In Burma, Time To Cash In On Political Reforms

In Yangon
In Yangon
Banyol Kong Janoi

YANGON — Burma is ready to boom. The Asia Development Bank estimates that per capita income in the southeast Asian country could increase sixfold by 2030. And another report predicts that the Burmese are poised for a level of economic growth far ahead of the global pace.

The evidence of this newfound prosperity in Burma, officially known as Myanmar, is on full display at this Yangon shopping mall, where it's easy to find products from Thailand or Hong Kong. Just two years ago, none of this would have been possible because foreign products were banned under the military junta.

University graduate Hnin Su Hlain, 21, is here at the mall to watch a Western movie. She's come from southern Burma and is impressed with all the foreign products on offer.

"I've been here before, but now everything is changing," she says. "There are lots of shopping malls in Yangon now. People's living standards are changing, and there are more employment opportunities. We have agents who are finding jobs for us. And our wage is increasing too."

It's when the semi-reformist government took power in 2011 that things began to change. Many Burmese people who formerly lived in exile are returning home, and foreign investors are pouring money into local industries.

Migrant labor experts say that 10% of Burma's labor force currently works abroad, many of them then sending earnings back home. The passport office is full of people waiting to process documents. In fact, English and Chinese are now being taught in schools to help students find overseas employment.

Zin Zaw Htet Tun, 34, took advantage of the new demand to open a language school in Yangon, where he now has many students learning English, Korean, Japanese and Chinese. Dressed in a smart Western suit, he admits that he likes modern technology and is willing to pay for it.

"Trends are changing, you know," he says. "When I was young, we just used dial-up telephones. After that, we used Nokias. Now, we can use very expensive smart phones because things are changing, so we feel a bit proud."

Phyo Nanda, 21, works as a Chinese-language instructor at the language school, where she notices a growing trend for high-end technology.

"Everyone has a smartphone now," she says. "They can check the Internet. We don't have to spend money at the Internet cafe to surf the Internet anymore. There's also some changes in fashion too. Sometimes I feel underdressed when I see all the young girls dressed in the latest Western fashions.”

For eight years now, 31-year-old Khin Sitt Pyu has been working in Dubai. She didn't finish her university degree and is now working as a cashier earning $900 a month, some of which she regularly sends home. She's back in Yangon for a while, and will fly back to Dubai again when her break is over.

Crabs and fried fish are being served at her table, which is expensive food for ordinary Burmese.

"The basic salary overseas is 10 times higher," she says. "This made me want to work abroad. At first my relatives didn't allow me to go because I'm a woman. But my parents and my siblings agreed and supported my decision. Now I have a regular income and everything is fine with me."

The World Bank has praised Burma for its latest annual economic growth rate of 6.5%, which is related to political and economic reforms. And you can see it clearly on the streets of Yangon, with its worsening traffic jams. But for 39-year-old taxi driver Ye Lin Latt, business is good.

"A friend told me that I should try to drive a taxi," he says. "My friend seemed to live a good life, so I started renting a taxi to drive passengers."

Maung Aung, the government's economic advisor, believes Burma's economy will grow even stronger.

"Now, our economy depends not only on Asian markets, but also European markets. We expect to enter the U.S. market soon. So now we are trading globally."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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