The Impact of President Barack Obama's Speech on the Burmese Mind



Washington Post

President Obama delivered a speech Monday at Yangon University in Yangon, Myanmar. Obama hailed Myanmar’s shift to democracy.
WHAT really was the impact of Obama's speech on the Burmese public?

Beyond the symbolism of Obama giving this historic speech at Rangoon University, and all the American-
centric media coverage of it in English language press, a simple math will help paint the speech's intellectual and ideological impact on the public's minds (and hearts). 

According to a DVB English language staff on the ground, only 10% of Obama's speech on Monday was translated lived on Myanmar TV.

What was the point of not translating the rest - 90% -- of O-Bama's speech in a country with wonderful educational stats? 

Here is a glance at the relevant statistics:

1) most Burmese university graduates don't know what BA or BSc stands for (according to a Burmese businessman who employs hundreds of university "graduates");

2) over the past 50 years under successive military regimes, including the present quasi-civilian government of ex-general Thein Sein, 1/3 of the country's school aged youth do not complete their 5 years of their basic/elementary schooling (K-4), according to the UN);

3) despite the myth that Burma has a high literacy rate,even those who went on to complete Middle School or even High School level education, don't have conceptual or critical thinking ability even in their own mother tongue, let alone in English medium, a requisite intellectual ability to relate to ideological/intellectual concepts such as 'anti-racism' 'constitution', 'unity in diversity' 'religious freedoms' 'tolerance' and so on;

4) the great majority of teachers who teach English do NOT have functional competency in English (I know what I am talking about. I was an English teacher and a tour guide before I left the country before 8.8.88 uprisings);

Obviously, the regime had the technical capacity to translate the 10 percent of the speech - that is, the first 3-4 minutes. 

The arbitrary and unpredictable nature of the current quasi-civilian regime, something it shares with the past openly military regimes, was apparent when the official Myanmar TV didn't even feel a need to give any excuse or explanation as to why the simultaneous translation stopped abruptly.

Someone or some group in position of power, most definitely, was watching Obama's speech live. He or the group decided that the Burmese public needed to be prevented from understanding the speech rich in metaphors and taboos - such as the "Rohingya" or "citizens", or "religious tolerance". 

Translator got un-plugged! Oops. Sorry!

It might be easier for Washington to wean "Myanmarese" generals and ex-generals off of Beijing.  But it is going to be an uphill battle for the Americans to try to wean the latter of their old habits.
You can't teach old dogs new tricks.

So much for US President's historic lesson to the Burmese: Democracy and Anti-Racism - 101.

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