B1 Intermediate 18276 Folder Collection
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Coming to Myanmar is for me a profoundly personal journey into my own family history,
My father was born here, and carved out a successful career as a doctor until the military siezed control in 1962
Targeted by the state for being an Indian national, he was forced to abandon his home and flee overseas
As part of a mass exodus of an estimated 300,000 ethnic Indians.
Modern day Myanmar is still racked by ethnic divisions, but life here is transforming.
One of the biggest changes is in free speech.
Tonight a live comedy show is being broadcast to the nation to mark international peace day.
The organiser is Zarganer. Myanmar's most famous comedian, and a former political prisoner.
Zarganar, what does tonight symbolise?
We can say this is the first time in the history of our country that everybody
can watch and every comedian can speak their jokes freely. There is no censor, no ban.
Over the 35 numbers of the Ministers will come to here, and sit there and they can listen
how they criticise them, the comedians.
Former Major General Aung Min is a Government Minister and a key peace negotiator. He is
taking up Zarganar's invitation to hear the comedians barbs first hand. But the opening
act begins with an unexpectedly serious message.
I'd like to criticise the military offensives. We really....we really pity the suffering
of the victims, our fellow citizens. Please stop the military offensives. Please be united,
our fellow ethnic nationalities.
The jokes that follow take aim at the Government's economic mismanagement, the soaring price
of living and widespread corruption.
In hell, the electricity meter is stuffed down the officials' throats!  Even though
they happily chew on them!
They are very happy even though they are in hell!
The humour may seem mild but this is a country
where until recently comedians had to submit their gags to Government censors. Tonight
even the Minister is laughing along.
What have you witnessed as far as the pace of change in Myanmar?
Things have definitely quickened up immensely. It wasn't so long ago that people were riding
around with push bikes.
Few Australians are watching the transition to democracy as avidly as Ross Dunkley, the
country's only foreign media magnate.
People are enjoying their first taste of democracy in half a century.
He arrived here 13 years ago, building a unique and sometimes testy relationship with the
generals to set up the nation's first independent weekly newspaper.
A lot of people were critical about the 'Myanmar Times', that we were lackeys of the
Junta that we were prostitutes. We were just on the ground engaging with the military dictatorship.
We were of the view that it's better to be on the field and playing than off the field
and screaming. Like some hysterical housewife. Every week we were attempting to lift the
bar just a little bit higher.
While newspaper readership is collapsing elsewhere in the world, in Myanmar business is booming.
It was only in April this year that the Government ended a state monopoly on the daily press.
For the previous five decades it had been more interested in censoring, jailing or torturing
journalists deemed critical of the State.
You know, here in Myanmar it's a booming media scene and with the relaxation of censorship
in the last six months we've had 13 dailies open up.
That's incredible - 13 dailies in six months.
Here is a selection of the dailies, 'The Voice', 'The Yangon Times', 'The Seven Day
Daily'. The freedom of speech for me has got to be at the forefront of any change. Unless
you can have a free and open media, how can you claim to have any sort of democracy? For
me that's the baseline.
Whose land is it in Mikyaung Kan?
Our land!  Our land!
Does the land belong to the military?
No, no.
This protest is about one of the most contentious issues in the new Myanmar. Land grabbed by
the former military rulers. Just a few years ago, a gathering like this would never have
been tolerated by the authorities. These people have been fighting for more than 20 years
to regain their land in south-east Yangon.
The army forced all of us to move out at gunpoint. Some fearful people moved out but some didn't.
The army bulldozed the land and sent them to Insein Prison.
A 1,000 families lost their homes. It's the
kind of injustice we hear again and again.
We dared not speak up in the past.  Now we dare to because we have been given the right.
We think the president and the government will consider our demand favourably.  So
we are demanding very bravely.
Under old laws still in place, demonstrators can face hefty jail sentences simply for protesting
without permission. In this case, the authorities had agreed but protestors were being closely
watched. Around the corner, we found four truckloads of police ready to react to any
trouble.
May the whole country be peaceful! May Burma be peaceful!
We are here because we need peace.  Also because of the 2008 constitution we have so
many problem and we have so many conflict in our country.
For activists like this Generation Wave leader Ko Moe Thway, political change isn't much
easier. Last year he led a peace rally without getting permission. He and eight other organisers
now face up to 20 years in prison and a gruelling trial process that's more like a full-time
job.
How many times have you been to court?
I think more than once at a time we have been in the court 130 times.
130 times, wow.  How do you view this particular Government?
I would say that the country has changed than before but the thing is, we need to wait
and watch carefully where this change is leading to. So we cannot say everything will be good.
One of the key milestones of Myanmar's reforms
has been the release of hundreds of political prisoners. But many remain behind bars, with
new arrests and trials still being reported every month. I've come to see Than Maw, a
woman who knows only too well how those viewed as troublemakers are treated. Her husband
Ko Htin Kyaw is a veteran political campaigner.
I am really proud of him.  I couldn't have done it.
How does it make you feel when you look at
pictures of your husband?
Only a few politicians can nurture that kind of political commitment.  So I am proud
of him, not just as a husband, but as a good citizen of the country.
We don't want crony-ocracy!!!
We don't want it!!
At a protest three months ago he planned to make a citizens arrest on a businessman he
accused of land grabbing but he ended up in custody himself, charged with insulting the
state, he faces two years in jail.
The government must solve the problems the people are facing, if the government ignores
the suffering of the people we cannot call it a democratic government.  It is a crony-ocracy
government that protects the cronies.
Than Maw is three months pregnant and is faced with bringing up her baby alone.
Despite them saying the country is changing,
we cannot say we see any noticeable changes.  In the past anyone who called for democracy
was jailed.  Now the government itself calls for democracy, but it's just rhetoric. I think
that this government is about 10 percent better than the last government.
Talky, Shell and Bobo are former political
prisoners, between them they have spent 30 years in jail. Faced with the difficulties
you have life on the outside, they set up Golden Harp, a taxi company with a difference.
Hi, can I hop in? Thanks.
There's a deep stigma attached to being a political prisoner in today's Myanmar. It's
hard to find employment or to be accepted by society.
The main objective of Golden harp is to help
and support the former political prisoners as much as we can.
Golden Harp provides valuable stability for
former prisoners. It also gives drivers like Shell a chance to educate their mainly foreign
passengers.
We share our Burmese politics with them and we highlight the abuses and wrongdoings of
the previous government with constructive criticism.
We are on our way to a place well-known to employees of Golden Harp, Yangon's sprawling
Insein prison. Notorious for the mental and physical torture inflicted on its inmates.
The most difficult time for me was being alone in prison without a visitor for more than
a year. I was not allowed to talk to anyone and I was starving.  We tried to endure in
the prisons.  Some people went mad. Some people have stayed mad. Some people have lost
their speech. Once some of our friends were released from prison, they died soon afterwards
because of what they'd suffered. I feel really sad about that.
Have you ever asked Shell to stop being involved
in politics?
Sometimes I will like him to stop, but he doesn't want to stop, but he does not want
to stop.
Shell's wife Lwin Mar says like everybody in Myanmar, all they want is a life free from
oppression. But even now that the couple are worried that Shell could be arrested at any
time.
Even nowadays I worry for his health, because he was mentally or physically tortured for
nearly 14 years.
Do you still see evidence of all of that time that Shell spent in prison?
Sometimes he doesn't want to stay alone in the home because he thought he will be captured,
so he will always try and go out if I'm not at home.
oh my goodness!
Because he was locked in the isolated for
many many years - this is our life we cannot stop it.
It's the younger generation lapping up new
freedoms and pushing boundaries. None more so than the Me N Ma girls. Modelled on Britain's
Spice Girls they are the country's first all girl group, and today they have invited me
to their Yangon studio to watch a rehearsal for their latest single.
I am strong # Got to stand tall # This
is my world # Nothing is going to shake it.
We girls stand for like everybody who are sad, down and who feel unhappy about their
life. Because now everything is changing and it starts to change right now.
# I'm stronger now # So it's goodbye.
The Me N Ma Girls are out to smash the stereotype that the women in Myanmar are timid and modest.
Breaking the mould has its challenging even for a pop band. In the past the girls have
had their lyrics and their fashions censored by the State.
So these days do you feel like you are allowed to sing about whatever you want?
We can sing whatever we want but we have to
sing within the boundaries. We know how far we can go so we are in the boundaries but
we are still pushing the boundaries.
The girls have been working hard for years to cut through the conservatism of their country.
Now with growing freedoms, these talented young women see a bright future.
What do you think about the direction of this
country right now?
I believe our President and he is going really well, and also we support our President to
get good democracy. I do believe and I want to believe that this will last forever. We
just want to go forward, that's all we need to do and all we want to do.
With its exposure to the world Myanmar is
attracting plenty of attention. The country has thrown its doors open to visitors. In
the last year, the number of tourists has doubled and investors are flocking. So how
does Myanmar's Government rate its progress? I've come to one of the capital emptiest cities
to find out. Naypyidaw was born in 2005, when parliament was built on a Greenfield site
300km north of Yangon. Here, farmers live in the shadow of Myanmar's most powerful people
and constant reminders of military rule.
If there's a symbol of the bad old days it's this, a 20-lane Highway running past Parliament
that rarely sees more than a handful of cars, the sort of waste of the former military Government
everybody hopes is consigned to the past as Myanmar travels its own road to democracy.
U Ye Htut is the Information Minister and spokesman for the President.
U Ye Htut, thank you very much for speaking
to us today. First of all, where are we on the path to democracy in this country?
So now we are entering the second 2.5 years
of our transition to democracy. So if we look back at those past 2.5 years we made a lot
of achievements. But now we also have a lot of challenges.
Let's talk about the issue of political
prisoners. How many are there in jail right now in Myanmar?
I cannot tell that in exact number.
Around about?
I think just maybe 200 or 300.
It does seem entirely contradictory to the notion of democracy though that there would
be any political prisoners in jail right now?
The President promised that at the end of this year there will be no more political
prisoners in our country.
And yet people who are protesting on political grounds are still finding themselves in prison
for violating Article 18....
Yes.
....which is about not getting permission to protest. That seems to me and to many others
I'm sure watching this, nowhere near a serious enough issue to go to jail for, not even for
a day.
Yeah but that's a law. So that now that law was approved by the Parliament. Now
the Parliament is trying to review that particular article, Article 18.
It wasn't that long ago that somebody would
be jailed for criticising the administration. How does it feel now to be on the side where
you are being criticised?
In the first years we are not very used to that kind of criticism. So sometimes some
of the Government officials are angry about that criticism. But the President said you
have to face this kind of criticism and what you have to do is to present the truth and
to present the transparency of the government - the best thing to deal with the media.
How do you want the world to see Myanmar?
I want the world to see that Myanmar as you know, the country and the people who
are trying their best to achieve their democratic goal. Sometimes we lack the experience. So
we want the international community to see we are struggling to achieve our goal and
try instead of blaming us, to please give your helping hand to us.
Elections in 2015 will do much to test the
Government's appetite for change and the eyes of the world are watching. Today former US
President Jimmy Carter is paying a visit after a series of meetings to check on democracy's
progress. In the middle of the journalistic throng, veteran newspaper journalist and political
prisoner, Thiha Saw.
Man up the front?
Thank you Mr President. Are we moving? Are we moving in the right direction, in the
right place?
I think the entire world has been pleasantly surprised at the degree of progress that has
already been made in just a brief 2.5 years since the last election. But a lot of change
still needs to be made here.
The magnitude of what this country still faces is daunting. Ethnic conflicts are ongoing,
hundreds of laws have to be rewritten and the constitution that bars Aung San Suu Kyi
from ever becoming President needs to be overhauled. Thiha Sau says the people of Myanmar must
be patient.
As far as Myanmar's path to democracy, where are we at this present moment in time?
We still have a long way to go and then
we are not really sure that we could reach there and then that may take three years,
maybe 20 years, we don't know. Hopefully we have taken the first few steps in the right
direction.
Sometimes lack of experience, lack of human resources and lack of financial and technical
knowledge is a problem on our process. So to be seen as children who try to grow up
and to enter the world, so you have to help us.
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Road to Democracy - Myanmar's election struggle

18276 Folder Collection
阿多賓 published on December 19, 2013
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