Monday, January 28, 2008

2007 Myanmar Standoff

Juxtaposed with what can easily be described as a tumultuous nineteenth and twentieth century in Myanmar/Burma, the twenty-first century began riddled with controversy. The military junta that has been in power since the country was freed from British rule in 1948 has met much citizen resistance over the last fifty-nine years, most recently in late 2007. In mid-late August, in a response to a rise in fuel costs, a socially and economically repressed people of Myanmar rallied in protest. The protests started small and were met with violent force from the heavy-handed militant government. In initial rallies activists were merely beaten and arrested, but on September 5th soldiers fired bullets into the crowds temporarily disbanding protests and injuring several people.
It was at this point in time that the countries monks got involved. Monks in Myanmar, as in most Southeast Asian countries, are very power social leaders. It can be said that – socially in Myanmar - monks are more influential than the government and the only thing that gives the government legitimacy is a conditional acceptance from the monks. That said, when the countries monks took over the reigns of protest following the September shootings, a breath of significantly different air was breathed into this most recent social uprising. The protests grew in what was a tense eye-to-eye battle of the two most powerful groups in Myanmar (the government and the monks). What followed was a game of intimidation, standoffs, demands, etc. It all ended – presumably temporarily – in late September with a violent victory by the government; protests ended and thousands fled the country in exile and/or as refuges.

Making Sense
Although these recent events were sparked by a rise in fuel prices, the decades-old underlying drive behind them was to lash out against a repressive government. Perhaps many of the civilians who participated in the original protests thought it was about a rise in fuel prices, but to the educated organizers and to the outside world it can be viewed simply as the most recent straw that has again broken the camels back. Many of the protest organizers belonged to a pro-democracy group called the “88 generation students.” Many members of this group were immediately arrested, presumably because of their deeper understanding of their countries repression. When the monks became involved it was in response to what we would consider a basic civil rights violation. At that point the movement became overtly about ending/limiting oppression. I don’t think that it was the monks’ realistic intention to overthrow the militant government with protests; so much as it was to send a message to back off of the people. The different standoffs that took place over the tense twenty-three day period would determine whether this message would be accepted or rejected.

Decision Making
The players in this game had a number of choices, repercussions and end results to consider. Ultimately the militant government flexed its muscles and the monks/people were left with little choice but to back down or be violently dealt with. The government’s victory rings hollow in that the main repercussion of their actions are set in the future; future aggressive behavior from their citizens as well as possible future military action from the outside world.

I will model this conflict as a two-player game involving the monks and the government of Myanmar.

Lee, Roger A. “The 2007 Pro-Democracy Uprising in Burma/Myanmar.” The History Guy. 25 January 2008.

“Q & A: Protests In Burma.” BBC New. 2 October 2007. 25 January 2008.