Monday, July 21, 2008

The new Burma activists

The Washington Post reports on "a new generation" of activits in Burma:
Monks remain politically active, too, in spite of increased harassment from security forces since the protests.

Some have hidden pamphlets inside their alms bowls to distribute when they go out to collect food in the mornings, according to a Mandalay monk. They have smuggled glue and posters inside the bowls to stick on street walls.

Ten years ago, the monk said, he started a library that has since expanded to 14 branches across the country. Under cover of membership, patrons take classes in public speaking and pass around poems and pamphlets that are often scathing about their rulers, he said.

"I told people to read lots of books, so they can start to know, and then they can change the system," he said. "Because we want freedom. Because it is difficult to speak and write in this country."

The cyclone's aftermath has also spurred vast new stores of anger, sometimes among monks, who take vows of nonviolence.

"Now we want to get weapons," said a monk known to other dissidents by the nom de guerre "Zero" for his ability to organize and vanish without a trace. "The Buddhist way is lovingkindness. But we lost. So now we want to fight."

In the dormitory of a monastery one recent afternoon, he sat among piles of handwritten speeches and recent clandestine pamphlets stamped with names of groups such as Generation Wave and the All Burmese Monks Alliance. Two young monks listening from a tattered mattress nearby nodded excitedly, and a third pretended to wield a machine gun.

Because of his role as a chief galvanizer of the monks in the protests, the monk has been on the run since September, moving from one monastery to the next. But since the cyclone, he has managed nonetheless to make about 20 trips to the devastated areas, where he buried more than 200 bodies and coordinated with monks and lay people.

"In September, we lost because everywhere, every village did not follow, because of fear," he said. But in the post-cyclone period, "we can do more. Now I can grow and grow."

At a 1,500-strong ceremony commemorating the victims of the cyclone, 15 dissident monks and lay people pondered their options, he said. Should they organize a strike in September to mark the first anniversary of the protests? Hold one to coincide with the auspicious date of 8-8-08, twenty years since the 1988 uprising?
See my interviews with the Burma student's army leader, Myint Oo, and a break-away revolutionary leader named Maung.

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