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Fast Writing and Wide-Ranging Creativity

16 October 2009 No Comment

Kyi May Kaung

Kyi May Kaung, Burma – US

October 16th, 2009

I am a Burmese-born scholar and longtime democracy advocate who has been studying Burma all my adult life. I earned a doctorate in political economics with a comparison of various systems and their outcomes in people’s lives. I am also a painter and a creative writer, author of poems, short stories, and a novel in process. You can see the range of my work on my blog site,

I have learned from reading other people’s websites that what I do is called “literary activism.” (As no-one reads dissertations, a wise monk reminded me 15 years ago to focus on character.) That means, among other things, writing fast, because political pieces have a short shelf life.

I see myself as a bridge between Burmese here and in Burma, who mostly just talk among themselves, and the rest of the world. I write about a lot of things, from art and politics to what Mrs. Obama is wearing. My formal training is in political economy but my first love is the arts.
I have been closely following the Obama Administration’s evolving policy on Burma (please, NOT Myanmar, the ruling junta’s name of choice). On 9-30 I went to Senator Webb’s Congressional hearing on US Burma policy. Indiana University Law Professor David C. Williams urged the federal government not to relax sanctions on the Burmese military regime until demonstrable progress can be shown in constitutional development and human rights. Among the four witnesses, only Professor Williams, a well-known constitutional scholar, spoke of the gross human rights violations in Burma. “Frankly,” he said, “this constitution is the worst I have ever read.”

I am also paying close attention to the fate of Burmese-born US citizen Kyaw Zaw Lwin, who was arrested Sept 3 returning from Bangkok and has been tortured in prison. No mention of his plight was made at the hearing. In fact, it is the junta thumbing its nose at the US government. Like Williams, I have little hope for the elections in 2010, and I think the best policy for the US is finely focused sanctions and very limited, conditional engagement.

Another part of my work is with an NGO I co-founded. We train people from Burma’s 100+ nonprofits to manage their organizations and raise funds to support them under the conditions imposed by the junta. We teach them how to present the needs – like HIV/AIDS education for street children or access to clean water – in neutral language so the military government doesn’t get the jitters. Since Burmese law forbids more than five people to gather unless it’s for a wedding or a funeral, we do the training in Thailand, in Chiang Mai. I make several trips there every year.
I meet so many beautiful young people, and they give me such hope! Without them I might have gotten tired and negative. This work refreshes me.

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