Some thoughts on Burma

The events unfolding in Burma this week are tragic. Inspired by the courage of a handful of Buddhist monks, people hungry for change- for something even remotely close to freedom-are taking to the streets. And like many people, I can't help think this is going to end badly. Nine people have already died. Here's hoping we don't see a repeat of 1988, when thousands of pro-democracy protestors were shot down in the street. I have two quick thoughts on this. First, most news outlets are reporting that internet access has been blocked in Burma, severing the stream of photos, videos and reports on the protests. Techno-optimists are always touting the transformative democratic potential of the web. But ultimately, media is only as free as the society in which it operates. The military junta controls everything in Burma. In that context, the Internet is next to useless as a democratizing tool.

Second, world leaders have been quick to condemn the crackdown. Said George W. Bush:

Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma, where a military junta has imposed a 19-year reign of fear. The United States will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers. We will impose and expand a visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members.

And Gordon Brown:

The first thing that can be done is that the UN envoy should be sent to Burma and I hope he is in a position to go, and make sure the Burmese regime directly is aware that any trampling of human rights that takes place will have the whole eyes of the world upon them and will not be acceptable in the future.

Strong language for sure. Still, you'll notice there's not a lot of talk about direct intervention. The world stood idly by in 1988, and there's little to suggest any difference today. And of course, there are always nations more than happy to turn a blind eye. Said Russia:

We consider any attempts to use the latest developments to exercise outside pressure or interference in the domestic affairs of this sovereign state to be counterproductive. We still believe that the processes under way in Myanmar do not threaten international and regional peace and security. We expect the country's authorities, as well as the participants in protest marches, to exercise mutual constraint not to allow further destabilisation of the situation.

Yeah, because it's the responsibility of the protestors not to destabilize the situation. Weak. And China had this to add:

China has consistently implemented a policy of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs. As Burma's neighbours, we hope to see stability and economic development in Burma. We hope and believe that the government and people of Burma will properly deal with the current problem.

With friends like these, the people of Burma don't need enemies. China's position, while regrettable, is understandable. If I'd shot hundreds of people in Tianamen square, I'd be relcutant to condemn another nation's massacre. If a 1988-esque crackdown comes, you can bet the international community will be hamstrung by nations all too willing to tolerate oppression at home and in their backyard.

And can someone please explain to me what I should call it? Is it Burma or Myanmar? Leave it to Junta to #%#@# up their country's name.