The country was called Burma, and its capitol was Rangoon, until the SLORC (The State Law and Order Restoration Council) who seized power in a military coup in 1988, changed its name to Myanmar and its capitol to Yangon.
Then in 1997, the SLORC changed its name to the more benign and palatable State Peace and Development Council or SPDC. Actually, the SLORC had replaced the Burma Socialist Programme Party or BSPP, a regime known for its human rights abuses and for rejecting the election results in 1988 which would have put Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her National League for Democracy in power. Just a note to mention that Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the past twenty years, did not change her name. Nor did her political party. Not that it made much difference.
When I lived in Burma for two months in 1996, researching my book, THE LADY, about Aung San Suu Kyi, and the general horrific social, economic, and political situation there, officially I was a guest of the SLORC, now called the SPDC. Ensconced in a government guest house, which was a well-furnished teak and gold leaf prison with air conditioning, I had minders, was constantly followed, my phone tapped, and my television permanently tuned to the government station which was the only show in town. The only condition the SLORC imposed was that I tell the “truth” about the country, give my readers throughout the world, the “real story” about how great things were in Myanmar, previously called Burma, and recount how Aung San Suu Kyi and her political followers were really enemies of peace and prosperity. Just another note to mention that peace and prosperity to the military junta, or SLORC, were euphemisms for random killings and imprisonment without trial of any person or persons in opposition to their brutal regime.
During my two months in Rangoon, now called Yangon, the SLORC, now called SPDC, was busy organizing committees throughout the country of retired teachers, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, whose task it was to write a constitution, known by most as a sham document. At least, the constitution project was a splendid retirement activity for these venerable and elderly folks. They had a place to go to sip tea and meet with their peers in libraries, private homes, or convention centers, to discuss and debate a constitution that remains “a work in process” for the past seventeen years.
Recently, the SLORC or SPDC announced that they were holding elections for the first time, since the elections in 1988 when Aung San Suu Kyi won a resounding victory and was promptly put under house arrest. The SLORC also announced that they would hold a referendum on a new constitution in May 2010, just before the elections. The other day, as part of the cheery announcement, the SLORC stated on the state-controlled television that “We have achieved success in economic, social, and other sectors and in restoring peace and stability.” Once again, those words are euphemisms for human rights abuses, since only four months ago, the military junta crushed a pro-democracy protest led by monks, which ultimately took the lives of thirty-one people. Even more curious was that the SLORC had already fixed a date for the elections before knowing the results of the referendum of the constitution that up until now, has never been quite finished.
When I was living in Rangoon, now called Yangon, it reminded me of an evil Disneyland. The military junta strutted around in their smart uniforms, replete with medals covering their tan shirts, and the pre-requisite shiny sunglasses perched on their noses that one finds on the faces of all military and police in other banana republics. Frightened civilians would pass notes to me and my cameraman, pleas to help them get the “real story” out to the world, to help them get their country back
Walking around the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, government spies would crouch down near us in an effort to overhear our conversations. Organized visits to schools, hospitals, temples, markets, or real estate projects, would include briefings by civilians who had been trained and rehearsed by the SLORC to give us a rendition of the country’s amazing progress under the leadership of the brutal junta, otherwise referred to in public as “our benevolent leaders.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s reaction to the upcoming elections was to state unequivocally from her lakeside villa where she is still under house arrest, that she would not participate in the election sham. Adding that her party, the National League for Democracy, and its members, could choose to put their names on ballots without her permission, Aung San Suu Kyi once again made her point without weapons, threats, or fear.
What has bothered me since 1996 when I became aware of the tiny country plundered of its vast natural resources by a band of thugs, and robbed of its legitimately elected Prime Minister, is where is appropriate international outrage to this tragedy? True, China—the country that does not innovate but rather steals from others, and has no respect for intellectual copyrights, and has an abysmal human rights record—is Burma’s biggest supporter. The truth is that the world does not have the courage to confront China, even to the extent that human rights groups failed to put pressure on the government before the 2008 Beijing Olympic games for everything from Darfur to their support of the SLORC. Which gets back to the title of this post…What’s In A Name? Forget the attempt at more palatable or historic language when it comes to changing the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar, or Rangoon to Yangon, or the SLORC to the SPDC, or words like terror and oppression when describing daily life there to peace and stability in SLORC speak. Call it like it is.
Burma is gone.
Rangoon is a slum, with the exception of the mansions occupied by the military.
Aung San Suu Kyi remains imprisoned for two decades, deprived of her family, friends, and political colleagues, but above all, of her rightful place in Burmese history.
China is systematically rewarded for all its nasty transgressions.
Weapons of Mass Destruction is glib justification for invasion by one country of another.
Democracy is Fascism.
Oil is the password to fight for human rights.
What’s In A Name? Obviously, enough to placate the world that things are looking up in Burma…Enough to assure the world that we are tough enough to take on Afghanistan and Iraq, but not China.
Is the word coward? Or, would that be non-interventionist?