--- On Fri, 11/26/10, franz fanon wrote:
Subject: How Wrong Can You Be?, Irrawaddy, 26 Nov 2010
Date: Friday, November 26, 2010, 12:20 PM
How Wrong Can You Be?
When Queen Elizabeth made a public appearance at the London School of
Economics shortly after the start of the 2008 global financial crisis,
she famously asked her influential academic audience why they didn't
see it—the world's worst economic meltdown in decades—coming.
This is a question that one is now tempted to ask the legions of Burma
experts, seasoned Burma watchers and Rangoon-based Burmese elites who
boldly proclaimed the death of the National League for Democracy
(NLD), questioned the relevance of Aung San Suu Kyi, extolled the
virtues of the donor-driven “civil society” and quietly promoted the
generals' election as “the only game in town,” to borrow the words of
Bangkok-based European Union Ambassador David Lipman.
Perhaps the categorical failure on the part of experts and diplomats
to understand Burma's ruling class—its psyche, its mode of operation,
the level to which it will sink in pursuit of its self-serving and
nation-destroying politics and its approach to politics as a zero-sum
game—should humble these foreign diplomats and experts.
The generals' election has laid bare any policy-driven evidence
packaged in faulty explanations about how dictatorships morph into
representative forms of government and why the new structures and
parliamentary space would open up new opportunities for democratic
A great many experts, from Chatham House and the Brookings Institution
to the International Crisis Group and the University of London, have
sinned by constructing political analyses which resonated with the
impatiently pro-business policies of some European Union governments.
Two patently false analyses spring to mind.
British Burma expert and former International Labour Organization
liaison officer in Rangoon, Richard Horsey, created waves among
soundbite-seeking journalists and analytical amateurs among Western
diplomats by circulating his “Myanmar: A Pre-election Primer” (dated
Oct. 18) (http://irrawaddy.org/pdf/14.%20SSRC%20Myanmar%20-%20A%20Pre-election%20Primer.pdf
). Dr Horsey boldly predicted: “[W]hile there will undoubtedly be some
irregularities, a fraudulent vote count is on balance unlikely.”
As late as Nov. 3—four days prior to Burma's polls—another British
expert, Dr Marie Lall of Chatham House, who is also a lecturer with
the Institute of Education at the University of London, was extolling
the virtues of the politics of “collaboration” advanced by EU-funded
local NGOs such as Myanmar Egress.
In her own words
(http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/media/comment/mlall1110/-/1172/) , the
National Unity Party, made up of Ne Win-era anti-democratic dinosaurs,
“is not only set to beat the [junta-backed Union Solidarity and
Development Party] in many constituencies, giving it real power at a
national level, it is also likely to take a different stand to the
current regime on many issues, starting with land-owning rights for
She concluded: “The elections are the first step out of the impasse
between the military and the wider population. The democratic
hardliners are today fewer in number and are more likely to meet
popular indifference than to lead any popular protest movement, even
should Aung San Suu Kyi be released soon.”
Five days later, Lall's favorite party suffered a resounding defeat in
the clearly rigged election, winning only 5.6 percent of the total
seats contested vis-à-vis the regime's proxy party, which won 76.8
percent of all contested seats.
The election also stripped many Burma experts of any respectability
and undermined the validity of their empirically false projections in
terms of social change via the regime's “election.”
Up until the time when the generals leaked the story of its party
winning a landslide, in the Burma expert world, resistance was
proclaimed futile, dissidents were framed as “idealistic” at best and
“obstacles” to democratization and development at worst, and “civil
society” was spun as the sole path towards Burma's liberation,
development and democracy through electoral evolutionism.
Development, the middle class and modernization were in vogue again,
and dissidents were deemed to be party poopers who are not really
welcome in these circles of influence, grant money and connections.
In these expert discourses, Burma experts were not alone in
romanticizing the emancipatory power of the “free market,”
humanitarian aid, and (farcical) elections in authoritarian contexts,
à la Suharto's Indonesia.
With mind-numbing frequency, diplomats on their Burma “missions”
parroted this self-interested spin manufactured in Burma expert
circles during exclusive luncheons and dinners in places like Rangoon,
Bangkok, Brussels and Berlin, all the while dismissing any argument
that Burma's neo-fascist regime, in its pursuit of a military
apartheid, has no interest in economic reforms, democratic change,
public welfare or human rights.
To top this off, these foreign “civil society promoters” dismissed as
“activists' spin” any alternative analysis which argued that election
or no election, the generals had absolutely no interest in making any
space for anyone who is not part of their inner circle. The natives'
realistic conclusion that the election contained no democratic
potential whatsoever was written off as simply an expression of
“contempt towards the generals devoid of rational discourse, which can
be regarded as one basic element of (Western) democratic culture,” as
Dr Hans-Berd Zoellner, the Christian priest cum Burma expert from
Hamburg University, put it, in reference to my essay “The Generals'
Election.” ( http://www.himalmag.com/The-generals-election_nw4778.html
Since the “election,” it has become abundantly clear that as far as
the regime is concerned, foreign Burma experts and donor-patrons of
Burma's “civil society” were good for pro-election propaganda. For the
regime masterfully used these voices to drive an effective strategic
wedge between the NLD leadership (for instance, Aung San Suu Kyi, Win
Tin, Tin Oo, etc) and the party's gullible elements, who went on to
establish a new party—the National Democratic Force—which won only 1.5
percent of all contested seats.
This whole disturbing multifaceted symbiosis among certain diplomats
from some European countries and the European Commission, which are in
effect pushing to normalize Burma's dictatorship, and Burma experts,
as well as select local NGOs propped up with Western donors' money and
political support, represents one of the newest challenges to Aung San
Suu Kyi, the ethnic resistance and the entire pro-democracy
Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group | www.irrawaddy.org
Dr Zarni (email@example.com) is research fellow on Burma at the LSE
Global Governance, the London School of Economics and visiting senior
fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies,
Compiler's remark: I'll add 'double-agent' to my title for the next
article (see the second comment below)>
Comments: (More to come).
Aung Ba Wrote: 27/11/2010
Very good compilation on the latest developments of Burma. But no
apparent solution is suggested in the article to the ongoing problem
the country is facing politically. Criticizing is easy but suggestion
on more pragmatic approach to the dilemma Burmese people face as a
nation is in urgent need at this time.
Erik Wrote: 27/11/2010
Well, if Mr. Zarni talks about organizations propped up with Western
money he might as well add to that that he himself is propped up by
Western money and that this income will diminish greatly if he has to
stop beating the anti-regime drum, for instance if some change comes
from all of this in the end. Without the regime this guy is out of
I don't know what kind of role Zarni is playing, and what his aim is
by portraying himself as the staunchest critic of the regime and
people from the third force. What I do know is that somebody who is in
the know recently told me that exposing yourself to Mr. Zarni is the
easiest ticket to deportation if you're in Burma.
The guy seems to play some kind of double role...