What's Burma Called nowWhat's Burma's name now?
I received a one-week visas for Burma twenty years ago. As any traveler who was familiar with the subject, I came to Rangoon with a box of Marlboros and a box of Johnnie Walker Red, which I had bought in Bangkok.
When I had exchanged the necessary hundred bucks for Myanmar Kyat at a blackmail exchange price, I got in a cab and immediately sell the goods to the chauffeur in exchange for money on the illegal trade. That' s how it was in Burma: secret, dirty, with insignificant everyday injustice that went unspoken but not overlooked.
For a few and a half nights, the cabbie driving me through Rangoon before heading to Mandalay and Bagan to the N, subtly let me know - sometimes just an interchange of looks - that Burma's folks may be isolated from the outside world but they weren't insensible. Well enough they knew they were living in destitution, under a violent regimen, while their Asiatic neighbours came into the contemporary age.
Yet everywhere they seemed to be oppressed men who had to bear their fate forever. One year later, in August 1988, after the administration had devaluated its money so dramatically that more than half of the country's population was losing its wealth, the Rangoon protest erupted and became widespread throughout the state. Up to fifteen thousand Burmese may have been murdered by the state police in the subsequent repression.
Myanmar had a real grassroots democratic motion with an organised opponent, the National League for Democracy, yet its geo-political insulation means that it did not go down the road of Eastern Europe or the edge of the Peace. We experience one of these times, as in 1986 in Manila or 1989 in Leipzig, when common, non-armed persons abruptly decided to oppose the full government.
Those courageous and combative people of Burma merit every little show of sympathy we Americans can show.