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April 21, 2014

Enemies reconcile to bring change to Myanmar

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For 50 years, the country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has kept itself isolated from the world.

In 2007, the world got a horrific peek when video leaked out from a military crackdown on the Saffron Revolution, led by monks and students demanding political freedom. In recent years, however, the government has signaled a new openness, promising democratic reforms, and proposing peace treaties with numerous ethnic groups in the country that have been at war with the government, in some cases since the end of World War II.

“Considering the very rigid and military rule in the last 25 years, the extent of reform and what has been achieved in the last two years is quite remarkable,” said Min Zaw Oo of the Myanmar Peace Center, a government-appointed committee negotiating a national peace treaty.

Min Zaw Oo is just one of many former fighters who has laid down arms to sit at the negotiating table with his former opponents, who he now believes are engaged in real change.

“What the current government is doing is opening up this process, so people can come and join the political opening and gradually steer the transition to broader participation and broader reform. This is the only opportunity in the last 50 years,” he said.

Young people in the country are optimistic about the direction their country is going in, but are unsure what it may mean for their future.

“It is exciting. And at the same time, it’s also nervous. I think it has a lot of challenges now. I think it’s both exciting and it’s also — I’m also a bit nervous,” said Dim Sian Nem, a student at the Yangon School of Political Science.


Warm up questions
  1. Where is Myanmar?
  2. What are some ways that oppressive governments try to control their people?
  3. What are some basic rights protected in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution?
Discussion questions
  1. Why do you think that the government isolated itself? What were the risks and benefits to taking this course of action? How did it affect the people of Myanmar?
  2. Why do you think the government of Myanmar decided to change some of its oppressive policies after 50 years?
  3. What changes do you predict will take place as the people of Myanmar become more connected with the outside world?
Writing prompts

Imagine that you are a former rebel fighter in the country of Myanmar. Knowing that you risked your own life (and probably others’) for decades to battle the oppressive control of the government, how are you able to move forward and work together with the very military you fought against? What kinds of feelings would you have about the new changes? How would you be able to trust them? What types of challenges will you face working together? Provide a narrative snapshot of your experience.

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