Burma, which is home to many different ethnic and cultural groups, has had a long history with conflict and political unrest. From the ancient conflicts between dynasties to British colonization to today's current fight for freedom from oppression and peaceful coexistence between all ethnic groups, Burma's story is one of great struggle, but because of the resilient spirit and courage of its people, it also continues to be one of incredible strength, optimism and unwavering endurance.

aungsanEarly History, Colonialism, Post-Colonialism

The nation of Burma was first founded in the 11th century (the Pagan dynasty), united under King Anawrahta, whose dedication to Buddhist teachings had a strong and lasting impact on the country. Pagan became home to a vast number of temples and pagodas (which Pagan is famous for today) and was declared the first capital of Burma.

In the early 19th century, Britain began their conquest of Burma, gaining more and more land over the course of three wars. In 1885, Britain annexed Burma to British India after gaining total control at the end of the third war.

At the end of World War II, Burmese nationalists led by General Aung San demanded complete independence from Britain. The British Government assented to these demands; a national Constitution was written up in 1947 and Burma gained independence in January of 1948. However, General Aung San and many members of his cabinet were assassinated before the Constitution went into effect.

On February 12, 1947 the important Panglong Agreement was signed between General Aung San and Shan, Kachin, and Chin peoples. This guaranteed ethnic groups equal rights and a degree of autonomy within a federal system, but after Aung San's assassination later that year, it was never implemented.

The years from 1947 to 1962 were tumultuous times in Burma. Upset with what they considered nonexistent and an eroding sense of autonomy, several ethnic groups formed their own armies during this time period. Shortly following these events, the Union of Burma collapsed. In 1962, the military staged a coup and took over the government. The military regime instituted the Burmese Way to Socialism, which included the expulsion of foreign investors in order to economically isolate the country. Burma is flush with natural resources including rubies, land, water, natural gas, coal, and petroleum. Yet, due to the military regime's economic policy, Burma had fallen from the rice basket of Asia to one of the least developed countries in the world.

(video: CNN - A Brief History of Burma)

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1988

The Uprising of 1988 and 1990 Election

In response to the crumbling Burmese economy, student led demonstrations broke out in Rangoon in March 1988. These demonstrations soon evolved into a call for democracy and regime change. The protests gained more support and in August 1988, the peaceful demonstrations were suppressed by the Burmese military who killed over 1,000 protestors on August 8, 1988. Following this massacre, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, General Aung San’s daughter, made her first political speech and took on the role of opposition leader. After a coup and further popular resistance elections were slated to be held in 1990. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's political party, the National League for Democray won over 80% of the seats in Parliament. However, the military refused to relinquish power, instead detaining and arresting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and many other activists and opponents. 

(Video: 'Into the Current' trailer by Jeanne Hallacy)

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absdfPost-1990: Military Domination

In 1993, rather than cede power to the elected government, the military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) commenced its own National Convention to start the constitution drafting process. The junta initially claimed the National Convention delegates would be the elected representatives, but instead ensured over time that military leaders chose the vast majority of the delegates.            

During the 1990s, the numerous military campaigns against ethnic nationality groups led to a litany of human rights violations, which included increased displacement—both inside the country and into neighboring countries. In early 1992, for example, a mass exodus took place, during which at least 250,000 Muslims from Burma (the Rohingya) fled to Bangladesh. In 1995, after heavy shelling, the regime seized the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw, and thousands of refugees fled into the jungles and into neighboring Thailand. In the mid- to late 1990s, the regime also launched major attacks against the Shan as well as other ethnic nationalities, which forced hundreds of villages to relocate and hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, including many to Thailand.

In 2003, the military government, now called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) announced its so-called seven-step Roadmap to Democracy. Civic and political leaders have made a good faith effort to participate in the Roadmap. However, the democratic transitions plan has been flawed in process and substance from its onset, and heavily controlled by the military. 

(Video: 'Shoot on Sight' by Witness/Burma Issues. April 2007)

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saffron2

2007: Saffron Revolution             

The military regime’s sudden removal of fuel subsidies in August 2007 triggered peaceful demonstrations, which led to the detention of several 1988-generation student activists, and the beating of several monks. Monks responded to this violence and demonstrations grew and spread across the country with hundreds of thousands of people peacefully protesting in the streets. The regime responded with a harsh crackdown, using the tools of violence, arbitrary detention, a curfew and the banning of public gatherings. Soldiers were deployed heavily on the streets of every city and on the premises of emptied monasteries. With the leaders of the movement, including hundreds of monks, civic activists and local residents detained, large-scale demonstrations ceased. Reports suggested that low-level resistance continued, including small demonstrations by civilians and imprisoned monks refusing to receive alms from the generals. The streets of Burma may have quiet down and the day-to-day hustle and bustle resumed, but the sense of dissatisfaction, alienation, and anger against the ruling junta remain palpable.

(Video: 'Burma VJ' trailer)

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nargis2008: Cyclone Nargis and Constitutional Referendum

On Friday May 2, 2008 Cyclone Nargis hit the mouth of the Irrawaddy River Delta region with maximum wind speed of approximately 132 miles per hour (mph) and a storm surge of 12 feet.While the military regime placed the death toll at 78,000, aid agencies estimated 2.4 million affected, more than 1 million were in need of emergency aid, 56,000 missing and 128,000 or higher dead. It blew away 700,000 homes in the delta. It killed three-fourths of the livestock, sank half the fishing fleet and salted a million acres of rice paddies with its seawater surges. Many died as a direct result of the cyclone but thousands more died because of starvation, untreated injuries and infectious diseases as a result of the slow response to the crisis by the military regime. In the following weeks after the cyclone, the Burmese government gravely undermined the relief-aid process by denying foreign and local aid workers access to the affected regions.

With as many as 140,000 dead and millions homeless and without food, the regime instead of jumping to relief aid efforts, moved ahead with its national referendum through which the sham constitution of 2008 was introduced. Then the regime ridiculously claimed that over 99% of the population voted yes, with a 97% turnout. There had been a widespread “Vote No” campaign organized by activists throughout the country, encouraging people to not support the sham constitution. 

(Video: CNN May 2008) 

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election20102010 Elections Until Today

In November 2010, Burma held it’s first election in 20 years. There were widespread reports of election fraud and intimidation. In the end the regime-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party won 80% amount of the available the seats. The military automatically took 25% of the seats.

Right after the 2010 elections in November, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and was allowed to register her party for the 2012 elections. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party won 43 out of 44 available parliamentary seats in April 2012, accounting for about 7% of seats in parliament.

Despite promises after the 2010 elections to make serious changes and reforms, the Burmese government continues to commit innumerable human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Today, the Burmese government is still dominated by the military and the people of Burma are still living under oppression.

(Video: 'This is Not Democracy' - Burma Partnership October 2010)

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