Engaging Burma's generation x

Ye Thu

May 30, 2007 (DVB)

The first time I heard Min Ko Naing’s name was in Bangkok in 2001, a few months after leaving Burma. I saw his name in an exile media report and had forgotten it a few hours later.

The second time I heard his name was a year and-a-half later when a group of my exiled friends were having—what I considered at the time to be—a boring conversation about politics. They asked me if I knew who Min Ko Naing was, and when I said I didn’t I became the laughing stock of the exiled community.

But to be fair, I’m a product of my generation and if you asked the same question of a lot of people my age (24) in Burma, you would probably get the same response. Very few people our age know much about Min Ko Naing. He was thrown in prison when I was just seven years old.

Few of us are old enough to remember the events of 1988 and none of us were old enough to vote in the 1990 election. Most of us know little about the relationship between the NLD and the military. We grew up knowing that the opposition movement was not something that should be discussed openly.

The military is largely responsible for shaping our generation in this way. Many of us are not interested in politics after years of only hearing what the military has had to say. When I was growing up, I learned nothing about the NLD and was given no opportunity to hear about their work.

Our generation, to make a generalisation, doesn’t like the military, but mainly for economic and social reasons. Our hatred for the junta is a response to their backwardness rather than a reflection of our passion for democracy or political ideals.

But people my age are vital to the success of the opposition and the future of Burma. What is a revolution or a political struggle without its student element and without the support of people young and fearless enough to force political change?
Imagine what the next generation is going to be like if something is not done to engage them in the fight for our country’s future. This is one of the greatest challenges facing today’s democracy movement in Burma.

The 88 Generation Students are doing a great job of reinvigorating political debate in Burma and making their campaigns more palatable to the average person. But the opposition is still basing many of its campaigns on events that potential ‘generation x’ activists don’t remember and can’t relate to.

No, the military should not have reacted to the 88 protests in the way they did. Yes, they should have handed over power in 1990. But they are not going to make an about-face and say, “Sorry about that. Here’s your parliament back.”

The fact is, the opposition is aging. Most NLD ‘youth’ members are in their late 30s and many of the elected members of parliament from 1990 are dead. The opposition is now faced with a race against time to engage people my age and help nurture the next generation of pro-democracy activists.

It won’t take much to impress us. All we want is political campaigns that actually work.

Past campaigns have focused too much on exactly that—the past. Activists such as Ko Htin Kyaw appear to have realised that and are focusing their protests on the poor economic and social conditions of the here and now. It is these types of campaigns that are likely to encourage generation x-ers to join in because these are things that we can relate to.

The lack of 24 hour electricity? Yup, that annoys the hell out of us. High inflation and commodity prices? Yes, those anger us as well. The poor education we get is infuriating and we hate the fact that we are seen as ‘underdeveloped’ by people our age in neighbouring countries.

Protestors calling for change in these areas may not get the immediate response from the military they want, but at least these campaigns provide a rallying cry for younger generations.

Four years after I first heard of Min Ko Naing, he was finally released from prison. Three years on, the 88 Generation Students have achieved a considerable amount of success in their attempts to win the trust of a wider demographic.

They are focusing their demands around things that everyone wants rather than high politics—the one thing people from younger generations have been conditioned not to understand.

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