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Op-Ed: Real change in Burma no longer a pipe dream – but don’t jump the gun

Freed: Min Ko Naing (left), a leader of Burma's 88 Generation students, sitting together with a political prisoner. The 88 Generation Students group took its name from the 1988 uprising, when troops opened fire on mass student demonstrations in Rangoon, leading to the deaths of thousands of people. [Photo: Burma Campaign]

For a long time, it was easy for us to hold an opinion on Burma. It fitted neatly into the classic dichotomy of good and evil. The regime – made up of cruel, despotic military generals – was bad, and Aung San Suu Kyi and the huddled masses of Burmese people she led were good.

The country seemed like an iron-clad monolith to the durability of repression – a case study in how totalitarianism and suffering could continue despite the odds.

When Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in late 2010 there was much cause for celebration, yet we remained skeptical.

Surely it was just another grand, symbolic gesture orchestrated by the generals to placate the growing chorus of criticism outside the country, before returning to business as usual?

Yet to our surprise, the process of reform continued and began to build a momentum of its own.

Could the new Thein Sein government really be a different entity from the old regime? Could real and irreversible change be occurring in a country where it once seemed little more than a pipe dream?

Last Friday’s mass release of political prisoners may well go down in history as the point in time when people started to believe real change in Burma was not just possible, but actually happening.

It is significant, not just because of the large number of political prisoners involved – 651 at latest count – but also because of who was released. The freeing of Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Htay Kywe, Mya Aye and other key figures from the “8888 Uprising” is in many ways as significant as the release of Suu Kyi herself.



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