Dear TIME editorial board,
By your decision to put Myanmar’s butcher Min Aung Hlaing – one of the most brutal murderers in the world – on your list of 100 most influential people, you have just encouraged him and his kleptocratic gang to massacre more innocent civilians. If you have doubts about that, just follow in next few days how his military propaganda machine will use the fact that you have bestowed upon him the title of one of the world’s “most influential leaders.”
The photo that you have used on your website ranking Min Aung Hlaing with the “most influential leaders” of the world is the image that he wants to project to his loyalists and subordinates. This is how he would like to be seen internationally and by the people of Myanmar, the country which he terrorizes. You have just inflated the notion of him as a strong leader rather than what he really is – a little, greedy man with a Napoleonic complex who is increasingly desperate because he is losing control over the country to the determined nationwide resistance. His desperation manifests itself in large scale massacres.
What would portray Min Aung Hlaing adequately are the photos of his victims, bodies of children chopped into pieces by the hellfire raining from helicopters, the burned bodies of civilians and mutilated bodies of prisoners decapitated while still alive – those are photos that project the true image of Myanmar’s Murderer-in-Chief. The question is what is it that makes him influential? He has next to no public support, no international recognition, he dissolved political parties that won 90% of the electorate. Two years ago he tried to grab power through an unsuccessful military coup and he has spectacularly failed to consolidate or legitimize his grip on the country. Most people are in open rebellion and determined to reject military rule. Min Aung Hlaing doesn’t even project an image of a ‘strong man’ dictator.
However, the main point is the total lack of morality in your designation of Myanmar junta’s chief as “influential leader”- it does nothing to recognize the national uprising by a people who don’t want to live under a genocidal military. Why aren’t the Myanmar people recognized as trend setters for the rest of the world? I know that TIME has a habit of picking up really bad guys and put them on the list of “most influential leaders”. If I remember well some times ago you have also declared Putin as the most influential leader. I assume this is result of a cynical marketing utilitarianism – you put forward something outrageous because that generates controversy and controversy kick of heated debate and that is good for visibility, social media engagement and sales.
However, this is just deeply immoral and an extraordinarily hurtful act which comes from total blindness and miscalculation of how things work in the countries where these “influential leaders” have influence. This kind of marketing cynicism is encouraging people like Min Aung Hlaing to commit even more atrocities and crimes against humanity than ever before. And he has committed a lot crimes already – one million Rohingya forcefully expelled from their homes in one of the biggest genocidal ethnic cleansing operations in recent times. In the last two years his thuggish army has displaced about 1.7 million people from their homes by what the U.N. has called a “scorched earth” strategy of looting, raping, pillaging and torching homes.
By labelling guys like Min Aung Hlaing and Russian President Vladimir Putin as the world’s “most influential leaders” you are directly assisting their own propaganda and boosting their pathological megalomaniac egos. Great job, indeed. It is truly sickening from the point of view of people who are enduring this kind of “influential leadership.” People are able to carry enormous amount of suffering and pain that is inflicted on them by their dictators. But they take it very hard when someone sitting in a faraway safe place is disrespecting and not acknowledging their suffering and fierce resistance to it.
I’m writing this as Bosnian from Sarajevo who has some personal experience with that. And I have been in contact with my former students in Myanmar twenty four hours a day for the last two years. Myanmar people have been participating in a truly heroic struggle against the military with huge bravery and sacrifice, liberating their country piece by piece. If TIME would like to write and publish a story about them, I would be glad to put you in touch. Just to give them the chance to refute the false notion of Min Aung Hlaing’s “vise-like grip over the nation of 54 million.”
Igor Blazevic, Lecturer at the Educational Initiatives Myanmar and Senior Advisor at the Prague Civil Society Centre