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Interview with Sai Wansai, General Secretary of SDU

by BOXUN NEWS (S.H.A.N. & Burma's News Published by Burma's Chinese 貌强 )on 04 JUNE 2005

    Recently, an article advocating the forming of a federal union without theBurman state or Burma Proper have been publicized and it creates somecuriosity, if not alarmed, on this trend of advocacy.

    Maung Chan of Boxun News (S.H.A.N. & Burma's News Published by Burma's Chinese ) called on Sai Wansai, General Secretary of the Shan Democratic Union SDU ,who is familiar with Burmans' and non-Burmans’ political scenario, to clarify the motive behind such an outburst.

    MgChan - What is your opinion on Prof. Kanbawza Win's article of forming afederal union without the Burmans?

    SaiWanSai - Prof. Kanbawza Win, as an individual is entitled to express hisown opinion and it is not necessarily the political stand of the non-Burmanethnic nationality groups. But my interpretation is that he might like topoint out that many of the Burman opposition elements still cannot cleanthemselves of racial supremacy, chauvinism or big brother mentalityvis-à-vis the other non-Burman groups. This, in turn, leads to the thinking of "if the Burmans are so consumed by their own political agendas of placing themselves above the norms of "equality, restoration of democracy and the rights of self-determination, the non-Burman ethnic nationality groups might as well form a union without the Burmans". The outburst is more on the side of venting anger on the indifferent Burman majority stakeholders, both within the military junta and opposition camps, than actually wanting to exclude the Burmans.

    MgChan - How many kind of conflict resolution outcomes could you envisage,apart from forming a federal union without the Burmans?

    SaiWanSai - Before we talk about conflict resolution, we should first lookinto the cause of conflict and type of conflict.

    Cause of conflict

    To understand the cause of conflict we could generally bundled the issuestogether into four major headings, namely: "Conceptual Differences,Constitutional Crisis, National Identity and Majority-MinorityConfiguration".

    1. Conceptual Differences

    The successive military dominated regimes, including the ruling SPDC, seeBurma as an existing unified nation since the reign of Anawratha thousandsof years ago. As such, all other non-Burmans – Shan, Kachin, Chin,Arakanese, Mon, Karen and Karenni - are seen as minorities, which must becontrolled and suppressed, lest they break up the country.

    On the other hand, the non-Burmans maintain that the Union of Burma is anewly developed territorial entity, founded by a treaty, the PanglongAgreement, where independent territories merged together on equal basis.

    Given such conceptual differences, the Burmese military goes about with itsimplementation of protecting “national sovereignty” and “national unity”at all cost. This, in turn, gives way to open conflict resulting in more suppression and gross human rights violations. The intolerance of themilitary and its inspiration to “racial supremacy”, political dominationand control has no limit and could be seen by its refusal to hand over power to the winners of 1990 nation-wide election, the NLD, SNLD and other ethnic parties. The genuine federalism platform, which the NLD and ethnicnationalities embrace, is a threat to its racist mind-set and obsession ofdomination and control.

    2. Constitutional Crisis

    The woes of Burma today are deeply rooted in the inadequate constitutionaldrafting of 1947. The Union Constitution was rushed through to completionwithout reflecting the spirit of Panglong. The ethnic homelands wererecognized as constituent states but all power was concentrated in thecentral government or the government of the Burma Mother state.

    Almost all the non-Burmans and Burman democratic opposition groups are inagreement that the ethnic conflict and reform of social, political andeconomics cannot be separated from one another. And the only solution andanswer is to amend the 1947 Constitution according to Panglong Agreement,where equality, voluntary participation and self-determination, of theconstituent states, formed the basis for the Republic of the Union of Burma.

    3. National Identity

    The views of successive Burmese governments, including the present regime,SPDC, concerning national identity has never been clear. They have been at a loss even as to what sort of name they should adopt; that is the reason why they are still using "Bamar“ and "Myanmar" interchangeably for what they would like to be termed a common collective identity, in other words,national identity. The reality is that when one entions "Myanmar", "Bamar","Burmese" or "Burman", such words are usually identified with the lowlandmajority "Bamar” and have never been accepted or understood by thenon-Bamar ethnic nationals as a common collective identity to which theyalso belong.

    Meanwhile, just a few years back, the present Burmese military regimechanged the name of Burma to Myanmar. Its aim is to create a nationalidentity for every ethnic group residing within the boundary of theso-called Union of Myanmar. But since the name Myanmar has always beenidentified with the lowland "Bamar", the SPDC effort the SPDC’s effort intrying to establish a common national identity among the non-Bamar ethnicnationals is only doomed to fail. On top of that, this national identity was not chosen with the consent of the non-Bamar ethnic groups, but coercively thrust down their throats by the hated Burmese military dictatorship.

    It has never been the case to hear anyone mentioning that he or she is aBamar Myanmar, Shan Myanmar, Kachin Myanmar, Karen Myanmar and so on. In the United States, by contrast, it is normal that one considers or acceptsoneself as an American; such as, the use of Chinese American, JapaneseAmerican, Afro-American and so on are common and widespread.

    Another crucial point that most tend to overlook is that the maintenance ofthe former European colonial boundaries as irreversible and sacrosanctnational state boundaries. This, in reality, only creates unending ethnicconflicts the world over affecting international stability. Burma is such acase, infested with ethnic and social conflicts.

    The point to note here is that the successive Burmese governments'nation-building process has totally shattered, failing even to take rootafter all these years, not to mention the forging of common nationalidentity. It would be more pragmatic to accept the existing diversified“national identities” of all ethnic nationalities as a fact and work for a new common identity in the future federal union with the consent andparticipation of all ethnic groups, Burman included.

    4. Majority-Minority Configuration

    The misconception of majority-minority configuration has been so entrenched;at least in medias and academic studies, it needs some clarification.

    The Burman are majority in Burma Proper and in numerical sense, but become a minority in the Shan States, Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karenni, Karen, and the Mon states, where respective ethnic groups are in majority within their own territories.

    Besides, Burma was formed in 1947 by virtue of the Panglong Agreement, oneyear prior to independence. This agreement was signed between the interimgovernment of Ministerial Burma, headed by Aung San, and leaders of the Federated Shan States, the Chin Hill Tract, and the Kachin Hill Tract. Itcould be said that this agreement is the genesis of the post-colonial,current Burma.

    Thus, the indigenous groups of Burma -- Shan, Arakanese, Chin, Kachin,Karenni, Karen, Mon and including the Burman -- are not minorities ormajorities but equal partners in a union of territories, the Union of Burma.

    Type of conflict

    Within Burma political arena there are roughly only two types of conflict.One is the ethnic conflict, which has a vertical nature in contrast tohorizontal one, and the other, the ideological conflict played out betweenentrenched military dictatorship and the democratic aspiration of thepeople, which has a horizontal effect, covering the whole political spectrum within Burma.

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