#12 2014

Prison memoirs

“The girls and the women here wanted to hear about my time in freedom outside the prison walls, but I could not wait to share my stories about my freedom inside the prison walls.”

Ma Thida is a Burmese human rights activist, author and currently chair of PEN Myanmar. In October 1993, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison for constituting “a danger to public order, and having been in contact with illegal organisations and distributing illegal literature”. She was released in 1999 on humanitarian grounds. In this issue, we publish an extract from her prison memoirs.

The systematic repression of the Rohingya minority continues

Maung Zarni is a Burmese scholar in exile. He is an expert on the political affairs of Myanmar, and currently Visiting Fellow at London School of Economics. In this article he writes about the oppression of the minority

On the precipice: Burmese literature post-censorship

How does a country's literature recover after years of mass censorship? James Byrne, poet and founder of the poetry journal The Wolf, has followed the developments in Burma for many years and he was co-editor an co-translator for 

Ludu and I

1946 saw the establishment of a regime-critical daily newspaper called Ludu. Today, it is a natural institution for dissident writers in Burma. Despite the constant pressure and threats it received over the years, Ludu has

“We aim to be the country’s most important media company”

It took 24 years for Soe Myint to return to his homeland. He spent 24 years waiting, but also keeping busy with his hard and dedicated work in establishing a free and independent news service reporting on the situation in

Two steps forward—two steps back?

Following the student protests in Burma in 1988, an independent magazine called The Irrawaddy was founded in exile in Thailand, and quickly became a respected source for news from the closed country. Now the magazine has

Wash your hands

The pseudonym Pandora is one the most influential poets in Burma today. In 2012, she published an anthology entitled Tuning: An Anthology of Myanmar Women Poets, which is the first book of its kind presenting female Burmese

The Kachin: Culture of the mountain lords

One of the problems shaking the state of Myanmar can be found in the ethnic conflicts that have arisen in the wake of the faltering dictatorship. While the majority of the population speaks Burmese, at least one hundred

What does PEN Myanmar mean for the country?

PEN was once a kind of social club for authors. The task is currently to found a PEN centre in Myanmar that can map the country's literature and its degree of freedom of expression, which plays a central role in democratisation. However, this may

Voices from Burma

It is easy to forget that Burma, or Myanmar as it is now called, is a huge country. It is smaller than Turkey but bigger in size than France. It is a country that is home to sixty million people, and the country is unusually rich in natural resources. Despite this it has long been a country closed to the outer world—in this respect somewhat similar to North Korea. To state that an opening up towards democratic reform came suddenly to this nation is both self-evident and a bit of an exaggeration. When Burma—or Myanmar—used to be mentioned in international media it was often in connection with how in Aung San Sun Kyi’s days the political opposition was being harassed, or how she herself was sentenced to yet another period of house arrest. There has always been a democratic movement surrounding Aung San Suu Kyi, one that can count its beginnings back to 1988 to the student demonstrations that were brutally suppressed by the military regime. Since then, in the quiet, there has been a resilient and persistent opposition movement at work.

How might this new opening up towards democratic rule be understood? In a highly interesting text here on the Dissident Blog, James Byrne, an expert on Burma, writes about how the growing Chinese economy is making an imprint on the whole region, and that this economic superpower in the East is inspiring counter-reactions even from staunchly unwilling and authoritarian regimes. It would of course be an extremely happy outcome if merely economic growth in the region were to automatically result in the development of democratic movements—reality though is not quite that simple.