Just another evening out with friends. One theorist, one publisher, an artist, a journalist, and someone who works on agricultural practice and sustainability in Myanmar. Books are handed out over beer. I asked for one, even though I cannot read it (yet) because I find the publishing industry fantastic in its self-sustainability. The circulation needn’t number in the millions, but there must be a critical mass. Drunken political discussions ensue. Just another night in Yangon.
This particular book, as I understand it, is a rehashing of ideas on Democracy and Social Justice, internationally sourced, but applicable to the forthcoming practices in the new Myanmar. Free speech, free press, political activism and human rights were all taboo subjects just one year ago. Taboo in the eyes of the government anyway. Still these books were published and distributed. Now that there have been the relinquishing of certain laws the fervor increases ten-fold. Every time I meet a group of friends, someone hands me a book.
I wonder what Myanmar will look like as a post-militaristic society and I often find my mind wandering to this eclectic group of intellectuals, who have been living and working under such a regime for decades. Did they really flourish under censorship or will their voice only strengthen with new passions once they are free to write, read, speak and publish whatever they desire?
Yesterday, I was in the movie theatre at the European Film Festival and an image came up of the Myanmar flag. We all had to stand up as the anthem played. No one sang. Everyone looked very serious. Is this the sign of the mistrust of the changes occurring in Myanmar today? Can they be proud of a country under such circumstances?
There are rumors of President Thein Sein being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Stories in the newspaper about the changing Myanmar identities. The people continue to work, to write, to speak out. I fear the West creates a misreading of these post-colonial, post-dictatorial nations and culture while at the same time misrepresenting ourselves as some shining example of what they “could be.” I can only hope that books such as this one will be interpreted in a localized light. How can democracy and social justice be applied here in Myanmar? And what does it mean for the future of the people here?