International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Interview, 18th July
do not understand why the military is doing this to us"
An exiled monk living in fear poses the one question that nobody
can truthfully answer.
number of significant events in Burmas post-World War II history
will be commemorated between July and September 2009. More than
5,000 days have passed since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned
and placed under house arrest by the Burmese military junta; the
assassination of her father, General Aung San occurred on 19 July
1947, and more significantly, the anniversaries of two prolonged
periods of bloodshed which continue to haunt civilians; 8/8/88 (also
known as the People Power Uprising) and the Saffron Revolution,
led by the countrys monks.
The military regimes
slaughter of unarmed monks two years ago is the subject of the documentary
A prominent Burmese chief monk in exile agreed to share his thoughts
with me in writing. To protect his identity, the monks name and
location are being withheld. He has chosen not to be politically active
while in hiding, so that the identities of individuals still wanted
by the Burmese military junta over the 1988 Uprising can remain protected.
Unfortunately, the junta is oblivious to the concept of forgiveness,
let alone forget anybody who dares to challenge their authority.
For the purposes of clarity, some alterations have been made for grammatical
I would like to talk to you about events in my country (Burma).The situation
is so sad. I wish I knew the answer to stop all of this (violence and
death). When the Saffron Revolution took place in 2007, there were protests
in front of the Burmese Embassies in India and Sri Lanka. I was in Buddhagaya,
India, listening to the BBC and Voice of America when news came through
of troops opening fire. Images of monks laying face down in Yangon River
were distributed on the Internet. They had been thrown in the river
by members of the junta.
All I could keep telling myself was, "Why is the military doing
this? The generals say they are Buddhists, but they continue to kill
people. We do not understand. This is shameful. They are breaking all
the rules of the (Buddhist) presets. When they were young they were
novice monks too.
At the age of 12, I became a novice (monk). When I turned 20 years old,
I became an adult monk and studied Buddhism and Pali (old Indian language).
This is so I could learn how the population can inspire one another.
My parents allowed me to undertake a two month trial. However, they
were concerned that lack of a regular education (in subjects such as
maths, history and English) would disadvantage me in life. While it
was difficult in the beginning to change my lifestyle, I knew that becoming
a novice is the best way how to become a better person.
As you know, Burmas military junta does not know or understand
the meaning of freedom. I remember in 1989 when monks refused to take
alms from members of the junta as a form of protest after the militarys
reaction to the rebellion (a year before). In our university (name suppressed),
we locked Mandalays Divisional General out of the monastery to
stop the soldiers from harming us. The next day, the army used a helicopter
and dropped letters warning us to behave properly or face the consequences
of being locked in Insein Prison.
I can still recall when 500 soldiers surrounded 1,300 unarmed monks
at a university outside of Mandalay. They burst into the monastery and
caught one monk. He was thrown in Insein Prison. After one year, he
was released but he never spoke about his experience. He was too scared.
The authorities made an example of him to show the rest of us that they
were serious about the dangers we would face if we dared to undertake
political action anywhere in the world.
The Burmese Embassy undertakes surveillance operations. Two years ago,
a monk at this monastery where I am now received a telephone call from
a person who identified himself as a member of the Burmese Embassy in
(city and country deleted). He demanded to know the whereabouts of several
members of the 88 Generation and read out the names of several
people. We denied having any knowledge. Similar actions have also occurred
in countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
As many members of the 88 Generation are still wanted, I
cannot speak out because I fear being deported. Every three years, I
have to re-apply for my Burmese passport at the Embassy because I am
not entitled for refugee status here. My passport can be revoked at
any time. This is how they (the junta) control their population and
it also explains why no individual is really safe, even if they get
out of Burma.
Embassy officials know that the greatest likelihood of catching people
on the wanted list is by attending community functions. I can spot them
easily. They even pay members of the Burmese community to spy on their
own people. The best event is the Asani Anniversary (also known as Burmese
Martyrs Day), which commemorates the assassination of General
Aung San. The embassy knows that every Burmese person considers him
the father of Burma, so they will turn up and show respect.
(Authors note: General Aung San, father of Nobel Peace Prize
winner Aung San Suu Kyi, led Burma to the brink of independence from
British colonial rule before his assassination in 1947. He is despised
by the current regime for originally siding with the invading Japanese
in World War II before switching over to drive Japanese forces out.
The junta is believed to be erasing General Aung Sans name from
all text books in Burma).
During the 1988 revolution, all monks were angry at the military regime.
Senior monks hated them but at the same time, were afraid of what the
junta was capable of. They pleaded to the younger monks not to demonstrate
because deep down, they knew from their own experience that soldiers
just wanted to kill everyone. But it was very difficult for us to listen
to their words. Many young monks came from Mandalay, and attempted to
get more monks to demonstrate on the streets, not to stay inside. But
the senior monks locked the front doors of the monastery. Eventually,
all the monks took to the streets, including me.
When I stepped onto the streets, the atmosphere was amazing. All around
me were chief monks and laymen talking to large crowds using microphones.
It was so noisy. There were probably tens of thousands of people. Their
message was, "We must not be afraid of the military." Everybody
was chanting, "We want democracy." People held signs containing
peacocks (NLD symbol) with slogans saying Democracy Yaboyae (this is
In the beginning, there were no soldiers on the street. But General
Saw Mg, the man who replaced Ne Win, said, "We are soldiers. We
must protect our country. There will be elections in Burma. After the
elections, we will return to out military bases in the forest. We dont
want to rule this country."
Protestors and civilians believed this. They were being drawn into the
juntas trap. Soldiers were then ordered to start killing people
(Authors note estimates of people killed range between
3,000 and 10,000).
If you kill and steal, you will suffer this life and in your future
lives. They will never change their behaviour because they are incapable
of doing so. Power is all they care about. You will see this message
in the documentary Burma VJ.
When I saw the footage of the Japanese cameraman getting shot by the
military and continuing to film while he was dying, all I could think
of was the concept of freedom. All young monks want democracy. They
are trying to protest but (as you know) it is really hard for them to
do so. Civilians will rise up and make themselves heard because Burmas
people are brave. They have stood up to the junta many times before,
and they will do it again in 2010. Nobody likes the militarys
constitution and idea for elections.
Now there is a power struggle taking place within the junta. Within
two years, the military regime will crumble. I believe that some (members
of the regime) want to go on the peoples side.
It is my hope that everybody who watches Burma VJ helps the people of
Burma, especially those on the border. Our people in Malaysia, Thailand
and India are very poor. Provide them with hope.
My purpose in life is to teach young people about Buddhas deeds,
Buddhism and meditation because a monks role is to ensure that
young people are brought up correctly. If students understand Buddhas
teachings, then they will control Burmas future wisely. But if
they do not learn, then they will become like the generals.
But no matter what happens, they (the military) cannot kill all the
© David Calleja 9.5.09
WRITER - Foreign Policy Journal
Videos - Stung Meanchey Municipal Waste Dump, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A Garbage Diet - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbA9PGsik18
Smoky Mountain Estate - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHAEm1ph3Rk
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