Mahn Sha: “Sixty Years in Vain”

By The Irrawaddy 15 February 2015

Days before his assassination on February 14, 2008 Karen National Union leader Mahn Sha spoke to The Irrawaddy about Burma’s prospects for peace.

Speaking on February 11, 2008, the day before the 61st Union Day—a holiday intended to celebrate unity among Burma’s ethnic peoples—Mahn Sha argued that after sixty years of efforts to impose unity by force, the country must restore democracy and introduce a federal system of government to halt its ongoing disintegration.

Question: Tomorrow is Union Day, but it is said that there is still no solidarity among Burma’s ethnic nationalities. As a Karen leader, what would you like to say about that?

Answer: Before independence was declared [in 1948], all ethnic nationalities, all people and politicians representing them, tried very hard to gain genuine independence. But when the time came, we did not get what we expected.

After gaining independence, the people of Burma, including ethnic minorities, did not gain any freedom. People with power just used it as they liked. As a result, the country has become one of the poorest and least secure in the world.

So sixty years have been wasted in vain, and instead of prosperity, we have fallen into poverty because of the military dictatorship. There is no security. That’s why we want to establish a democracy and federal union, which is the best form of government to bring all the ethnic nationalities together.

We want a government elected by the people that can guarantee that kind of system. In other words, we want political change. We want to establish a truly independent, truly united country. The country will never prosper if it continues like this.

There is no [economic] security. There is only unemployment. There are many who must leave the country to find jobs. Educated people go abroad and workers abandon their homes to find jobs in neighboring countries. There is no development at all. So I think political change must come at once.

Q: But ethnic minorities are also disunited, as we can see within ceasefire groups, armed resistance groups and political organizations. It is also said that there is no solidarity among different ethnic groups.

A: The country has disintegrated because of the ethnic chauvinism of the military dictatorship. If there were no military dictatorship and no ethnic chauvinism, and the country adopted democracy and a federal system, it would be peaceful, united and developed like other countries. I can say that for sure.

The military dictatorship has caused the whole country to disintegrate. But many ethnic nationalities are working together in opposition. We have a lot of political agreements with other peoples and their representatives.

As we cannot wait for the regime to act, we have been drafting a federal constitution. We are cooperating with one another to abolish the dictatorship. The main cause of the country’s disintegration is the dictatorship. If it fell from power today, the country would be united today. We believe that.

Q: Do you mean that the regime is the cause of all the disunity among ethnic nationalities?

A: Yes. They create disunity so they can continue to rule the country by force. They think that if the country is peaceful and stable, there will lose their rationale for holding onto power.

[Some have argued that] the country would fall apart if the junta was no longer in power—that Burma would be like Bosnia. But it is totally untrue. It is totally unfounded. In fact, the opposite is true: if the dictatorship lost its power, the country would be more united.

Q: As a representative of the Karen people, do you have any other comments you would like to make on the occasion of Union Day?

A: We cannot count on the regime to bring democracy or a federal system. To achieve a genuine union, all the peoples of Burma, and the politicians and organizations representing them, must work together with firm spirit and unity.

We must abolish the dictatorship and its policy of ethnic chauvinism. We must establish a genuine democracy and federal system by ourselves, with our own hands.

We must be determined, and we must take practical measures to achieve our goal.