One of the more ridiculous conversations I had while in Cairo was the hatching of a mad-cap plan to visit Myanmar, nee Burma, while it was still a closed, authoritarian system untouched by tourist hands. My co-conspirator (she of the DRC juice reference) and I were so caught up in the grandiosity of the thing that it’s laughable in retrospect how little we even tried to foresee the almost predictable outcome. This was in December 2007, during the so-called Saffron Revolution, which was ultimately crushed by the ruling junta like the pods of the saffron plant.
I reflect on that conversation now as reports come in that the new elections in this more authentically open Burma, the one visited by Secretary of State Clinton, have brought the National League for Democracy and its leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi into the country’s parliament. The elections themselves have obviously brought more foreign journalists and observers into the country to see the first chance in 20 years for the NLD to stand before the voters.
I’m thinking too of the ethnic minorities of Burma/Myanmar: the Karen, the Kachin, the Rohingya. The NLD has been vague — as it can and should be in suppressed opposition — but going forward they will need to take a position on what is essentially the biggest issue facing the country’s sovereignty.
Burma’s on the path — the former junta leader has committed to working with Suu Kyi. Considering how many examples there are of countries stuck in neutral or headed in the wrong direction, some optimism in the face of Burma’s progress today doesn’t seem grandiose at all.