Almost 200 million people tuned into the dystopian world of Eurovision last Saturday where they spurred on a Ukrainian song called 1944 about the persecution of the Tartar in Crimea under Stalin. To mark up the contrast of the world that we live in, there is a population of just over a million, 1 million, a 0.005% of the viewership of the Eurovision song contest, in Burma who right now, not in the past, not some history tale sung by a glamorous pop star, not a YouTube clip you watch, but right now, who are going through the same if not worse, persecution.
Since last month, when the US Embassy released a standard press statement which just so happened to include reference to the Rohingya people of Arakan state in Burma, riots and chaos broke out in Yangon at the use of the term Rohingya. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs even stepped in and ordered the US Embassy to change the statement and eliminate the term Rohingya from the statement, claiming that Burma does not recognise the term Rohingya. NLD spokespersons scrambled to denounce the use of the term Rohingya whilst human rights organisations tried to balance the equation by urging Western powers and leaders to ‘Call Me Rohingya ; an online campaign which has been gathering some notable attention.
Rewind over 20 years ago when Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for winning an election where she promised to promote equality, to dim the tensions between ethnic groups and to lead Burma away from military dictatorship. The 1990’s and the years after would see the terrible catastrophe of the Tutsi and Hutu conflict in the Rwanda genocide. Those years would witness the ethnic cleansing on Europe’s doorstep in Yugoslavia where we would wake up to the atrocity of the Srebenica massacre. You would think the political world would have woken up and changed the way it treated its citizens.
Picture this: We are in a post modern world where freedoms and liberties are no longer fought for, they are assumed. We are made up of a society where the world has become smaller and we can within a few seconds connect with friends, family and even strangers thousands of miles afar, oceans apart and cultural barriers away. In our world, our choices over our food, our dress and attire, our language that we speak, our sexual orientations, our choice of divinity, our weird and wonderful habits and our diversity are celebrated. Its 2016 and whether you are in London, Manilla or Jeddah, we can communicate in a language that we all understand. We regularly celebrate love and affection. Sometimes we even go ahead and appropriate one another’s cultures and traditions. And yet, when there is a genocide occurring right before our eyes, when the rights, basic rights, like the right to a name, to their religion, to their language are taken away from a community it is too easy to turn away. This is the post modern free and liberal world we live in today; filters and hashtags galore, morals and justice vacant.
At the end of March Suu Kyi and her NLD government took power to replace the military Dictatorship in Burma. She and her party were voted in on a mandate of equality and fairness. She was even lauded for her fight for human rights and recognised as a Nobel Peace Laureate. And when she was not allowed to run for the premier position in Burma’s government, she announced she would be ‘above the President’.
Recent days have seen reports that the Aung Minglar camp, a ghetto internment camp for Rohingya refugees, is being emptied and threatened. The US has announced that the majority of its sanctions on Burma will remain in place. The rest of the Western world has remained quiet. There was a peaceful march in Yangon last Saturday which sought peaceful ties amongst all of Burma's population. It has been reported that those who marched are being charged by the new Government.
It’s strange that a Europe which remembers the Tartar of 1944 through Eurovision, a Europe whose memory of Srebencia less than a generation ago, a Europe whose borders have long queues of refugees vying to get away from tyrant governments, a Europe who regularly intercedes where ‘democracy’ falters, a Europe who champions human rights and liberty can be so blind to a modern day genocide.
Aung San Suu Kyi famously said ‘use your liberty, to promote ours’. The world listened. Now the Rohingya are asking for much less. They are simply asking to be called ‘Rohingya’