Politics

On this subject, I limit myself to the history of Myanmar since independence in 1948. As can be seen from the photo montage, there are four people who played a dominant role during this time. 

General Aung San (1915-1947) is often referred to as the ‘Liberator’ of Burma. And rightly so, because it was he who fought the British as the leader of the Thirty Comrades. After the war he took over the leadership of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) and achieved independence through clever negotiations in London. Unfortunately, he was not allowed to reap the fruits of his efforts: he was murdered on July 19, 1947 (martyr’s day) at the instigation of a political rival, Galon U Saw. His picture still adorns the homes of many Burmese and can be seen again on the country’s banknotes after a long break. Aung San was married to Daw Khin Kyi. They had four children, one of whom died in childhood. Two are still alive today, including his only daughter Aung San Suu Kyi (see below). He was held in high esteem not only by his own Bamar people, but also by the ethnic groups of the country. Last but not least, this enabled him to conclude the Panglong Agreement in 1947, which established the Union of Burma. His death was a tragedy for the country. Many Burmese still believe today that the country would have had a different history if he wouldn’t have died at the age of 32.

U Nu (1907-1995) was a devout Buddhist and one of the Thirty Comrades, Aung San’s companions. After the leader’s assassination, U Nu was appointed the head of the AFPFL party. In 1948 he became the country’s first prime minister. His term of office was marked by civil wars. There were times when the government controlled little more than the capital Rangoon. But thanks to the capable commander in chief of the armed forces, General Ne Win, the rebels were pushed back. Due to domestic political problems, he was forced to resign in 1958 by Ne Win, who headed the so-called Caretaker Government until 1960. Then U Nu took over again. But his second term in office was marred by problems, too. His efforts to make Buddhism the state religion, made him many enemies. In 1962 Ne Win suddenly struck and U Nu disappeared into oblivion. In 1988 he hit the headlines again in the wake of the popular uprising. But his time was over.

General Ne Win (1911-2002) was one of the Thirty Comrades, too. After independence, he assumed supreme command of the army and managed to restore the government’s grip on power over the country. From 1958 to 1960 he headed the Caretaker Government. In 1962, with a military coup, he took control of Burma, which he effectively held until 1988. Even after the popular uprising that year, he continued to pull the strings behind the scenes for quite some time. I was told that Ne Win was quite popular with the people early in his second term. However, when he embarked on the Burmese road to socialism, he lost a lot of his popularity because it ruined the country’s economy. He died under house arrest in Yangon in 2002. His role is viewed very differently among my friends and acquaintances. Some consider him to be Old Nick in person, while others hold a good opinion of him. Still others claim that he had honorable intentions but that things went completely wrong. In general, the negative assessment predominates. His biography written by Robert Taylor is very interesting.

From 1988 to 2010 the country was ruled by a military junta under the command of General Than Shwe. His government ignored the result of the 1988 elections (see below) and ordered that a new constitution must be drawn up before the next vote. In 2005 he moved the capital to Naypyidaw. In 2008 the constitution was approved by the people in a referendum and in 2010 the first (semi-democratic) elections took place. The first president was the ex-military Thein Sein, who followed a cautious opening policy.

Aung San Suu Kyi (* 1945) is the only daughter of the independence hero Aung San (see above) who was murdered in 1947. She spent about half of her life outside of her home country. Her mother was the Burmese ambassador to India. After graduating from high school in Delhi, she went to England in 1964, where she studied philosophy and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1967. In 1972 she married the English Tibetologist Michael Aris (1946-1999), with whom she has two sons. In 1984 she published a book about her father. In 1988 her mother, who lived in Rangoon, became seriously ill and she went there to care for her. As a result, she was drawn into the turmoil of the popular uprising and engaged in the fight against the military junta. Her party, the National League for Democracy, emerged as the clear winner in the 1990 elections. However, the military junta refused to recognize the election result and she spent many years under house arrest. In 1991 she received the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2000 I missed the opportunity to meet her personally: The German ambassador, Dr. Haas, had invited the lady and several resident German business people (including myself) for lunch. Fearing repression from the military government, I canceled my participation. As I found out later, that was not a bad idea, because she insulted my compatriots and accused them of collaborating with the military regime. In 2010 the first semi-democratic elections took place in Myanmar, which were boycotted by her party. In 2012 she was elected to parliament. Her party emerged as the clear winner in the 2015 elections. Because she was married to a foreigner and her children are British citizens, she was not allowed to become president. Instead, she took the position of State Counselor, which she still holds today. The former ‘democracy icon’ has been viewed more and more critically since she took office because she allegedly does not distance herself sufficiently from the military leadership. Yes, even defend them at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. At least she can be sure of one hundred percent support of all Burmese regarding the expulsion of the so-called Rohingyas from Arakan / Rakhine. In the 2020 elections she again led her party to a convincing victory and continues to serve as State Counselor.