Film on Burma highlights oppression by government, discussion urges engagement
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At latest UNLV Saltman Center event, journalist says civilian leadership in Myanmar is a sham
One journalist and scholar argues that military leaders have maintained power in Myanmar in part because Western interests have not motivated intervention in the region, which he said is not strategically important to states like the U.S.
Michael Adler, a Woodrow Wilson Center public policy scholar, joined The Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution in its presentation of the internationally acclaimed documentary “Burma VJ” on Friday, in the latest installment of the organization’s Peace in the Desert Video Screening Series. The screening and subsequent discussion raised questions about the role of the West in the small Southeast Asian country.
“Burma VJ” follows a group of Myanmar reporters and their underground efforts to document the country’s oppressive government. The bulk of the film is comprised of protest footage from Rangoon, the country’s largest city.
Until recently, a military junta ruled Myanmar (formerly Burma). In November 2010, the country’s military regime gave way to a civilian-controlled democracy by holding democratic elections.
However, this new government is merely a sham, argued Adler, a correspondent for the news agency Agence France-Presse. He covered the 1988 Burma uprising.
“The civilian government is basically the military officers changing their uniforms for civilian clothing,” Adler said during his post-screening commentary and question-and-answer session.
He argued that the country’s geographic location causes a lack of international attention on its internal issues. Myanmar is located directly south of China, which supplies the military junta with weapons, making diplomacy tricky for the Obama administration, according to Adler.
“Because Burma is not part of a strategic area where it would have an influence on the outcome of the region, the military leaders who seized power in 1962 have been able to stay in power and have these kind[s] of crackdowns,” he said. “That’s why we don’t have any U.S. planes bombing Burma. We don’t have any actions being taken to get the military leaders out.”
Still, Adler seemed hopeful.
“Fortunately, President [Barack] Obama and Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton are trying to raise awareness on Burma,” he said, praising the U.S. system of representative government that allows citizens to contact representatives directly about world issues that concern them.
Jean Sternlight, a professor at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law and director of the Saltman Center, said she hoped that the documentary might serve as a learning experience for those in attendance.
“In all parts of the world we might face similar issues,” Sternlight said. “Right now we’re fortunate not to have an oppressive government here, but things can change very quickly and we need to think about what could happen here and what has happened elsewhere.”
Sternlight explained that the goal of the screening and discussion was to equip attendees with the information they would need to take a stand on issues in Myanmar and elsewhere.
“We want to inform people about a part of the world that is troubled,” Sternlight said. “We hope to encourage people to start thinking about those issues and trying to work for positive changes.”
Contact Nolan Lister at firstname.lastname@example.org.