There have been a couple of special occasions for the Karen people during the time I’ve been here this year. There’s a camp of Karen soldiers right across the river now, so we hear all about these occasions – often until the early hours of the morning.
Jan. 31 was Revolution Day. According to one student I talked to, it’s also a day to remember the many soldiers who have given their lives in the desperate struggle for freedom.
Yesterday, Feb. 11, was Karen National holiday. If I understand correctly, yesterday marks the 65th anniversary of the day the Karen received a promise that they would be given rule over their own land.
The way I’ve pieced the story together so far is:
When the British colonized Burma, the Karen were glad because the Burmese had oppressed the Karen people harshly. When World War 2 occurred, the Burmese sided with the Japanese, the Karen were allied with the British. The Karen were promised that they would be given their homelands, the mountains along the Thai/Burma border. After the war, the British went back home to enjoy tea and biscuits. Burma was formed into one country – nominally a republic. The Karen people resorted to war against the Burmese government about 2 years later – a war that has continued ever since.
In 1962, there was a coup d’état that brought Burma under oppressive military control. The resulting government mixed a little bit of socialism with an overdose of superstition. The government took control of the media, and gave little regard to human rights. Many Burmese hated their government, but protests were violently suppressed. I found out about this in an interesting way:
My flights to Thailand this year were full of complications. I ended up in the Bangkok airport with my bag lost in the system. As I was searching for my bag, I met a man who lives close to my home – in the Fraser Valley of BC. He was also trying to track down his luggage. He told me that he had lived in Rangoon, Burma until 1988, when he had to flee because he had been involved in a protest. If you go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8888_Uprising you can find out a little bit about how crazy the situation was.
Recently, however, there has been hope. About 2 years ago, Burma took strides toward democratic government. It is still possible that this is all a show to ease the many trade sanctions against the country, and to let the military re-stock and re-organize for stronger attacks against the minorities. But the cease-fire with the Karen has held since then, and there has been evidence that the situation will continue to improve. The UN is making plans to shut down the refugee camps where so many of the Karen have been living in Sardine conditions. Across the river from here, in Burma, bulldozers have been busy pushing a road through to facilitate resettlement. Here in western Thailand, building has been skyrocketing as businesses are investing in the area.
I sure hope and pray that there will be genuine, enduring peace here. I’ve been learning more and more just how terrible war is. I’m so thankful that I’ve been learning second hand, and not by experience. In war, the enemy often isn’t the person shooting you – the enemy is war itself, and usually some power-hungry controlling power. The Burmese soldiers themselves are victims. To what extent they are forced to join the army, I don’t know. But I have heard that they don’t get paid enough to survive. If they don’t raid enemy villages, they starve. Their clothes are worn out. They’re probably just as sick of war as the minorities they’re fighting – but they’re trapped in circumstances.
At all levels, peace is a miracle. It may be faked at times, but true peace is a miracle. Let’s pray for it, and live for it.
By the way, Michael Ross, a teacher here, just posted about Karen National Holiday in detail at http://rosssunshineorchards.wordpress.com/posts/