Few hours after landing in Mandalay I am stopped during my walk around the Royal Palace by a man. He is interested into where I come from, nothing unusual, especially when you are the only white and tourist on the town’s street. When he hears Slovakia, the first he shouts is “Slovakia, Slovakia, very good government, Myanmar, not good government!” I am double amazed: someone considers the Slovakian government of the party Smer being very good and someone openly criticizes the government of Myanmar. Considering the first point, I don’t necessarily think he knows where Slovakia is and who Róbert Fico is, related to the second point, he would most probably call a good government every government on this planet except Myanmar’s (well, and except the Chinese government, Myanmar’s citizens cannot stand China). Until today, I cannot decide between whether his reaction was an open and honest one, or he was just a provocateur whose role it was to test my political reflexes.
After years of isolation people again talk about politics in the streets of Myanmar. Few years ago, it would have happened only in the middle of an empty pool (true story). I have touched this topic with the locals during my stay only very carefully and without intention, just to be on the safe side. I was curious to hear how the locals understand the killing of the Rohinga minority in the north-western part of the country. OSN openly uses today a term genocide and has also elaborated the situation in a detailed report. About a genocide the International crime tribunal will decide, however the systematic killing of the Rohingas is happening, that’s for sure.
Let me tell you who these Rohingas are. It’s an ethnic group with (mostly) Muslim faith, often also called the most hunted minority in the world. Their population in Asia is estimated for two million, most of them living in Myanmar. The Myanmar government has been leading a discrimination campaign against the Rohingas since decades, they say Rohingas entered the country illegally from the neighbourhood country Bangladesh after the end of the British colonization, thus they have no historical right to live in Myanmar. They don’t accept their right for a Myanmar citizenship status, refuse calling them Rohingas and use an abusive title Bengalese (By the way, Bangladesh is of the same opinion and also doesn’t recognize Rohingas as their citizens). With the permanent retaliations and legislation adjustments Myanmar’s government limits Rohingas‘ right for a life in freedom and free travel across the country. In 1982 a citizenship law has been introduced which put Rohingas out of the legislative scope. There is a lot of ethnic groups in Myanmar who are set into the position of second-class citizens (the law in1982 defined three levels of citizenship), however Rohingas are not even part of the last group. They don’t have a valid ID, must be present at their village all the time and even for a trip to the hospital in the near city they need to request complicated approvals. Not speaking about the bureaucracy they have to face when trying to visit another Myanmar state.
This all is happening in the country with one of the highest number of officially approved minorities in the world – 135 minority groups are approved in Myanmar. Rohingas are missing.
In the old town Bagan I am having a chat with the hotel manager. Smiley and pleasant person, same as most of Myanmar citizens. He has never travelled, he visited only once Thailand. He’s got a wife at home and is a fan of Manchester United, same as most of the Myanmar citizens. When we talk about politics, his voice is moving into a passionate and flaming tone. He is explaining, that the conflict in the Rakhain state has been provoked by the Muslim terrorists from the Bangladesh immigrant groups. Decades ago they crossed the borders in their journey for a better life and since then they have spread dramatically. It is sad to know that also innocent people are dying, but nothing would have happened if they wouldn’t start. His skin is darker than a typical Myanmar citizen, I guess he is part of one of the minorities.
Rohingas say, that they have been living in the former Burma land for hundreds of centuries. Their Asian population 18 months ago was estimated for two million. The Rakhain conflict, which repeatedly flamed in 2012, graduated in summer 2017. The army in cooperation with local Buddhists systematically burned and killed off whole villages, raped women, installed mines, tortured or deported the population. A new wave of violence has started. (A rape is considered by the army being a successful military tactic, which should demoralize and break the local population and potential resistance). It is estimated, that the borders with Bangladesh has been crossed by around 700 thousand Rohingas, and that in the biggest refugee camp of the world, the camps at the border, there is around one million of people living in horrible conditions. On the constant edge between life and death, they were explaining to the international humanity workers and journalists, how the army bombarded the whole villages and tortured people, burning them alive. The world was silent for a very long time.
The most sacred pagoda in the country is based in the former capitol city Yangon. It is called the Shwedagon pagoda and you can meet all sort of people here. Sitting and resting in the shadow, I am approached by a young person who wants to chat in English. He looks to be in his late twenties, works as an electricity worker. He learned English alone at home. Very impressive, this is one of the best English I have heard in the country so far. He is very curious and asks a lot of questions, about my country, about travelling, about my work… I am asking the same curious questions. Chatting for about a half an hour, he touches politics himself. I ask him about what is going on in the North-west. The same music again, played so many times before. Myanmar propaganda is worth a diploma. This man at least confesses, that innocent people are being killed but a problem on the government’s side he doesn‘t see. Same as most of the Myanmar citizens.
In February 2018 the court in Yangon sentenced two Reuters journalists for 7 years of prison, the reason were top secret documents about operations in the state Rakhain. The documents were handed over to them by a police man just few minutes before they got arrested. What a surprise. The verdict has been facing international critics since then, the same as the approach of the former peace icon Aung San Suu Kyi. She alone has spent 15 years in a home-prison and when elected and finally coming to power in 2015, she promised changes and democratization of the country. Today, the key positions in the country are still occupied by the army and Suu Kyi’s power is very limited. What she says has still a huge power, for her Rohinga approach and opinion (she alone calls them Bengalese too) she already faced hard international critics. There are also voices saying her Peace Nobel Price should be taken away. The border between the hunter and the hunted one is very thin. Between the murder and the victim.
Only very few people in the country see the reality. People coming from the charity area were the first after weeks, who explained the whole topic to me without censure or demagogy. The responsibility for the latest situation lies in their eyes on China (and India), who would love to extract from Myanmar’s mineral potential. And some more are waiting in the queue already. China has built an oil pipeline through the Rakhain state and is saying, that it will defend their interest in this part of the world for any price. The pipeline theory seems to be the most relevant reason but there are more theories circulating. Another one speaks about the whole area being rebuilt in future into a huge industrial park. Whatever the real reason is, it has political background. Whatever supporting activities for the Rohinga population the West would execute, they would be faced by hard resistance of China and Russia, who have been supporting the Myanmar government for a long time and who can easily vet the ideas in the OSN.
Rohinga genocide, a new problem which doesn’t seem to have an early solution. Let’s try to start in our cvilized part of the world with seeing the problem… and with the approach, that we will not be impassive to the systematic killing of minorities which we, European countries and their governments, participated on actively not such a long time ago.
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