A boy looks at the site of the new port of the city of Sittwe (located in Arakan state in northwest Burma)
The editorial intent : defining the topic
Democracy as a transversal notion
Burma will have general elections in November this year. Five years ago, most observers of the country have been surprised by the direction taken by some of the Generals of the former military junta, leading the country toward a disciplined democracy.
Today many believe that the reforms stopped on the way or had another meaning than to build a better country for each and every one.
In contrast at the same time, the very idea of democracy is mistreated in Europe and elsewhere. One witnesses the rise of nationalist values and religious extremism.
Bring back the debate to its essence, requires to find the right distance in the observation of these phenomena, in a country so far from codes and culture of western.
This observation project of the Burmese democratic transition has this ambition. It is also to give to think about:
– Generalized aspirations of peoples to democratic values in early twenty-first century.
– The road ahead for Burmese society to approach it, knowing that it just finished 50 years of dictatorship.
During the campaign for elections in 2012, the headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) is boiling.
An ingenuous and accurate tone
The reality is so complex that the choice is to use a candid tone to first trace the outline.
If democracy is the least of evils in terms of governance, its practice stricto sensus has a taste of utopia, a taste that freedom fighters in Burma only know too well, given the big distance they have to travel to reach it. This distance is precisely what galvanises them to search for practical solutions to reach their objectives.
The BURMA2015 project is made of two complementary entities : a web documentary and a documentary.
The web documentary focuses on observing a few actors involved in the civil society. Through their actions, one focuses on three political aspects that need improvement before the 2015 elections : the establishment of the rule of law, the amendment of the 2008 Constitution and setting up a nationwide and durable peace.
The documentary with a personal tone, will be a journey of this period from the opening in 2011 to after national elections in 2015.
What is democracy ?
Moving from dictatorship to democracy doesn’t happen overnight. Democracy is not something you claim, it is something you build, step by step and only facts can prove its existence.
The first question that the author asked himself was : what are we talking about when talking about democracy?
In Asia for instance, does community life and community management bear more weight than individual freedom?
Does that mean that being democratic simply equates to satisfying the majority to the detriment of the minorities?
To try and answer these questions, one needs to define democracy in hollows, meaning what it can absolutely not be. From that, one needs to deduce some principles that will be used as filters in analysing the evolution of democracy in Burma by 2015. For instance :
– Those who govern must be elected by the people and held accountable to them.
– The executive, legislative and judiciary powers must be independent from one another.
– All men are equal before the law, without discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, wealth or skills.
Construction of a flyover in Rangoon
Buddhism or Buddhisms ?
Philosophy or religion ?
Buddhism is first and foremost a way of thinking and living, a philosophy that became a religion. What matters most is the path rather than the end goal it leads to, which is the ultimate liberation, freedom from suffering : nirvana.
In Burma, almost 90% of the population is Buddhist. This doesn‘t mean that most of the people follow the precepts of the Buddha to the letter. But they inspire a part of the population, as a form of ethics in their everyday lives, whereas another part uses it only as a way of building up merits hoping that it will improve their karma, their future life.
The population often abide by more ancient animist cults that have traveled through the history of the country together with Buddhism. This syncretic belief involves the Buddha as well as ancient spirits, historical or legendary figures. The latter also receive offerings and respect in daily or occasional celebrations. Whether civilian or monks, these believers turn to these supernatural spirits that sometimes have magical powers. Whether human or supra humans, their powers can heal or predict the future.
How does part of the population manages this mix of these two religious trends ? What place can this belief in these ancient spirits can hold in the face of the righteousness of Buddhism ? What place does this belief take in people‘s relationship with each other ? Particularly when one is a person with authority ?
The country counts 400 000 military and as many monks who are part of the Sangha (the Buddhist clergy) and who are overall respected by the population.
What is its role in the disposition of powers ? What place does the notion of authority hold in this Buddhist society ?
The documentary looks at the historical relationship between beliefs, cults and politics of Burma. In the web documentary, we discover that the power of the monks go beyond the simple domain of religion. All to understand what Burmese Buddhism is on the board of the political influences, as philosophy, as religion and as institution.
A look on the future of the Burmese economy
At the end of the 2nd World War, Burma was one of the most promising countries in the world. Nowadays, its development is in a disastrous state : infrastructures, health and education services are insufficient and in bad shape, unemployment is massive. Even if the development index does not rely directly on the political regime of a country, it is necessarily bound to it.
In the case of Burma, this shift towards a free market economy, caught up by the global economy and its promise of a better life, became effective primarily after the lifting up of Western sanctions three years ago.
Starting from a minimal developement, one guesses that its evolution will be quick. It’s easy to imagine all the good consequences it can have on the life of the population in terms of development and employment but also its bad effects in terms of marginalizing the most vulnerable communities, like the farmers currently.
As offensive liberalism reminds us everyday on a global scale, it also brings with it a growing disparity gap, together with a rushed desire for consumption. Then, corruption, long dependency of the country to its huge Chinese neighbor, the rich soil, which attract many international companies, the right to property, are all subjects to observe that sheds light on the choices of the Government in its desire expressed to respond to the wishes of the Burmese people.
In the center of Rangoon in front of the Sule Pagoda, a young man uses his wide smartphone.
The formal intention: Synergy between the media
An interactive web documentary
The home page outlines the challenges facing the country to get out of the dictatorship, as announced by Aung San Suu Kyi as soon as she was freed in 2011.
– The amendment of the Constitution drafted in 2008 under the military junta and written to enable them to continue to control the country
– The establishment of the rule of law, through the separation of the judiciary and executive powers and an effective application of the law.
– A nationwide peace, between the many ethnics armed groups and the central Government, but also between the various religious communities.
The user then begins his journey with one of the three present characters. With them, he discover some solutions implemented by civil society to move the country towards greater democracy.
Concrete situations, such as a demonstration for peace or a wear battle with local authorities, make us discover the victories and failures of the three main characters within their respective organizations.
These situations are often moments of exchanges or confrontations between those who wish changes on the three previous themes and those who dreads them.
At the end of a film, proposals are made to see an additional element (interview, graphics or article) or to continue on the same theme with another character. The user also has possibility to create its course from a map of the country or with keywords. To enrich his perspective, he has access to a chronology of major events in the country. He can continue with links to external written or audio-visual elements. Finally, he can participate by leaving a comment.
A traditional documentary
After the elections, the documentary will expose a personal look on this singular country at this particular time that is the transition period.
The author who has traveled the country for 15 years, has a more “diplomatic” look whereas it was more militant for the webdocumentary. Written in three parts, it first addresses the relationship between cults and political fields throughout history until today. Then he puts forward the rifts of the country through the prism of its economy, at the moment it opens to globalization after 50 years of dictatorship.
Finally, it focuses on the evolution of the political practices in Burmese society between the elections of 2012 and 2015.
Comment and testimonies of actors and field specialists gives an overview of these 4 years of transition, after the last 50 of dictatorship, which still were all imbued with the two previous millennia.