We hear terms like “oppressive regime” bandied about but it doesn’t always mean much. It is applied with equanimity these days to push almost any hobby horse on its merry way. But this phrase is no exaggeration when applied to Burma, or the Union of Myanmar as it is officially known, and its blatantly corrupt military government.
The 2007 uprising, spearheaded by Buddhist monks, and its subsequent quashing was nothing less than inhumanly brutal. This was the backdrop for Anders Østergaard’s Burma VJ. Few external reporters could enter the country so nearly all the footage was taken surreptitiously by local and undercover video journalists. The sheer bravery of the monks and those people who risked their lives to report on them was astonishing. Although they can’t do it openly, many Burmese are extremely interested in getting word out about their plight. Citizens like ‘Joshua’, the young VJ who eventually had to flee the country, loves his country and yet welcomes the many embargoes that have been levied against it.
At the height of the protests the hope of the VJ’s was palpable and Østergaard takes us with ‘Joshua’ up that roller coaster and then crashing back down again when the government (by 1962 coup) cracks down and hauls away the monks. VJ’s are also targeted and many disappear along with their equipment.
It seems crazy that a regime like this where the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest even after winning the 1990 election by a staggering majority can exist without support from the people in this modern world. Yet it does. The message that comes through from this documentary is that propped up by their army and civilian thugs/informants and financed by China and India (who both desire the natural resource riches) the military leaders don’t have to care about their populace. The citizens are merely more resources to be spent and/or wasted.
Here I paraphrase what a Burmese man says about living in Burma in 2007:
We are like frogs at the bottom of a well looking up at the light.
I hope that movies such as this make a difference: it certainly did with me. Very highly recommended.