Blessed are those who watched
with stormcloud eyes
the ground open to swallow them
while fork-tongue drivers
drove whipcrack highways
on luxury serpents. Blessed
are those run down & flattened
fang-holed & spat on
for good measure of the trade index.
Blessed, those daughters set on high wires
to balance dollar signs, while bored crowds
jeered for another fall in interest rates. Blessed
too those with empty chests, soles ripped
from their shoes, fed to dogs. But most blessed
are those who stole the hound scraps
nailed them to their feet
& kept on marching.
This year’s Reith Lectures address the theme ‘Securing Freedom’. The five lectures are being given by the Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and former Director-General of MI5, Baroness Manningham-Buller. Aung San Suu Kyi’s lectures focus on the struggle for democracy inside an authoritarian regime, and Eliza Manningham-Buller’s will consider how, once secured, a country maintains its freedom.
The first two of these lectures are now available, and are unsurprisingly inspiring:
David Bentley Hart on anarchism and monarchism: ‘The ideal king would be rather like the king in chess: the most useless piece on the board, which occupies its square simply to prevent any other piece from doing so, but which is somehow still the whole game. There is something positively sacramental about its strategic impotence. And there is something blessedly gallant about giving one’s wholehearted allegiance to some poor inbred ditherer whose chief passions are Dresden china and the history of fly-fishing, but who nonetheless, quite ex opere operato, is also the bearer of the dignity of the nation, the anointed embodiment of the genius gentis—a kind of totem or, better, mascot’.
Tomorrow, I will engage in my first (the first of many, to be sure!) real act of parental irresponsibility for Samuel: he will be placed on the road to (or in the river of) death and made an outlaw; i.e., he will, in Kim Fabricius’ words, ‘enter this strange new household of the church, and this strange new world of being a Christian’. He will enter the castra caelestia. Exhausted by the event, he’ll then come home and sleep, or that’s the plan anyway.
BTW: I’m not sure what significance I should attach to it, if any, but this is my 1500th post.
There’s been a lot of hype in recent days about the announcement that Aung San Suu Kyi is ‘to be freed in November’. But Mark Farmener, from Burma Campaign UK, wisely cautions that celebrations arising from this news are premature and we have in fact every reason to belive that the junta’s words are ‘hollow and that the 64 year-old Nobel Laureate will remain in detention’:
‘They [Myanmar’s government] know this will get the media interested. They know this this will get lots of positive publicity and that will give the excuse to governments like Germany and Spain and others that have been wanting to relax the pressure on Burma’s generals’.
‘The regime has made it really clear in their actions that they are not interested in releasing Aung San Suu Kyi. They have doubled the number of political prisoners since the monks’ uprising in 2007. While they’re very good at this kind of spin, the reality on the ground is very different … We need to look at what’s actually going on not the constant lies of the generals’.
This interview (00:05:24) with Farmener on Radio Netherlands Worldwide is well worth listening to.
Villagers in Pa’an District, Karen State, have begun fleeing to Thailand to avoid violence and forced recruitment as porters in possible a joint SPDC/DKBA attack on a KNLA camp in Dta Greh Township, located next to a now populous IDP camp along the Moei River, bordering Thailand. This news bulletin describes the events of the past four days in which SPDC and DKBA forces have advanced towards the KNLA camp and begun what appears to be preparation for an attack. SPDC soldiers have begun patrolling and have set up an 81 mm mortar not far from the site and displaced villagers living in the area have become increasingly concerned about their safety.
Following the arrest of the American John Yettaw on May 5th 2009, Burma’s pro-democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with violating the terms of her house arrest, moved to Insein Prison and put on trial. The international community has responded to these events with a flurry of attention on Burma not seen since Cyclone Nargis last year. Heads of State, activists and newspaper editors have renewed calls for her immediate release. At the same time, Burma Army operations in Karen State and other rural ethnic areas along with their associated human rights abuses remain ongoing and widespread. Yet once again the situation of abuse in rural Burma has been marginalised in favour of the more high profile political drama in the country’s urban settings. In calling, quite rightly, for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the international community must neither neglect the situation of abuse in rural Burma nor miss current opportunities to support those who face this abuse.
This report presents January 2009 interviews with two former SPDC convict porters. Both men are originally from Arakan State, Western Burma, and participated in the 2007 demonstrations against the rising cost of living. These demonstrations culminated in September 2007 with the large-scale monk-led protests and subsequent military crackdown. Both men were arrested by SPDC authorities for their activities, forced to serve as porters for the Burma Army in Karen State and eventually escaped captivity. Their testimonies cover issues such as SPDC-sponsored murder of convict porters, corruption within Burma’s judiciary and systematic SPDC abuses perpetrated against prisoners. The interviews also give insight into the possible fates of other Burmese citizens who have tried to voice dissent in Burma’s authoritarian environment, whether as part of the September 2007 protests or otherwise.
Al-Jazeera television recently aired the following Burma Campaign UK report on the plight of Karen refugees on the Burma-Thai border:
On a related matter, Glasgow City Council recently awarded Aung San Suu Kyi with a Freedom Of The City in absentia. Their media release reads:
‘Burmese pro-democracy campaigner Dr Aung San Suu Kyi will be given the Freedom of the City of Glasgow in absentia, at the City Chambers at noon on Wednesday, March 4.
A representative of the iconic politician, Dr Thuang Htun, will accept the award on her behalf. Dr Suu Kyi remains under house arrest imposed by Burma’s military regime.
Dr Htun is a representative for United Nations Affairs for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma. He also represents the democracy movement at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
In advance of accepting the award on Dr Suu Kyi’s behalf, Dr Htun commented on the irony of the situation. He said: “The fact that Dr Aung San Suu Kyi should be given the freedom of a city far from her home, at a time that she is denied even basic freedoms in her own country is a sharp reminder of the reality of today’s Burma.”
Lord Provost Bob Winter will present the honour to Dr Htun who will also be presented with a silver plate and a crested scroll. He will then be guest of honour at a special lunch.
The Lord Provost said: “It is with profound respect and admiration for Dr Aung San Suu Kyi’s unflinching bravery that the Council has conferred upon her the Freedom of the City of Glasgow. This is tempered with frustration that she cannot be here today, in person.
“However, I am delighted that her loyal representative Dr Htun has been able to visit our city to accept the award in her absence. He goes with our very best wishes for Dr Suu Kyi, a shining beacon of hope in her country.”
The Freedom of the City Award was originally proposed by Amnesty International and Glasgow Women’s Library.
John Watson, Amnesty’s International’s Scottish Programme Director, said:
“Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiration to the people of Burma and to those around the world who applaud bravery and dignity in the face of oppression. Amnesty International congratulates Glasgow City Council on its decision to present her with its highest award”
Dr Adele Patrick of Glasgow Women’s Library said: “As part of Glasgow Women’s Library’s ongoing efforts to celebrate, uncover, and promote women’s cultural and political achievements locally and globally we warmly congratulate Glasgow City Council’s decision to offer Dr Aung San Suu Kyi the Freedom of the City.
“We acknowledge how this award raises the profile of the life and work of this remarkable woman and, by extension the people of Burma. We look forward to more pioneering women being added to this roll of honour.”
Dr Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, wartime leader of Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL, assassinated 1947). She has endured prolonged periods of detention and imprisonment over the past 20 years by Burma’s oppressive regime.
She founded the National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1988 and was swiftly put under house arrest with the offer of freedom if she left Burma.
In 1990 the NLD won the general election decisively and once again Dr Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest. The election result was nullified by a military junta. This was also the year she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Accepting the prize Dr Suu Kyi said: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it. “
The following year she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and donated the $1.3 million prize money to establish a health and education trust for the people of Burma’.
I recall the closing words from an album that is very fastly growing on me: ‘Choose your enemies carefully ‘cos they will define you/Make them interesting ‘cos in some ways they will mind you/They’re not there in the beginning but when the story ends/Gonna last with you longer than your friends’.