For most Burmese, 2008 will be remembered for "an apocalypse by the name of Cyclone Nargis" that devastated the country, "and the year the international community headed by the United Nations thoroughly failed" in the face of the emergency and the drama of the refugees, incapable of touching the power of a military dictatorship that "represses any voice contrary to the regime" in blood. The charge comes from Pascal Khoo Thwe, a Burmese activist of Padaung ethnicity, exiled in London, in an editorial published on the website of the dissident newspaper Democratic Voice of Burma.
He recalls how last May, the world was "waiting for the arrival of the biggest Olympic Games ever to be held" in China, and too preoccupied "not to do anything which could upset the striding dragon that is China" to think of the tragedy afflicting Myanmar. The situation was intensified by the neglect of the ruling junta, which did not take into consideration the alarm raised by a meteorological center in India, considering Nargis on the level of a simple tropical storm.
"The more people the storm killed," Pascal Khoo Thwe writes, "the better for the generals as no one could blame them for it and they could seize the prime lands of the people who perished." Many of the victims were of Karen ethnicity, a minority that the government has repeatedly tried to eradicate by force from the region.
He does not spare criticism of foreign governments, which "'urged', 'denounced', 'condemned' and 'demanded'," but did nothing concrete to change the situation and help the Burmese people. At the same time, he blasts the UN policy of "wait and see," while "hundreds of people were dying day by day."
The repression imposed by the military rulers also impacts those - few, in reality - who have promoted personal initiatives to help the populations and areas ravaged by the passage of the cyclone: Pascal Khoo Thwe cites the example of the most famous Burmese actor, Zarganar, who was "stopped, assaulted, and intimidated by agents of the junta," and finally "arrested and imprisoned for his efforts." He also tells about a farmer - the only survivor in his family - who, a few weeks after the catastrophe, reprimanded a volunteer with a foreign NGO, telling him: "Thanks for nothing and for coming too late. Keep on helping tyranny."
"The farmer disappeared without a trace and nobody knows what happened to him." He also recalls those who "have courageously fought against the dictatorship for years, like Win Tin," a leading representative of the opposition party National League for Democracy, who seem to have "wasted their energy" without the international community providing them "any concrete help" or ceasing "to support the generals" in power.
For the future, Pascal Khoo Thwe does not seem to be on board with the wave of optimism that has accompanied the election of U.S. president Barack Obama. It is not a matter of distrust, justified among other things by many of his predecessors who never kept their promises, but a question of political realism. "Obama has too many things on his plate to sort out as the most powerful leader on earth, such as the mess in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Palestine and the global economic crisis, to name but a few. I would advise my countrymen that we should not pin our hopes on events abroad."
He urges that "we must all stop mentally depending on foreign powers . . . and go beyond the politics of emotion." "We must stop our reliance on a magic bullet formula in politics, by really listening to the concerns of those at the grassroots level." Otherwise, there will be a repeat of the slaughter, massacres, and natural disasters on an even more devastating scale, which can be avoided only if the people are capable of facing the future "with less anxiety and emotion." "The history of Burma," he concludes, "has shown that good ideas or actions or foreign support alone are not enough to govern or rebuild a nation and maintain its soul."