Thursday, 25 October 2012

U Win Tin: We Are Non-Violent, All The Time

In 1989 he was sentenced to prison for the first time. Without any valid proof of having committed a crime. He was released in September 2008, almost twenty years later. Even though he does not see it that way himself: he did not want to be released out of pity for his old age, but only on the basis of the charges against him. This is one of the reasons why he still wears his blue prison shirt. He may be outside the prison walls, but is still not free to do as he wants in his country.
U Win Tin, one of Burma’s most well-known journalists and opposition leader and people’s hero Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s right hand. Famous inside and outside of Burma: across the world, many people campaigned for his release. He is known as Burma’s longest serving political prisoner. He does not agree with this, though: “There are many young people who spend more than twenty years in jail and who are hardly known by people.”

He spent almost twenty years in one of Burma’s most notorious prisons: Insein prison in Rangoon. He was kept in isolation and even in former dog cells for long times in a row. He kept himself sane by writing poetry and by solving mathematical issues. He is 80 years old now and his health is not good; because of a lack of medical care during his incarceration, existing medical complaints worsened. He suffers badly from asthma, underwent a heart operation last August, suffered from spondylitis in his spine, had dental problems after his teeth were bashed out of his mouth and he was refused dental prostheses for years and his eyesight is bad. But from the moment he was released, he resumed his old duties for the opposition party NLD (National League for Democracy). In his own words: “I am not bedridden so I can walk. But anyhow, I work everyday and I meet people and I talk with the media. Sometimes I am tired. But I continue.”
A brave man with a vision and a dream of a free Burma. A comparison with South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero and former president Nelson Mandela comes to mind. But there is one profound difference: U Win Tin’s struggle is purely non-violent. He believes this is also part of the character of the Burmese people. I ask him whether he thinks that maybe at some point, violence will be neccessary to create change in Burma.
“I do not think it is neccessary to use violence because people in Burma are really – because of their religion – mild and very docile. Their will, their desire is not to use the violent way. Even to use a violent word is frowned upon in Burmese society. The people like to be very polite and very quiet and they do not express their will in a violent way.
I think the non-violent way is possible. There might be some violence, or a violent phase in our struggle. Ofcourse the ruling power in the country is too big: there is a very strong army and they have modernised and spent a lot of money on the military. They have built up their military power over the years. One army regiment is like 1000 people or something like that. They are very modernised, they live in big houses, own plantations and inside their compounds there might be some factories. So they are very strong you see among the people. Ofcourse the soldiers themselves are suffering too. But they are suffering much less than the ordinary people. They earn more money and they have more facilities.”
He then elaborates on the violent suppression of the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
“The military is very strong and suddenly they will shoot, even the monks. All the people are giving homage to the monks, but they shoot them. In 2007 monks were shot for no reason. Even in the time of colonial rule there was political movement by the monks, political demonstrations and so on. But nowadays, say for instance in 2007, the monks are non-violently and non-politically rallying against the government by just reciting the ‘metta suttra’, which is about loving kindness. And still they were shot. They are still unsure how many monks were killed. People believe more than 100 were killed
People are shocked by this and and do not like it.
We are non violent all the time. We go out to the streets but we never use violence. I just think it is not in the Burmese people’s will to use violence. It is not their style of expressing their will, political thinking and their opinions. People are very non violent now. But maybe tomorrow, I don’t know…”

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Sat 10 Nov 2012
BABSEA 2nd Annual Access To Justice Public Interest Fair
"justify">Get information and help support local community-based organizations, build a network, and find out about job and volunteer opportunities at this fair showcasing the work of NGOs working in Southeast Asia.
Where: Kantary Hills Hotel, 44 Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 12, Chiang Mai
Time: 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
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