Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mon People Celebrate Their Culture and Call for Democracy in Burma

February 16th, 2009 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Burma_Mon_Day_2__web_.JPGMon people all over the world celebrated their national day this week.

The day is aimed at celebrating the rich Mon culture, something that Mon people living in Burma are unable to do.

On the Thai Burma border where thousands of refugees live, the celebrations were particularly vigorous.

There the youth movement for the creation of a democratic multi-ethnic Burma is thriving.

Our reporter King Kong Janoi travelled to the Thai Burma Border to witness the celebrations and filed this report.

On the Thai Burma border Mon refugees were determined and joyful when celebrating their National Day this week.

Hundreds of Mon, many of them young people, waved flags representing their village or group.

For six decades now ethnic Mon people have been struggling for self-determination in Burma and the right to preserve their rich culture.

The history of their repression dates back more than 200 years. Today they are routinely subjected to torture, imprisonment and rape by the military regime.

Thousands have fled the country to an uneasy existence in Thailand.

Speakers of the Mon language number less than a million but there may be as many as eight million people in the world of Mon descent.

Nai Suthon is the chairman of the Mon United League, established in 1996.

“The objective of Mon National Day is to organize Mon people, to maintain our Mon Culture and custom and to spread the message from one village to another. If we don’t do that we worry that the Mon people will forget and remain silent and eventually the Mon people will disappear.”

Mon dancers entertained the crowds. Such cultural displays are usually banned inside Burma. But the military junta even allowed a small celebration within the country this year.

Nai Suthon says he supports the establishment of a federal democracy in Burma.

“We support federalism, if we isolated ourselves it is not good. If we cannot achieve federalism, I think the political crisis in Burma is not possible to be overcome; we have to struggle until what we call self determination.”

The Burmese military leadership have long suppressed minorities in an effort, they say, to build and sustain Burmese nationalism.

Whilst some Mon elders have rallied for the establishment of an independent state, many of today’s youth agree that the unity of Burma is important. A Shan youth, Sai Leik explains.

“We need federalism and democracy at the same time because we are ethnic people in Burma, not equal to mainlanders in central Burma, so we need equal between us. So if they did not consider tripartite, it may difficult to solve ethnic problem in Burma. I mean ethnic is main issue and main concern in Burma because of the country is multi-ethnic country so they must consider ethnic people, ethnic politics.”

Many ethnic groups are demanding a tripartite dialogue with the military regime, to include all democratic and ethnic groups.

But the idea is a long way from being achieved.

The military regime says it is continuing its seven steps road-map to democracy and demands that all ethnic groups lay down their arms. The road-map has been described by critics as a sham.

Most ethnic groups, including the New Mon State party are refusing to participate in the 2010 election.

And there are many Mon youth still fighting for independence.

Mon Youth Nai Chan Jit says democracy without consideration of ethnic diversity is meaningless in Burma.

“This is different religious background, different language, different culture. If you just give them democracy and let speak only Burmese language I pretty much sure, they will fight back again.”

But Chan Jit also says it is impossible for all of Burma’s ethnic peoples to be independent.

“We also need to look at geographical location of the country, the country is between China and India which is very giant and very big so we can not properly survive if only small group like Mon and Shan success and live independently so we have to join together but with some guarantee for their rights this ethnic people only that we can solve the problem. Therefore, most people like federalism.”

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