Wednesday, September 26, 2007
At Least We're Free
We may bemoan the state of British politics, and politicians; we may wonder at our leaders' feet of clay, and concern ourselves with the wretched state of parts of our land; but at least we are free. The protestors of Burma, of course, have no such luxury. They may have a leader of genuine heroism and stature, on the scale of the once long-imprisoned Nelson Mandela, but that leader's thoughts, hopes and inspiration are locked behind, so it seems, prison walls.
We who treat democracy in such a cavalier fashion should look humbly and admiringly at the Burmese protestors. Every day they make their stand brings the likelihood of violent oppression ever closer, yet they carry on. The first protestors have been killed, but that tragedy hasn't intimidated others off the streets. In Britain, Gordon Brown worries that a November election is bad news because bad weather and dark nights will keep voters away from polling booths. Bad weather! Dark nights! We are a spoilt country indeed.
Burma is a famously closed country, but the 21st. century seems truly a people's century, a world without communications borders. The BBC has published several emailed and blogged accounts of events inside Burma on their news pages, while the excellent Reporters without Borders site gives a comprehensive account of the repression experienced by those who would report Burma's fate from within.
Gordon Brown and David Miliband's 'New Wave' foreign policy, meanwhile, struggles to cope with much more than verbal condemnations; yet British firms still invest in Burma, and France hinders the EU's approach because of its oil interests there. The UN, of course, exhibits its own particular uselessness in such a situation. Confronted with the heroism of ordinary and oppressed people in an oft ignored country, western leaders seem both irrelevant and banal.
10.45pm: On Newsnight, the ever watchable Paxman has just challenged French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner with this very point - your position would be more tenable if you weren't the biggest western investor in Burma! He seems to have got Kouchner to promise an embargo on investment.