Crisis? Networks, Resilience, Disorder: Burma - cross-border civil society, chaos, crisis and the struggle for democracy

UTS Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre
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Burma, a country with eight major ethnic groups and dozens of smaller ethnic groups, has been under military dictatorship since 1962 and racked by civil war for more than sixty years since its independence from the British colonial rule in 1948. Civil society inside Burma remains tightly controlled in their ability to work independently and competently. I have categorised six types of civil society in the context of Burma and have closely examined the nature of cross-border civil society, a type of civil society that emerges amid political crisis and economic chaos. Cross-border civil society refers to Burmese civil society organisations largely based on Thai-Burma borders and in Thailand. This type of civil society has been shown to operate independently and vibrantly. The uniqueness of cross-border civil society is in its ability to contribute to democratic change in Burma. Cross-border civil society as emerging through political crisis and economic chaos also entails a new form of democracy and promotes informal (adult) education and builds up citizenship and grassroots participation. My field research illustrates that cross-border civil society, in less than a decade, has been transformed from a function of emergency response to capacity building measures that enhances citizens’ ability to participate and make changes. In fact, cross-border civil society is a form of social movement that strongly favors democratic reform and has helped defines a new form of democracy- power from below. My paper will explore the crucial role of cross- border civil society and its informal educational work that promotes active citizen participation, and I will also look at the challenges and the impact that the work of cross-border civil society has on the democracy movement in general and other types of civil society inside the country.
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