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The Monks Of Myanmar

The Monks Of Myanmar

The situation is tense in Myanmar.  There is a stand-off between the military junta in power, and over 100,000 protesters.  The protests are being led by the devout Buddhist country's monks, and the question remains how far the military government will go to put down the protesters.

The protests began in the last few weeks due to a sudden increase in gas prices carried out by Myanmar's military government.  Initially, the dramatic hike in gas prices meant higher fuel costs for motorists and higher operating costs for the nation's industry.  But, like dominoes falling, the increase in gas prices set off a chain reaction raising the price of everything, including food, everyday necessities and public transportation costs.

The protesters took to the streets over the gas hike, but soon the focus shifted to a much deeper issue - the cause of democracy.  Myanmar has been ruled by a repressive military regime for 45 years.  Following massive pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 wherein the military killed more than 3,000 of its citizen protesters, general elections were held.  Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won the election, but the military government was not happy with the results.  They imprisoned her and did not allow the party to take power.  Myanmar would have to wait for the democracy it wanted.

Since 1990, protests have flared up from time to time.  The Myanmar government has always dealt sternly with them.  But, what we are seeing now have been the biggest protests in many years, and the most intense police crackdown.

The gas hike protests became pro-democracy protests and the monks of Myanmar became involved.  The reason for their involvement initially was the violent treatment of peaceful protesters by the military, but many of Myanmar's monks support the democracy movement.

On the biggest day of the protests, the monks led a march from the Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon to the city center.  The Schedagon Pagoda is Myanmar's biggest shrine and a major holy site.  Before leading the protest, the monks led a prayer at the shrine.  This was the biggest gathering of people at the Schwedagon Pagoda in 20 years.

Because Myanmar is a devoutly Buddhist country, the fact that the military government has openly fired on monks is a shocking testament to how far they will go to stop the protests.  After the initial week of protests, some monks were forbidden by their monasteries to go back out, and the tensions have simmered down somewhat.  Still, the Myanmar pro-democracy movement has the full support of the Dalai Lama and Buddhists worldwide.

People on the streets of Myanmar are scared.  The military government has done all it can to tell the people that they will not be allowed to continue the protests, and they will crack down with a full force of arms if necessary.  They have threatened to take legal action against the monks if they continue to involve themselves, but it is pretty clear that they will not spare the holy men's lives if it turns into a bloody battle.  Some military generals have expressed their hesitation about dealing so harshly with the country's monks, but shots have already been fired.

The death count so far is officially 10, but this is a statistic issued by the government, but no one knows the exact count. 

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