Sunday,2007-09-30: “Would it not be easier for the government to dissolve the people and elect another one?”
The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 527
Observing the painful events in Myanmar during the last couple of days, I am remembering June 1953, when in the German Democratic Republic – East Germany – a state where supposedly the “working class” was in charge of the power of the state – an uprising occurred, under the initial leadership of construction workers in East Berlin.
The country had experienced various difficulties, and in order to overcome them, the government had announced plans for future improvements to pacify the situation – but finally had to start to switch off electricity at peak hours to save energy costs, threatening to cut wages if the workers’ productivity would not increase.
This led to strikes and demonstrations, beyond the capital city of Berlin, also in all major industrial centers, leading to economic standstill. The government responded with military force. According to government announcements, 55 people lost their lives in the confrontations – unofficial estimates assume other figures of 250 or up to 400; 105 persons were executed during and after the events; 1,200 people were sentenced to prison.
Thirty-six years later, in 1989, another, wider people’s movement, and a different international context, brought the German Democratic Republic to an end – both halves of Germany were united.
What comes to my mind are not so much only these historical facts, but some of the comments then and now.
The internationally well known German poet and theater playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956) never wanted to write “impressive” or “emotional” pieces, but rather to encourage and to challenge the audience to think: “Nothing is more important than learning to think.”
He had been throughout his life committed to communist ideals, to be realized in “people’s democracies.” But the workers uprising in 1953, when the representatives of the state expressed their disappointment about the people – who in theory and in ideology were the fundament and base on which the whole society was built – made him deeply concerned, and made him sarcastically suggested what to do:
After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalin Boulevard
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another one?
The “Burma 8888 Uprising” – on 8 August 1988 – was crushed on 18 September 1988. It is estimated that several thousand people lost their lives during several months of conflicts, and especially during the shootings of 18 September 1988. A military State Law and Order Restoration Council took power, and promised a restoration of the normal political order by elections two years later – to restore the power to the people.
When the elections showed that the National League for Democracy under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi won 392 of 485 seats, the State Law and Order Restoration Council decided not to trust this expression of the popular will. They did not allow the elected parliament to appoint a new government, but made another promise: the military would give up power only after leading the process to create a new constitution. As this had not yet happened, a name change – from the State Law and Order Restoration Council to the State Peace and Development Council in 1997 – marked another step on the way towards a new constitution.
Like in East Germany in 1953, the authorities of the State Peace and Development Council had to retort to the use of lethal force to assure another delay on the way to democracy.
The Ultimate Guide to Myanmar website on the Internet has also section about the National Convention, which is to create the new constitution. The last entry is from 17 November 2006.