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Screening commemorates Burma protests

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The PBS Frontline documentary “Burma: State of Fear” aired in Salomon 001 last night before an audience of about 20 people, followed by a question-and-answer session with Burmese writer and this year’s International Writers Project fellow Ma Thida. The event capped off a week of events recognizing the one-year anniversary of the Saffron Revolution in Burma.

The documentary, which originally aired Oct. 31, 2006, features journalist Evan Williams traveling with a guerrilla Burmese resistance army and interviewing political dissidents who oppose the oppressive military junta that has controlled Burma since 1962.

The film opens with Williams traveling across the Thai border into Burma with the Karen National Union guerilla army. The military had traveled through the area earlier, planting land mines and burning small villages. In the last 20 years, over 3,000 villages have been destroyed by the army and over 700,000 people have fled the country, according to the documentary.

The Brown Campaign for Burma, a student group that promotes information about and aid for Burma, organized the event. The group, according to its Web site, is part of the national U.S. Campaign for Burma, which works to end the military dictatorship in Burma, now known as Myanmar under the current military junta. The U.S. Campaign for Burma recognizes the PBS documentary as the most accurate representation of reality in Burma today, said Libby Lucas ‘08.5, co-president of the Brown chapter.

The Brown Campaign for Burma organized several events over the past week to commemorate the Saffron Revolution of 2007, a series of anti-government protests largely led by the country’s Buddhist monks and named after the color of their robes.

Lucas said she was not surprised by the low attendance. “We knew it was going to be small because student attention spans only follow what’s in the New York Times,” Lucas said.

“Burma is important right now in the face of globalization and the growing disparity between governments who expand in trade and countries who must forfeit resources,” Lucas added. “Burma is a perfect example of why we must rethink how trade and human rights are linked and how we need to use this opportunity to improve the lives of people in the global south.”

In the documentary, Williams also tried to get close to Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League of Democracy who was set to assume the position of prime minister after the 1990 election. She has been under house arrest in solitary confinement almost the entire time since then, and Williams was not allowed to take pictures of her house from the road or interview many of the people in her party.

Many of the political dissidents who agreed to be interviewed had recently been released from prison. But one man who spent seven years in jail as a result of an earlier interview with Williams said he did not regret doing the interview, and thanked Williams for the opportunity to let the world know about the mistreatment and torture in Burmese prisons. One graphic segment of the movie showed the body of a political dissident who had been beaten to death by a “government mob” while walking on the street, and had stitches and bruises all across his face and head.

After the movie, Thida answered questions about the gas pipeline that runs through the southeastern part of the country, Myanmar’s relationship with Thailand, India and China, and the government’s discouragement of higher education. In response to one audience member who asked what individuals could do about the situation in Myanmar, Thida suggested spending valuable tourism dollars at small, local businesses, rather than the state-owned luxury hotels and package tours most tourists frequent.

She also warned tourists not to get the wrong impression of the country. “You might not see any guns, any beatings … but it’s still very brutal there,” she said.

Thida took the audience through a slide show of pictures and news clippings about her role in resisting the Myanmar regime. As she scrolled through the old photographs, she identified men and women who have since been imprisoned or murdered.

Last week, Ma Thida spoke on government repression in Burma and the Brown Campaign for Burma held a Burmese food sale on the Main Green to raise money for Thirst Action, an organization working to provide clean water to people affected by Cyclone Nargis, which swept through Burma in May. The Brown Campaign for Burma is also organizing a letter-writing campaign to release a friend of Thida’s from prison and is encouraging the University not to invest in companies involved with the military junta.

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