Burma, a Revolutionary Crucible

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Transcribed from the 18 July 2015 episode of This is Hell! Radio and printed with permission. Edited for space and readability. Listen to the whole interview:

“In Egypt in 2011, they were where Burma was in 1988. Burma has a very long history, now, of resistance to military rule, and different ways to go about that. It’s not just about getting millions of people into the streets, that’s not good enough. What do you do next?”

Chuck Mertz: Award-winning reporter Delphine Schrank went undercover inside the military junta-ruled nation of Burma to find out how a resistance movement overcame decades of abuse, arrests, torture, and deadly violence to finally challenge the dictatorship.

Delphine, thanks for being on our show this morning.

Delphine Schrank: Thank you so much for having me, Chuck.

CM: Delphine is author of The Rebel of Rangoon: A Tale of Defiance and Deliverance in Burma. Delphine was the Burma correspondent for the Washington Post, where she was an editor and staff writer.

You write of Burma—Myanmar—as “a country whose very choice of names since 1989 bespeaks one’s political sympathies.” So what political sympathies does either name reveal? And why do you use the name Burma?

DS: There was a massive uprising in Burma in 1988 in which millions of people poured into the streets to kick out a military general called General Ne Win. And they managed to kick him out, and there was going to be a regime change, and it seemed like parliamentary democracy was on its way. But the military had never retreated to the barracks, and, in a counterrevolution, took over the country.

A junta calling itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the SLORC, took over and began twenty years of deeply repressive rule. In 1989 they changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar.

Democracy activists persisted in calling it Burma, and persisted in calling the capital city at the time Rangoon instead of Yangon. The United States recognized that; several holdouts in the West recognized that; the United Nations ended up calling it Myanmar. So ever since then, people who recognize the legitimacy of the democracy movement, the legitimacy of a political party that won elections in 1990, the National League for Democracy—they prefer to call it Burma.

As for me, I persist in calling it Burma because the protagonist of my book would prefer to call it that.Continue Reading