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Rangoon's military junta wooing Bud
Subject: Rangoon's military junta wooing Buddhust monks now (The Asian Age, 10/12/96.)
Rangoon's military junta wooing Buddhist monks now
The Asian Age, 10/12/96.
Rangoon, Dec. 9:
Widely ostracised by Western governments and opposed by its
own people for its human rights violations, Burma's military
regime is turning to Buddhist in the hope of winning over the
country's thousands of Buddhist monks.
However, seven years after soldiers killed several dissident
Buddhist monks and arrested hundreds more while brutally
putting down a pro-democracy movement, Burma's clergy is
still wary of the generals. On the streets of Rangoon, the
evidence of government tinkering with religion is everywhere.
An example is the glittering, golden 11 th-century Shwedagon
pagoda the heart of Rangoon which is being renovated at much
cost and other spruced up for both local and foreign visitors. It
was not too long ago that the same building was desecrated
beyond the expectations of this predominantly Theravada
Buddhist nation. In July 1989, the ruling regime also known as
the State Law and Order Restoration Council, erected
barricades in order to search all pilgrims.
The ensuing unrest resulted in the death of 11 monks and 17
students and the five-day shutdown of the pagoda. Slorc's more
recent pampering of the clergy -- through increased donations
to temples special privileges to monks and other favours -- is
seen to be part of its "alternative strategy" aimed at weaning
away the religious order front "wrong" political influences.
Buddhist monks, through Gen. Ne Win's military rule from the
late 1960s to 1988, have supported democratic movements, and
in the 1990 elections, they openly supported the National
League for Democracy, (the party of Nobel Peace Prize
laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Slorc is now trying to ensure that
this support base is finally wiped out.
Not only does Slorc hope that offering financial incentives will
lure the estimated 300,000 to 500,000 monks and nuns in the
country to their side. It is also, critics, say trying, to convince
highly-devout Buddhist population that it intends to protect its
religious institutions and leaders.
Daily, the regime's state controlled television station beams out
broadcasts of senior and military leaders visiting and praying in
temples across the country, and meeting religious leaders.
Trying to improve its badly tarnished reputation is another
reason for this "new gentle face" to an otherwise repressive
regime which has killed and arrested scores of people since
taking power in 1988. "The only purpose of such activities,"
say Zou Win, a university-educated taxi-driver in Rangoon, "is
to try to show the people that the tatmadaw (armed forces) is
very religious. No one believes them. The people know that
the main purpose is to stop the monks' political leanings." To
those who refuse the carrot, there is always the stick.
Since 1988, or two years before the national polls were the
NLD won an overwhelming majority but could not get Slorc to
give up power, monks, in Burma have been systematically
tortured and abused by the regime. (IPS)