The Politics of Silence

The Politics of Silence

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English
122 Pages

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The political regime in Myanmar used to be a seemingly monopolistic structure where power was exclusively in the Army’s hands. A marginal external influence was exercised by businessmen with close ties to the regime while the country is also exposed to the influence of powerful regional states. Since the General Elections in November 2010, the establishment of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar with a parliamentary democracy (which remains under some control of the Army, but with notable civilian representation) is the most noticeable change in Myanmar politics for decades as it may shift the state away from the Army monopoly, although concrete changes remain to be demonstrated.


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Published 16 August 2018
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EAN13 9782355960055
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The Politics of Silence Myanmar NGOs' Ethnic, Religious and Political Agenda
Loïs Desaine
DOI: 10.4000/books.irasec.868 Publisher: Institut de recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine Year of publication: 2011 Published on OpenEdition Books: 16 August 2018 Serie: Carnets de l’Irasec Electronic ISBN: 9782355960055
http://books.openedition.org
Printed version ISBN: 9786167571027 Number of pages: 122
Electronic reference DESAINE, Loïs.The Politics of Silence: Myanmar NGOs' Ethnic, Religious and Political Agenda.New edition [online]. Bangkok: Institut de recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine, 2011 (generated 04 septembre 2018). Available on the Internet: . ISBN: 9782355960055. DOI: 10.4000/books.irasec.868.
This text was automatically generated on 4 September 2018.
© Institut de recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine, 2011 Terms of use: http://www.openedition.org/6540
Thestructure wherem onopolistic ing ly ar used to be a seem in Myanm im e political reg power was exclusively in the Arm y’s hands. A m arg inal external influence was exercised by businessm en with close ties to the reg im e while the country is also exposed to the influence of powerful reg ional states. Since the General Elec tions in Novem ber 200, the establishm ent of the Republic of the Union of Myanm ar with a parliam entary dem ocracy (which rem ains under som e control of the Arm y, but with notable civilian representation) is the m ost noticeable chang e in Myanm ar politics for decades as it m ay shift the state away from the Arm y m onopoly, althoug h concrete chang es rem ain to be dem onstrated.
LOÏS DESAINE
Licenciée de birm an et de nepali, elle est titulaire d'un m aster européen de com m unication interculturelle et d'un m aster de coopération internationale. Elle travaille actuellem ent en Birm anie où elle s'intéresse à la réém erg ence de la société civile. Elle est la co-auteur d'un ouvrag e sur la stratocratie birm ane :La junte birmane contre l’« ennemi intérieur »: Le régime militaire, l'écrasement des minorités ethniques et le désarroi des réfugiés rohingya, publié chez l'Harm attan (2008).
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction
Part One. Religious and ethnic dimensions of Myanmar NGOs 1- Myanmar NGOs: a multifaceted civil society dominated by ethnic and faith based org anisations 2 - Relig ion and ethnicity in Myanmar NGOs: Historical factors and contemporary facts
Part Two. Myanmar NGOs: support to the regime or roots of the opposition? 1 - How powerful are Myanmar NGOs? 2 - NGOs as actors of the decentralization at local level: case studies in the Kachin State 3 - The role(s) of NGOs in a political transition
Conclusion
Bibliography
Introduction
Myanmar
The political reg im e in Myanm ar1structure whereing ly m onopolistic used to be a seem power was exclusively in the Arm y’s2 hands. A m arg inal external influence was exercised by businessm en with close ties to the reg im e while the country is also exposed to
the influence of powerful reg ional states. Since the General Elections in Novem ber 2010, the establishm ent of the Republic of the Union of Myanm ar with a parliam entary dem ocracy (which rem ains under som e control of the Arm y, but with notable civilian representation) is the m ost noticeable chang e in Myanm ar politics for decades as it m ay shift the state away from the Arm y m onopoly, althoug h concrete chang es rem ain to be dem onstrated. Increasing ly visible are a rang e of non-state acto rs seeking to cope with the shortcom ing s of this econom ic and political system . Gradually, o ver the last 15 years, Non-Governm ental Org anisations (NGOs) have been prog ressively explor ing the m arg ins of the Arm y’s m onopoly. They have becom e the experts of the “poli tics of silence”; attem pting to influence decisions while rem aining low profile and avoiding direct confrontation with various layers of the g overnm ent. Generally structu red around ethnic and relig ious identities, and rarely indicating hints of ideolog i cal m otivations, these actors have been working to relax the rig idity of the system . They are eag er to participate in the creation of a m ore equitable econom ic order leading to a m ore i nclusive political reg im e. In order to do so, they opportunistically eng ag e at the g eog rap hical and political periphery of the central state wherever they identify the potential for chang e. NGOs are m ost likely to find operational space in m arg inal areas, where the Bam ar prevailing state and its sym bols have less presence. They are especially prevalent in ethnic states and am ong m inority relig ions. Under various m odalities, silent, long term ag endas of NGOs can be identified as ultim ately political in nature and m ore g eared up to social chang es.  At first tolerated as m ostly relig ious um brella or g anisations under British colonial rule, NGOs have been able to expand prog ressively since the end of the socialist era in 1988 and becom e m ore independent from the relig ious orders. NGOs’num bers and influence increased under the State Peace and Developm ent Council (SPDC) reg im e after Novem ber 1997. Overall, NGOs were focused on long -term devel opm ental issues until Cyclone Narg is (May 2008) claim ed 138,000 lives and affected m illi ons. The resulting hum anitarian crisis tem porarily transform ed NGOs into essential relief org anisations. In the wake of the disaster, while international aid delivery was hindered by the g overnm ent attracting the interest of the international m edia, hundreds if no t thousands of civil society g roups provided im m ediate relief to survivors. Later, m any established them selves as NGOs and m ost subsequently g ained experience, leg itim acy and the trust of the populations they served.  At first, exiled Myanm ar com m unities and internati onals (including Hum an Rig ht lobby g roups and g overnm ents) were suspicious of Myanm ar NGOs, perceiving them as vassals of the state. However, over tim e, it becam e m ore obvious that the g overnm ent was not able to exercise unilateral control over a set of org anisations whose relief efforts had g iven them a hig h deg ree of social leg itim acy which the g overnm e nt needed too. Only recently, the existence of a vibrant civil society has started to be acknowledg ed by a num ber of international analysts. This blossom ing of NGOs is the result of a long er process of m aturation. The predecessors of these m odern NGOs were m ostly relig ious org anisations and activities were based on charitable principles. The cease-fires in ethnic areas at the end of 1990s were a benchm ark, m arking the creation of a new g eneration of NGOs in the country. Due to the historical, g eog raphical and political contexts of their inceptions, althoug h a hug e num ber of NGOs today do not prom ote faith in their m andate, they tend to m aintain close links with relig ious m ovem ents. Sim ilarly, m any NGOs introduce them selves as having an inter-ethnic
and pro-ethnic affirm ative action policies illustra ted by their recruitm ent of differing ethnic m inorities, areas of intervention, and com m u nications, for exam ple. NGOs are becom ing savvier in their use of international developm ent jarg on to please donors and to cover up hidden interests that would not be accepte d by the g overnm ent. For exam ple, statem ents that can be found throug hout their docum entation insure their donors that they deliver assistance according to the needs and reg ar dless of the ethnic, relig ious and political backg round of their beneficiaries. Howeve r, on the g round, the reality is m ore com plex and the im plications of the NGOs’ag endas in their work are varied. Due to the authoritarian nature of the reg im e and the NGOs’lim ited m arg in for m anœuvre, these org anisations are not able to openly articulate their long term political ag endas.  A diversity of strateg ies defining how NGOs relate to the g overnm ent can be identified, rang ing from service delivery within public structures to an alm ost com plete avoidance of the state. Today, m ost of the NGOs adopt a m ixed po sition, m aintaining a deg ree of openness with the g overnm ent, while sim ultaneously protecting their autonom y. A tentative transition towards a less centralized state would allow them to occupy a g reater space on the political stag e. A critical analysis of this tentative transition will determ ine the role played by NGOs. Would NGOs then be recog nised as protractors of the lifespan of the reg im e, m itig ating its econom ic m ism anag em ent and t em pering the tensions in ethnic areas? Or will they be considered as the leaders of a silent, frag m ented, opposition trying to influence positive political chang e in a constrained context?  This study has been conducted using m ainly by prim ary sources and interviews.3 It proposes first to analyse the identity of Myanm ar N GOs. Their m ain features will be hig hlig hted to dem onstrate that m ost NGOs are deepl y rooted in relig ious and ethnic dynam ics that are not endog enous to the m ajority Ba m ar Buddhist society. The Burm ese Way to Socialism resulted in attem pts to eradicate the independent civil society of the late colonial and Parliam entary periods. Following the n ation-wide uprising s of 1988 led by underg round university student org anisations, around 10,000 students fled to border areas occupied by ethnic g roups at war with the reg im e, a nd later these students form ed a core g roup of internationally recog nised hum an rig hts, m edia, political and hum anitarian org anisations in exile. The departure of m ore unive rsity students to neig hbouring countries occurred after a further dem onstration in 1996, and a subsequent crackdown on opposition g roups, resulted in exiled NGOs num bers being bolstered. In the early 2000s, ceasefire ag reem ents between the reg im e and several ethnic g roups also enabled the g rowth of civil society org anisations in these area s. Using these exam ples this paper will dem onstrate how the evolution of the first m odern professional NGOs in Myanm ar has been entwined with the history of political opposition.  In the second part, the m odalities of NGO politica l involvem ent will be discussed. After exploring the sources of their leg itim acy and asses sing their actual capacity to use the available space at the m arg ins of the state power t o influence political chang e, the NGOs’perceptions of them selves as an elem ent of the opposition will be analysed, taking into account the com plex and som ewhat paradoxical n ature of their relations with the reg im e. The case of the decentralization power proc ess post-cease-fire in Kachin State (before its violation in June 2011) will be discussed, illustrated by case studies of two NGOs. Then, the exploration of the m otivations of socially eng ag ed individuals working in NGOs will shed som e lig ht on the intricacy of political and social ag endas of m odern NGOs.