In Loving Memory of Uncle Eugene

 

In February 2002, at NRP (National Reconciliation Program) office in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Kao Waoís Editor Cham Toik requested Dr. Chao Tzang Yawnghwe to tell about his experience and expectation.  The interview was released by Kao Wao News Issue No. 11 on February 26, 2002.

 

 

Interview:

 

AN EVENING WITH DR. CHAO TZANG YAWNGHWE

 

Kao Wao recently requested Dr. Chao Tzang Yawnghwe, the Advisory Board member of the United Nationalities League for Democracy-Liberated Area, to take time out from his busy schedule to talk about his life experiences as an activist and freedom fighter. Graduated with a Bachelorís Degree from Rangoon University and tutored English from 1960-63, when General Ne Win seized power in a military coup in 1962, Chao Tzang became one of the leading founders and served in the Shan resistance movement of the Shan State Army from 1963-1977.

 

When resettled in Canada, he attended the University of British Columbia and completed a Masterís degree and Ph.D. in political science. Being the son of the former President of the Union of Burma, Sao Shwe Thaike, Dr. Chao Tzang is committed to social justice, democracy and freedom for Shan State and Burma and has years of hands-on experience in the political arena.

 

Today he works with the Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee (ENSCC), the Strategy Planning Committee (SPC), and also heads the Program Team of the NRP (National Reconciliation Program).

 

Question: Your experience being an ethnic nationality in Burma?

 

CTY:  Personally I have had no problem. I am not obsessed with ethnic identity although I am a Shan nationalist in the sense that I consider it my duty to fight for the Shan people. The Shan people are cultured, peaceful, pious, humble, and aspire only to live quietly as dignified human beings, not subject to oppression by anyone.  They have been unable to do so for more than fifty years.

 

Ethnic nationalism is by definition narrow. It is like racism. It is ugly. I believe that everyone must fight against ethnic nationalism, especially chauvinism or ethnic-racism. The Burma Army and its leaders are ethnic-chauvinists. This is why the whole country is suffering in so many ways for so many years.

 

Some of us choose to fight Burman ethnic-chauvinism with ethnic-patriotism. It is necessary to do so. But one must be careful because the politics of ethnicity can lead to confusion and result in chaotic conflict - and when this happens, the ordinary and decent folks suffer. In chaotic conflict, the people do not win.

 

Most likely the oppressor regime will win because it will manipulate all the chaos and confusion, and it will create and encourage conflicts, the more the better.

 

It is a duty of everyone to love his people, to treasure his ethnic identity. But one should be able to think strategically, to see the big picture of any situation and/or the struggle. It is not useful in any way to be obsessed only with ethnic patriotism.

 

In addition, one has to consider the fact that ethnic patriotism is a useful ideological weapon for politicians and leaders aspiring to be an autocrat or dictator. Slobodan Milosovik was such a leader, as was Adolf Hitler. Ne Win is also of this type. He used Burman ethnic chauvinism to take away the rights and freedom of everyone and to make himself an autocratic de-facto king - thereon destroying the lives of the people of Burma.

 

Q: Your experiences in the Shan armed movement?

 

CTY:  My experience in the Shan State Army/SSA was very eventful. This is more so because we operated in the interior, in the frontlines - far away from all borders. The SSA did not have any border bases, unlike other resistance armies. We were always surrounded by the enemy.

 

We - I and my comrades - built up quite successfully an armed movement and organization that was not wholly dominated by military officers and men. They had to respect those serving in the civil administrative capacity, and were not allowed to interfere in administrative matters. Also, the people were organized into political, youth, women, self-help groups and organizations, and they were also responsible for local security.

 

Discipline in the SSA at that time was very strict. Soldiers and officers were not regarded as superior to the people, or as more patriotic than others. They were not above the law. An army that thinks of itself as a national vanguard, as the savior of the nation, as more patriotic than anyone - this kind of army is a threat to everyone.

 

Q: How you handle the differences between armed struggle and non-violence?

 

CTY:  As noted by many thinkers and democratic leaders - including Daw Aung San Suukyi - if you win by violent means, you will rule with the same violence-prone mind-set when you win.

 

If we look at successful armed and violent revolutions all over the world and throughout history, such revolutions "eat their own sons and daughters", and the best and the brightest are among the first to be eliminated by the revolution. Because the brightest and the best are no longer around, the revolution invariably becomes corrupt, tyrannical, and self-serving.

 

Armed struggle is a science. Shooting up and killing lowly or low-ranking enemy (government) soldiers is not science. It is also not armed struggle. It is shooting and killing without strategic thrust.

 

For example, the Burmese communist, CPB, waged this kind of "armed struggle". It said its aim is to kill a lot of Ne Win's soldier - as many as possible. The CPB did kill a lot of lowly enemy soldiers, but it was directionless fighting, a war without strategy and direction. In the end the CPB was defeated.

 

Therefore to wage an armed struggle, the first requirement is to have the ability to fight strategically, ie., to use one's army - and brain power --to change the strategic situation, to immobilize the enemy.

 

As a negative example, I would like to point out to the way war was waged by the CPB. They concentrated on storming government garrisons mainly in the jungles and mountains. It was successful and the CPB killed a lot of lowly soldiers. But there was no strategic value to their victories. Ne Win had a lot of low-ranking soldiers to waste.

 

The CPB almost never staged effective ambushes on army convoys on the roads, near towns - the nearer the better. When a large convoy is ambushed and destroyed near a town, this shakes up the enemy's morale very badly. Fear grips the top officers, and they canít hide their defeat from the public.

 

Fighting strategically therefore is the key. War is not about killing. War is about brainpower, and it is won firstly up here, in the head. War is about psychology, making the enemy feeling weak although they may be many times stronger, more numerous.

 

As many philosophers of warfare say, war is politics. At the heart of war is politics. If one loses the political war, the armed might that one possess, no matter how mighty, becomes useless. Ten, twenty battlefield victories can be neutralized, cancelled-out, by one political move.

 

Q: What motivated you to carry on the movement?

 

CTY:  I donít like what the military has done to the country and the people. Military rule is a cancer. And military rule was not necessary, and it is still not necessary. In fact, military rule is never needed nor necessary in any country.

 

It is the responsibility of everyone - every good sons and daughters of all ethnic segments in Burma - to remove this cancer from the body of our politics and our society.

 

I believe we can do this. This is why I am still in the fight. If I did not believe that this putrid cancer can be removed, I would not be doing what I am doing now.

 

Q: Why is the State Constitution so important for the future of Burma? How far along is the Shan State constitution?

 

CTY:  State constitutions are at the heart of any federal arrangement. Federalism means the de-centralization of power so that power is distributed to the people, the local communities, through power structures that empower the people.

 

No one can dispute the fact that the Union or Pyidaungzu was founded because the Panglong Accord was signed in 1947. This country which was created jointly by Burman and non-Burman leaders and rulers in 1947 at Panglong, was granted independence a year later, in 1948. So, the Panglong Accord and its principles or the Panglong spirit is at the very heart of our past, present, and future.

 

The Panglong vision - shared by all non-Burman leaders and by U Aung San -was to establish a democratic, federal Pyidaungzu based on federalism: an arrangement based on the equality of states and their self-determination. Further, no one state was envisioned as being the mother-state (Pyi-Ma), superior to or above other states.

 

One goal of the state constitution drafting (SDC) process is to make leaders, activists, intellectuals, and politicians, etc., examine and explore their own future, their goals, visions, and to work out among themselves the kind of state they would like to live in.

 

When they begin the exercise of actually drafting their state constitutions, they will not only begin to understand federalism, democracy, etc., but to also understand how the people can be empowered to govern themselves through their local governments, their state governments, and the federal government. They will also be compelled to think seriously about ethnic self-determination and will also be compelled to think about how to incorporate this legitimate aspiration of all ethnic groups in their state constitution.

 

In short, the state constitution drafting process is both learning and a working process, and it is needed if the political slogans are to be translated into concrete and rational reality.

 

The Shan State constitution drafting process is in the bottom-up consulting stage. The drafting commission thinks that this is the most important stage, more important than the actual drawing up of the document.

 

I think the Shan drafting commission is on the right track. Consulting with the people (bottom-up), consulting among leaders and political parties, consulting between activists and cadres, discussions on constitutional matters - they are very crucial. The next stage will be discussions between the different drafting committees about the articles, clauses, provisions, etc. of the drafts (or "model" constitutions).

 

Q:  Why do you think the Panglong spirit is important?  What are the challenges ahead?

 

CTY:  As indicated above, the Panglong Accord gave birth to the Union/Pyidaungzu, and it also led to the obtaining of independence. That is why Panglong is important.

 

The Panglong spirit is important because it provides a solid and historical basis for democracy, peace, and real people's power. It is because our leaders aspired to these goals in 1947 - fifty five years ago - that they met at Panglong. The goals they aspired to, and which the people also wanted, is not fulfilled up till now, today. This is sad.

 

The challenges are many - basically because the military and successive military regimes have done much violence to the Panglong spirit, although they pay shallow lip-service to Panglong and the Panglong spirit - every year without fail since 1962. Very hypocritical.

 

It is most likely that the Panglong spirit will be a very hotly contested in the dialogue, if dialogue happens. The military camp will oppose federalism because it is opposed to the idea of equal status for all states.

 

Furthermore, there are still a lot of people, Burmans and non-Burmans alike, who do not understand federalism. Some non-Burmans like to equate federalism with Burmanization or being dominated by the Burman or by the Burman mother-state (Pyi-Ma). Some Burmans equate federalism with separatism, secession, balkanization, and so on. These elements can cause a lot of problems and also inflame emotions. This would be dangerous.

 

Q: How do you want to see the future of Burma; the future of Shan people?

 

CTY:  Like everyone, I would like to see a Union of Burma as a peaceful and prosperous place: a country where the people of all ethnic-belonging can live in freedom under the protection of the law and the constitution - of both the Union and state constitutions.

 

I would like to believe that the future of the Shan people is bright and hopeful. If Shan State leaders are politically skillful, and if they are also wise, there is no reason why the Shan State cannot become the most prosperous state within the new, really federal, really democratic Union. Society in the Shan State will and can become the most free, democratic, harmonious society on earth.

 

On the other hand, if Shan leaders are witless, emotion-driven, hot-headed, and do not know or understand politics, ie., if they are politically illiterate and intellectually infantile, I fear life will be worse. It will be an endless hell, a slide down an endless slippery slope.

 

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