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Burmese economics 101
No change, but a facelift
A Burmese dissident recalls the shock of learning the name of her country had been changed.
How did you personally react when the junta decided to change the country's name?
"For us, it was really shocking to read in the newspaper that the name of the country had changed overnight. It was a huge shock."
Would you personally ever use the term “Myanmar”?
"Personally, I never say it, not when I'm with my family, not with my mother or my aunts, I wouldn't tell my children that the name of the country is Myanmar. I am still Burmese, born in Burma. And it will be the same thing for my children."
In Burma, in the streets, in public areas, in government agencies, can you use the term “Burma” without encountering problems?
"Now that's completely impossible. It's very rare for someone to dare say “Burma” or “Burmese”. We don't dare say “Burma” in public. For example, in the Shwedagon Pagoda, you don't say “Burmese”. There you say “Myanmar”. However, if you're in a village, you say “Burmese”."
A Burmese dissident explains the danger of the traffic paradox in her country.
The junta decided to change the direction of traffic. What do you think of this change?
"I can't say much because I was born after the change. But what I do know is that it happens to be very, very dangerous to drive under these conditions. We haven't had a car in 20 years. So if you wanted to convince my mother to buy a new car, you would first have to convince the generals to change back the traffic, so that she could drive with her mind more at ease. Because otherwise you're risking your life at all times."
Total + Burma = unleaded love
EarthRights International, 9/10/09
"New Reports Link Total and Chevron to Human Rights Abuses, Corruption in Burma". For the first time, ERI reveals that the military regime is hiding multi-billion dollar revenues from natural gas sales in two offshore banks in Singapore.
A Burmese dissident explains the gasoline business between state and private gas-stations.
"There are certain things that are beyond comprehension. Because you know the gas in private gas stations comes from public stations through civil servants. In fact, they close the front door and open the back door in order to make ends meet; it's also a form of corruption. So it's true that these are things that aren't easy to understand, but that's how things are always done in Burma."
A burmese dissident explains why people in Burma wash their money.
If you arrive in Burma and you have banknotes that are stained, dollars or euros with stains on them, can you go and sell them on the street?
"But you wouldn't get the same price. And that's absurd. Because for a brand new dollar, with no stains, no creases, nothing, you get 1000 kyats. If there's a stain, it depends on the size: a small stain is 900. If it's a big ink stain in the corner of a bill, it can go down to 500.
I knew a Burmese woman in the US. She spent 2-3 hours every Saturday morning cleaning her money. I mean she cleans the bills with a cotton swab. She irons them under cotton fabric so that they will look brand new, completely flat. That's how it is. That's Burma!"
Economy and immaculate currency
Democratic Voice of Burma, 6/7/10
Burma economy is in ‘artificial deficit’, claims a recent report by an australian ONG, as revenues from the country's gas reserves are being minimized by the junta while the country falls deeper into recession.
A Burmese dissident talks of the unbelievable price of Sim cards in her country.
How high can prices get for these notorious official Burmese GSM SIM cards?
"Officially, up to 3,500 euros. I can confirm this for you because I know that my mother paid 3,500 euros for her SIM card. And what's more, that's just the price of the SIM card, you also pay for airtime every month. You can estimate how rich someone is by looking at his phone."
Governing by the planets
A Burmese dissident describes the amazing belief of the junta in the number 9
What does the number 9 mean to the Burmese junta?
"It's the number of power. Because they are rather superstitious in fact, they don't just follow the astrologists' advice, they do things their way, to the letter. Here's a very good example: the Saffron Revolution. It started in August, and the big revolt started by the monks was on the 24th. But they let 3 days go by. They waited until September 27th to start controlling the situation because in 27/09/2007 you have 3 nines. They were 100% certain they had the revolution under control. As for us, we didn't believe it because there are other things to take into consideration as well. But this demonstrates that at the top, the generals do things in connection with the number 9. That means that the number 9 is a good luck charm and a symbol of power for the junta."
A Burmese dissident explains why the junta feels so threatened by students.
"Until now, all the revolutions they've had, had been started by students. So for the junta, students are a danger to the public. They seek knowledge, it was intellectuals who started the revolution. So for the junta students are their enemies."
Youth is dangerous
Korean TV series are used to sedate the Burmese people, explains a dissident. (in French)
What do you think of Korean TV series?
"Ahhh! It's a way for the junta to drug the people. Because the Korean TV series are never broadcast during the day. Everyone has to work. I would say that it's a curfew for the big cities. And it works."
Sleepover permission request
A Burmese dissident talks about the township committees.
"Every time I go to my mother's, or when I go visit my uncle or aunt, or when I want to spend the night at my cousin's, I have to go to my neighborhood committee and fill out their form. Well, it's not that bad, except that it's more work. You can't just ring someone's doorbell at 8pm and say “Hey, we need to talk, I'm going to spend the night.” You don't do that."
Happy World presents: 1 hour of Burmese TVWatch Burma tv
The Burmese Pravda
Press, censorship and propaganda
Happy World presents: browse the official newspaperread some news
The press in Burma as seen by a dissident. (in French)
"We buy official newspapers, well the junta's newspapers, to read the death announcements, in case someone close to you has died. And after that we use them as a paper towel because newspapers are great for cleaning windows."
"We really depend on satellite dishes. You know, you can buy a satellite dish. And then you receive at least 50 channels, sometimes CCTV, BBC, TV5. And it's very good for the Burmese because we remain informed regardless. We are connected with the entire world. And what's really funny is that if something is happening in Burma, the Burmese find out about it by watching the satellite channels. “In Rangoon, this is happening.” It's really funny. For example, when watching the news on BBC, people say, “Oh, Cyclone Nargis passed through Rangoon.” We are so cut off that the satellite dishes have become a means of communication. Not just for us, but for Burmese people living inside the country."
Happy World presents: The Burma connection: an Internet too civilized
A Burmese dissident criticizes the forced culture of Kyet Suu.
Do the Burmese have to grow Kyet-Suu?
"Yes, it's an absurd obligation. Because, all right, it's fine in the cities, it's not a big deal, it's not harmful. But in the villages, they have destroyed or cut down the fields, their crops, in order to grow kyet-suu instead. Now, if it were grain or rice, it would be profitable for the villagers. They can at least eat it. Because with kyet-suu, while it's true that you can use it to make biodiesel, you at least have to know how to produce it. And it's crazy. It's useless. And meanwhile, the granary is empty. Can you imagine how it is for the villagers? That's how it works in the junta. It's an absurd obligation imposed on the people."
Drugs, greed and love of power
The Observer, 11 November 2001
"Between hell and the Stone of Heaven". A journey into the death camps of Burma, where miners rendered addicted to heroin excavate jadeite stones in horrific conditions.
Lost in la junta
Asia Times, 24 March 2011
After the recent elections, newly elected MP's go to the freshly built Parliament for the daily 15mn minutes of session, a mere parody of democracy where they get to approve the decisions made by the junta... in exchange of a more than comfortable salary.
Ecoburma, 25 July 2011
Story of a travel in Burma and a day in Naypyidaw
The opinion of a Burmese dissident about the highway connecting Rangoon to Naypyidaw.
So the junta has built the only highway in the country, which goes from Rangoon to Naypyidaw. They built it just for themselves, for their own benefit and pleasure?
"Well, I think so. It's for them, because nobody uses it besides them. Who uses it to go to Naypyidaw? The Burmese don't have enough cars to begin with, and there aren't many buses that run between Rangoon and Naypyidaw."
And are there people who have to go there from time to time?
"Oh, yes, all of the civil servants. Because in fact civil servants can't resign and they have to follow their jobs. But most things have moved to Naypyidaw. Because they've actually created a mini country. Naypyidaw has become a mini country for the junta in the middle of Burma. "
A Burmese dissident discusses the new capital
How do you feel about the fact that the junta suddenly decide to change the capital of your country?
"For me, personally, I can't get used to the idea that Rangoon is no longer the capital of Burma. No, it's disgraceful."
I can also imagine that very few people in Burma have had the opportunity to go to Naypyidaw?
"It's not easy to get there. First, the junta is distrustful. And what's more they don't give you access easily. In Naypidaw there are two zones: there is a zone for the civil servants and another zone for the military. We don't know what goes on in these zones. It's a very secret city. I can't say much about it, but Naypidaw, it's like army headquarters, you see. It's not a capital for us. It's the army headquarters that was transferred from Rangoon to Naypyidaw, along with its soldiers."
Happy World presents: Naypyidaw Parano, an infographics about the new capitalSee the document
The Irrawaddy, 3/10/10
A new election law unveiled on Wednesday by Burma's ruling military bars pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running in upcoming elections and could force her own political party to expel her.
The Irrawaddy, 03/27/2010
To contest or not? NLD faces tough elections test, as the opposition party wonders wether it should boycott the upcoming elections, at the probable cost of being condemned to political irrelevance or, take part and face a most certain burial ?
Happy World presents : Gaël Bordier & Tristan Mendès-France
"Burma, the dictatorship of the absurd". There are several ways to denounce dictatorships. Gaël Bordier and Tristan Mendès-France chose to laugh at them and to point at their absurdities and underline their consequences on peoples' lives.
Bibliography: a selection of (serious) books about Burma
"Histoire de la Birmanie contemporaine", Renaud Egreteau, Editions Fayard, 2010
"Birmanie contemporaine", de Gabriel Defert, IRASEC, Les Indes savantes, 2008
"Aung San Suu Kyi : Le jasmin ou la lune", Thierry Falise, Editions Florent Massot, 2007
"Chroniques Birmanes", de Guy Delisle, Editions Delcourt, collection Shampoing, 2007
Burma Opposition in the world
Despite what the junta wants us to believe, Burmese opposition goes way beyond Aung San Suu Kyi. Developed by OWNI for the Happy World Interactive Inc.©, this infographics, details the different elements and the structure of the Burmese opposition.Watch
the interactive map
See how Gael Bordier and Tristant Mendes-France managed to shoot Happy World in Burma, a country that does not allow journalists.
An exclusive behind-the-scenes peak taking you on this unique adventure that culminated in this hypervideo experience, but also as a 52mn documentary film shown on Planete.