Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Rangoon’

A Cool Look at Burma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 5th December, 2012

Burma - photo Nic Dunlop

Burma – photo Nic Dunlop

Nic Dunlop is a Bangkok-based photographer and author who has spent most of the past two decades covering my old stomping ground, South East Asia. But this evening he was the guest speaker at a Liberal International British Group (LIBG) Forum at the National Liberal Club, giving his take on what is happening in Burma. He has recently completed a book which uses many of the striking black-and-white images he took in Burma, particularly in the mid-1990s but also since. Many of the photographs are chilling, including a series of a former political prisoner acting out the stress positions he was forced to adopt while he was being tortured. There is sullen resignation on the faces of peasants drafted in to do forced labour building roads and so forth. As Nic said inNic Dunlop his commentary to a slide show tonight, there was no need for armed guards to watch over them because they have been conditioned by years of fear. He had some good shots of Aung San Suu Kyi — including one of her at Oxford, receiving an honorary degree — but he is not starry-eyed about ‘The Lady by the Lake’. He pointed out that the woman who was rightly hailed as a political inspiration by many in the West has nonetheless deeply disappointed many human rights activists since her release from house arrest by refusing to condemn outright violence against specific ethnic minorities. Nic also made the interesting observation that it is not just the military, who have in principle now handed over to a civilian government after decades in power, who are firm believers in superstition and astrology. It is deeply engrained in the Birman people. I was struck that many of the scenes shown in his pictures, even in the capital Yangon/Rangoon, look exactly how I remember it on my one and only visit there in the summer of 1969. It is as if Burma is frozen in aspic, though under tropical rain. But now the country is opening up that is likely to change fast, in that some people with the right connections will make a killing by funding new developments, rather as happened in post-Communist states, though the poor masses are unlikely to benefit for the foreseeable future. Link: www.nicdunlop.com

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Pete Pattisson’s Burma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th June, 2012

The Liberal Democrats’ Parliamentary Candidates Association (PCA) has produced several editions of Who’s Who in the Liberal Democrats, listing the parliamentary and civic achievements of leading members of the Party (or at least those who filled in the necessary form, as is indeed the case with ‘the’ Who’s Who). But I can’t help feeling that it would be more entertaining if a volume were produced which highlighted the creative side of Liberal Democrat activists. Some people might be surprised by the revelations. Pete Pattisson, Councillor for Whitefoot ward in Lewisham om south-east London, for example, is a notable photographer and film-maker who in recent years has particularly focussed on Burma (aka Myanmar). Over the last few years he has done a number of shorts for the Guardian, sometimes by entering Burma through Rangoon (Yangon), sometimes crossing the border from neighbouring countries. And this evening he shared some of these films with attendees at a Lewisham Liberal Democrats’ Pizza and Politics at his home. There is a lot that can make us hopeful about developments in Burma, after decades of military rule and repression, not least the release of hundreds of political prisoners and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (from house arrest). ‘The Lady’, as she is widely known, was successfully elected to the Burmese parliament in a by-election not so long ago, though she got her knuckles metaphorically rapped the other day by the men still in power for calling her homeland Burma (the old Britsh appelation) and not Myanmar, the name imposed by the junta. But as Pete’s clips — some of which you can find easily find on YouTube — vividly portray, life for many in Burma is still difficult, endemic poverty exacerbated by natural disasters and even the plague of rats attracted by the  twice-in-a-century flowering of bamboo. I have only been to Burma once, way back in 1969, when I was making my way slowly back from Vietnam, where I had been a cub reporter covering the War. The lasting image that stays in my mind, even at that time of a closed, impoverished country very much under the military’s heel, was the sublime atmosphere of the Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon. I circled it barefoot at sunset with Buddhist pilgrims, not a tourist in sight; visas were not readily given. Moreover, for years since then people in the West were urged to stay away from Burma, in protest at the junta’s restrictions. But today Aung San Suu Kyi has put out the welcome mat, saying that foreign visitors should go, not only to savour Burma’s special quality, but to link up with the people and help them along the road to a more open society.

 

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