[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

Letter to the President and Mr. Geo

Reply-To: Kyaw Z Ya <kzy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Letter to the President and Mr. George Soros about the censorship

by the Burma Project
To: osnews@xxxxxxxxxxx, elorant@xxxxxxxxxxx
X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Pro Version 3.0.2 (32)
X-Sender: strider@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Open Society Institute
400 West 59th Street
New York, NY 10019

Dear Mr. George Soros and President : Mr. Aryeh Neier,
November 1998

I am writing to express my concern about the recent changes in policy at
the Burmanet.  As a participant in the 1988 uprising and pro-democracy
movement on the border, I would like to express my sincere appreciation
for the efforts of the Open Society Institute on behalf of the forces of
democracy in Burma.  However I am deeply concerned about recent moves to
limit communications over Burmanet .  

Burmanet is an email list server and internet conference dedicated to
issues regarding Burma administered by the Burma Project of the Open
Siciety Insitute.  Started in the mid-1990s, Burmanet has been an email
list where those interested in issues pertaining to Burma could post
letters, in order to gain information, ask questions, disseminate news, or
debate political issues.  Burmanet has been a very important forum for
political news and debate pro-democracy activists and an important source
of information for those interested in Burma.  Lively, if at times
acrimonious, debate resulted from the dozens of emails sent to Burmanet

Unfortunately, the Burmanet administration recently decided to limit the
communications printed on the Burmanet.  It was announced that henceforth
the Burmanet editor would decide which emails could be printed and which
couldn't, as opposed to the earlier policy, under which all emails sent in
were printed.  To many Burmese activists, this constitutes censorship.   

For many Burmese, the Burmanet was the first open forum for political
debate they experienced.  Most young Burmese have never experience freedom
of expression.  Since the military take over in 1962, there has been no
freedom of expression in Burma.  Political speech and expression are so
sharply suppressed in Burma that there is essentially no public political
debate, questioning of the country's ruling government, or calls for
political change.  Even in private, distrust and fear keep people from
openly discussing political issues.  Censorship and the suppression of
free speech has been one of the many tools employed by the military to
maintain its grip on power.

Even more devastating than the suppression of free speech is the culture
of fear and distrust, and the lack of experience of with mature political
debate, among the young people raised in Burma since 1962.  The
pro-democracy activists who arrived on the Thailand-Burma border after the
1988 uprising had no experience of open political debate or the democratic

As a result, many of the '88 generations attempts at democracy among
themselves have failed.  In particular, the authoritarian culture of Burma
has meant that, even among the democracy activists, criticizing those in
positions of leadership.  Under some circumstance the questioning of
leaders has led to exactly the sort of human rights abuses - torture and
summary execution - perpetrated by the Burmese government.  Furthermore,
lack of accountability on the part of the leaders also led to material
hardship for many of the rank and file as scarce resources were used for
the activities of leaders rather than for the movement as a whole.  The
lack of political openness among the opposition groups along the border
led to deep disillusionment and bitterness for many of the students who
had come to the border in 1988.  This disillusionment has contributed
significantly to attrition in the student camps and the increasing number
of students who sought asylum in third countries.   The students,
including myself, all wondered what kind of democracy can take root in
Burma if questioning the misconduct or wrongdoing of the leaders is not
permitted within the democratic opposition itself. 

For many, Burmanet offered a crucial opportunity to carry on open
political debate.  While the debate was often bitter, acrimonious, and
immature, the exercise in debate itself was invaluable to people who had
never before enjoyed an open forum.  Inevitably the political and personal
behavior of some opposition leaders was frequently attacked in Burmanet
postings.  It is important to recognize that Burmanet constituted the only
forum where such criticisms were possible.  I would argue that such
criticism, even if they were at times crudely worded, were crucial to
building a culture of democracy and openness among the opposition

As it happened, the decision to limit which postings could appear on
Burmanet came after a protracted debate about the behavior of a number of
opposition leaders.  As a consequence, a common perception has been that
Burmanet/OSI is biased in favor of those leaders and is unwilling to
publish criticisms of them.  Whether there is any foundation to this
perception or not, only OSI can know.  However the perception alone, given
the considerable disillusionment among many rank and file opposition
members, has damaged the credibility of OSI.  More importantly, the new
limitations on what gets posted on the Burmanet have removed the only
forum for political debate available to Burmese activists.  Finally, the
explanations of the Burmanet editor, when asked about the specifics of the
new policy, have been vague.

While recognizing the immense contributions of OSI to the struggle for
democracy in Burma, I would ask OSI to re-examine their new Burmanet
policy and re-institute the policy of openly posting all submissions.  I
can appreciate the editors frustration with the tone of much of the debate
- but I would ask him to remember that the proper tone for political
debate can only develop when there is debate itself.  Burma and the
pro-democracy forces have very far to go in developing a culture of
democracy.  Open debate is the crucial first step.  I would ask that OSI
go on supporting this most fundamental of all steps on the road toward

Thank you very much.

Yours sincerely,
Kyaw Zay Ya