiss Federal Archive.