(By Bo Kyaw Nyein)

Even in today's world where globalization is the popular term, many countries, if not all, are facing internal issues, which must be handled with great care and sensitivity. Race related issues in United States , Catholic / Protestant split in United Kingdom , Muslim minority issues in Kosovo , Israel /Palestinian in the Middle East region, Aborigines in Australia , you name it, there are several burning issues in nearly every part of the continents of the world that can easily arouse raw emotions. If these issues are not confronted and resolved with care and sensitivity, they will continue to keep their societies fragmented and unable to successfully address common issues of oppression and poverty. Burma is no exception.

Many Burmese, like many white Americans, are uncomfortable to discuss or express their opinion when it comes to Ethnic (race) issues because it is the sensitive matter in the first place and because no one likes to be seen as a bigot. So while the silent majority is shy to express their views, only the bold and the restless who are determined to make the name and purposely exploiting the sensitive issues raise their voices. Some may even try to heighten the rhetoric to attract attention. So many times, extremists from both sides grab the microphone and sadly, only the voices of extreme are heard and thus further push the moderate and logical voices away from the scene and epicenter. In my humble opinion, that is the case in Burma also.

Like many citizens of Burma , I came from a mixed blood where my maternal grand father was a pure blooded Mon, who took great pride in his heritage and spoke Mon at home (he lived with us) and who was also a Mon activist during his time. My father was a Burman (Bama) from Upper Burma . Being a Bama, we never really understood the actual meaning of discrimination and what it is like to be a minority in Burma . Like many innocent Burmese who were forced to leave their motherland because of the Military Dictatorship, I was forced to leave my country for my safety after I had spent nearly five years at infamous Insein jail and arrived on the foreign shores as an immigrant in the Western world. Naturally, I came face to face with discrimination and quickly learned the actual meaning of being a minority in the west. Like myself, many of the Burmese who were forced to leave their country and arrived on the shores of the Western world who had to struggle and overcome the life as an immigrant and succeed in the foreign culture, clearly understand the meaning of 'minority' and 'discrimination'. And in our hearts we truly have a sincere desire to solve the complex ethnic issues facing our people, in a fair manner as humanly as possible.

I was one time confronted by some of my fellow Burmese comrades who are sympathetic to Ethnic issues for not speaking out strongly or for not raising the issues. The problem that many of my fellow Burmese are facing is that we realize clearly that Ethnic issues are not the only issue facing our nation and the people, and 'political solution' must be solve in order to tackle the 'constitution solution ' in order to resolve complex Ethnic issues. The root cause of many of our problems in our country Burma , at present time, is the failure of the Burmese to remove Military Dictatorship. Without finding a solution for the replacement of this dreaded and harmful system of military domination in our country, we cannot find an avenue that will lead us to a just resolution of our complex Ethnic issues. Without finding a fair solution for all residents of our country, it is very hard to find stability that is much needed for the prosperity for all the people of all Ethnic backgrounds. And of course, it is very easy to bring out the raw emotions and to be misunderstood and misquoted during the discussion of sensitive issues such as Ethic (race) problems.

Like many countries in our global village that we know as planet Earth, Ethnic issues are very complex and it is the legacy of our history and human evolution. Because there are over 135 different Ethnic groups and subgroups in Burma , we face a very complex and difficult problem. Some may want to downplay the legacy and consequences we face today because of the 'divide & rule' policy practiced by successive British Colonial administrations in Burma , but it was, in fact, significant. After years of suspicion, hatred and significant bias and suppression against the Bama(s) (during the Colonial rule), it is hard and it will take time for the wounds to heal and to build mutual understanding again. Moreover, the racist policies of post-independence regimes against the ethnic minorities found widespread support among our Burman population even after it became evident that the government was committing equally violent acts against the majority Burmans.

We Burmese must also accept the fact that Burma Army is still committing serious abuses and atrocities against our ethnic minorities. Although Burman or Bama(s) dominates the Burma army top officials, it is also a fact that the Burma Army seeks to maintain its dominance over the population and it shows no preference when it come to protecting its power and killing or destroying its enemies. It has proven again and again that it will shoot its own unarmed and innocent people. Incidents in 1962, 1969, 1974, 1975, and 1988 are clear examples that Burma Army did and does shoot its own people without any discrimination based upon ethnicity.

Adding insult to injury, Burma Army is not shy to exploit disharmony and suspicion among Ethnic groups in Burma . After the atrocities committed in response to political unrest in 1974, 1975 and 1988 the Army propaganda machines spread rumors that it was Chin soldiers who shot the Bama innocent civilians and many Burmese, with extreme and narrow nationalistic views, along with some who were simply uninformed readily bought this lie.

The Burma army ruthlessly crush the Ethnic villages they deem supportive of Ethnic armed groups in accordance with their '4 cuts' strategy. Many innocent Ethnic villagers and citizens views these heinous atrocities as abuses committed by the Bama(s) as a whole, rather than the true fact that it was committed specifically by Burma army. Since the majority Burmans have not expressed sustained outrage against these atrocities, such views are not surprising. Adding fuel to this misunderstanding is the exploitation by some Ethnic leaders who have intentionally ignored the fact that under the military dictatorship, the Burmans have no more influence over the actions of the Burma Army than do the ethnic groups who are the victims of these daily atrocities.

In the midst of this mishaps and misunderstanding it is very hard for logical and practical voices to be heard. It is very easy to provoke and manipulate raw emotions when it comes to Nationalism, and human history had proven again and again that undesirable events and consequences could follow if we are not careful. Hitler and Japanese fascists clearly exploited German and Japanese nationalism and how, recently, Slobodan Milosevic exploited Serb Nationalism and look at where Balkanization took his country and him.

Early human evolution started with Nations (a people with common language and culture) evolving into nation-states with defined boundaries. Now we appear to be moving towards forming regional supra groups like EU and ASEAN and experimenting with the concept of countries without boundaries. And yet we (Burmese) are talking about secession and independence and we are busy fighting and killing each other while our neighbors are building national wealth and development and aiming to become a new Super Power (ie China) and countries like Thailand, are fast becoming regional leaders and achieving 1st world status of developed nations. We all should be ashamed that while the other countries in our region are moving forward, we are moving backward towards self-destruction and annihilation.

It is very sad that even with their education and an experience in growing up in the Western world, some of the so-called and self-appointed Ethnic leaders still long for Colonial rule. While it can be debated that some of us benefited far more from colonial rule than we now do under dictatorial rule of incompetent and corrupt generals, we must never forget that a master-slave relationship can never be acceptable-whether that master is British or Burman. And when the British concluded they could no longer govern without the support of the Burmese people themselves, colonial rule ended. When the generals in Rangoon reach the same conclusion, this tyranny will also end.

It is very easy to say that every people of every race have the rights for self-determination. But it is a very different matter when it comes to reality. For example, the Shan are not the only people in the Shan State . There are Pa-Laung , Pa -O, and Wa and many other minorities (33 ethic groups) within the Shan State . What about their rights? Some of them may feel that they are treated as second class or third class citizens. Shall they declare Independence from the Shan(s)? Are we going back to the City States? Shall we expect to be called Independent States of Taung-gyi and Lashio? Even among the Chins there are Lushei (Lushay) who are complaining of their mistreatment and non-acceptance from other Chins. The fact is that many minority sub-groups within minority groups have their grievances, anger, conflicts and that is why Ethnic problems in Burma are very complicated and require extra care and sensitivity.

If Ethnic problems were easy to solve, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict would not have lasted this long and been so destructive. Everyone understands and acknowledge the rights of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. But realizing these rights in a fair manner is another issue. There are many extremists who want to kick the Jews out to the sea and of those who want to enslave the Arabs and spread their territories endlessly as their rights mentioned (with self interpretation) in their own religious texts. Some Palestinians became suicide bombers, sacrificing their lives in the name of their people. But it is clear that extremism does not and cannot bring lasting peace. Only practical applications based on logical analysis of the issues can find the peaceful and long-term solution.

There are definitely practical voices in the Ethic leadership community. Even among the brothers, Dr. Chao Tzang Yawnghwe (Eugene Thieke), who is also the scholar and thinker and whose approaches are far more logical than his extremist eldest brother. Dr Choa Tzang Yawnghwe who had taken part in armed struggle and thus understood the difficulties and reality on the ground and combining his academic credentials was able to see more clearly than many dreamers who are simply staging 'Statement Politics' where their achievement is nothing more than announcing and declaring statements. Because of his logical approach and more realistic and moderate views, even though many may not agree with him on several issues, many Bama leaders and politicians had great respect for him. It is my sincere hope that the younger generation of Ethnic intellectuals who have aspirations to become leaders one day will follow Dr. Chao Tzang Yawnghwe's thinking, rather than narrow Nationalistic views of misguides extremists.

Credible Leadership

Whenever we raise the issues of Ethnic problems of Burma , there is a big question about who has the legitimate right and responsibility to decide on issues that are so complex and so important for the future of our country and her people.

From my prospective, NLD led by Daw Suu were the leaders elected by the people during 1990 election. There are Khun Htun Oo and SNLD leaders also elected by the people. So without the participation of these elected leaders, any discussions on a National Constitution are not legitimate. Other so called technicians and Constitution experts can offer their advice and publish their thinking and findings, but the final decisions for forming a fair Constitution will not be legitimate without the participation of these elected leaders.

Some people like to blame "shortcomings" of the Panlong agreement for our lack of unity (rather a failure by the government to meet its obligations under it), but if we examine the process carefully, the Panlong agreement did not happen because of one single event. Bogyoke Aung San continuously demonstrated his leadership starting with the 1936 Student strike and after years of struggle and successfully forming the leading alliance known as AFPFL, Bogoyke Aung San gained acceptance as the undeniable leader of the country and AFPFL. AFPFL was not an organization formed only by the Bama; people from all walks of life and many leaders from minority Ethnic backgrounds participated with the single goal of Independence for the country. Only when U Aung San had established his and AFPFL Leadership position, he negotiated with the British for the Independence of the country. And it was the supreme EC who chose the representatives for AFPFL. Similarly, following his father footsteps and knowing the importance of legitimacy and credibility of leadership, Daw Suu had demonstrated her will and determination and it is the fact today that not only the Burmese but the whole world has recognized and accepted her leadership for the country. So in my view, it is only appropriate both for the military government leaders and Ethnic leaders to discuss the future of our country with the full and active participation of Daw Suu and NLD leaders (along with SNLD leaders).

Today, George Washington is hailed as the founding father of the United States of America . During his time there were many conspiracies within the Continental Congress to replace General George Washington. The American Constitution was not written by a single person but was a collective work of several talented and unique minds and it took more than seven years to complete. America was extremely fortunate to have brilliant minds like Alexandria Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and George Mason among others to contribute to create such a unique and valuable constitution. If one reads the Federalist Papers and other historical documents on American Constitution one can easily see the torturous efforts and debates these founding fathers had to experience in their writing of the American constitution. One of key aspects of the American constitution that attracts me most is the rights of the States and Federal (Central) Government and the creation of the Senate to protect the rights of the smaller states in addition to a clear separation of power. It would be wise to consider these time-tested accomplishments if and when we consider our free and Fair Constitution for Burma .

If we look at the current situation in Burma, even though they are experiencing difficult times with internal unity, SPDC is still strong and they are getting stronger financially every year to withstand Western led sanctions with the finding of Natural Gas in the energy thirsty global environment. They have played well with their strategy of 'Time & Space' of closing the political space of Daw Suu (and NLD) and stretching the time and rule of military government longer. While many of the self-appointed Ethnic leaders are fighting hard for their right to be heard, they are totally separated from other entities such as NCGUB, NCUB, MPU in their efforts to replace the SPDC. In the opposition camp, we are not only separated by ideologies such as Communism, Democratic Socialism, Capitalism, we are separated along Ethnic lines as well. These are mostly non-violent oriented groups, but there are also many armed resistance groups.

If all these groups are going to continue to wage their separate wars in separate ways against the well established entity (SPDC), backed by its 500,000 strong army and the natural resources of our country, we will never win. If, after wandering in the political wilderness for more than half a century, we still cannot figure out how to form a unity to fight one common enemy, it is our fault. If we truly love our country and our people, we should join hands and find a realistic political solution for our country. Please let me say it from the bottom of my sincere heart that there are many Burmese of Bama origin who truly want a fair and free constitution for our country. I am confident that the silent majority understands the suffering of our Ethnic brothers and sisters, because we too are now suffering like you. We all are in the same boat. Let's join hands and find the common and fair political solution by showing the united force to change the system we all know as 'military dictatorship'. Let us demand that our elected leaders participate in writing the free and fair constitution for our country where even the military will have a proper role in a democratic society, and where the voices of the people in each State will be fairly represented in our government. Let us encourage all capable individuals, technicians, experts, and constitutional scholars to contribute in writing this new Constitution. Let's work together to realize our dreams.

There are many Bama extremists who may possess Maha Bama Chauvinistic views, as there are many Ethnic leaders who possess strong anti-Bama feelings. The Burma Ethnic issues are far too complex to be addressed with emotional rhetoric and pointing the finger of blame on specific people. I hope our younger generation will understand that book knowledge is sometimes very different from reality on the ground. I hope we all can avoid the experience of the six blind men touching the big elephant and coming to different conclusions. We need to examine the problem in totality and must explore it from all angles, and we must come together to solve the problem in a fair manner. I just want to say to my young Ethic brothers who aspire to become respected intellects and scholars that: It is not that Simple

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