Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Burmese monks withdrawing from civil disobedience movement


In Burma, Buddhist monks are supposed to be apolitical. They cannot vote and must preach reconciliation, concord and peace, not march with placards alongside protesters. All this did not prevent thousands of them, during the days of protest against the junta in 2007, from marching at the head of the anti-regime processions. A movement which remains in history under the name of “saffron revolution”, for the color of the dresses of some bonzes.

It seems that the monks, as a whole, are today much less involved in the civil disobedience movement which is paralyzing the country, following the military coup of the 1is February. Certainly, groups of bhikkhus (monks) were well seen in the protests in Yangon, holding up signs that read: “The monks don’t want a military dictatorship! Reject the coup! “ But, according to several testimonies collected in recent days by telephone, members of the sangha – the Buddhist clergy – seem this time to have preferred to distance themselves from the protest movement.

“Debuddhization” process

This withdrawal posture has several causes. “I was very disappointed with the performance of [l’ancienne dirigeante] Aung San Suu Kyi in government ”, recently entrusted a monk from a Yangon monastery to one of our interlocutors. “I had nevertheless supported her during the legislative elections of 2015, but I was disillusioned when I realized that the policy of the NLD [la Ligue nationale pour la démocratie, le parti d’Aung San Suu Kyi] was to strive to weaken the sangha ». This monk As proof of this, the government party, overthrown by the army, had tried to reduce the state funding allocated to bodies of Burmese Buddhism, in particular the monastic universities.

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On a more anecdotal level, but very badly experienced by some monks, the former Minister of Education would have proposed to remove from the Burmese alphabet the letters allowing the transcription of Buddhist texts from the pâli, the liturgical language of Theravada – the form of Buddhism practiced in Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

“Yes, compared to the” saffron revolution “, the level of commitment of the monks in the current movement is much lower”, confirms Chris (not his real name), a Burmese who teaches in Mandalay, the country’s second city. “When the NLD was still in power, there were periods of tension between ‘Daw’ [madame] Aung San Suu Kyi and the sangha : some monks accused her of launching the country in a process of “debuddhization”, of which the monastic schools were the first victims. “

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