Back to Tell’s Land (Day-8,9,10)

Day Eight. Friday, 22 January 2016

Federalism should be a meeting point of all groups
Khil Raj Regmi, former Prime Minister of Nepal

Dr Andreas Ladner
Today, a jolly professor, Dr Andreas Ladner  from the University of Lausanne is our resource person on federalism.

Switzerland may not have so many ethnic races like Burma, but it has 3 other important differences that took centuries for them to overcome: religious denominations, wealth and political disagreements.

At one point, he is asked why Switzerland did not choose to become a union of 3 units based on language (Romansch is spoken by less than 100,000). His reply is forthright: 3 units will make one canton too strong, which in turn will create negative spontaneous reaction from the other units. Having several cantons significantly reduces that kind of risk.

For those in Burma advocating 8 states or 14 states configuration, his answer may well ring a bell.

I think it is also him who tells us why his country doesn’t have a popularly elected president as in the United States. “Only Germans will be elected,” he says. “And, that is not good for the union in the long run.”

He is not one who sings only the praises of federalism. It has its own downside, he reminds us. “Federalism costs money and time,” he says. “Sometime it is also very difficult to implement a national policy, as each canton does it differently.”

Nevertheless, I think the Swiss know it’s the price they have to pay for their union. So I don’t think they’ll trade federalism for a unitary state, whatever the faults of the former are.

Meanwhile, he doubts China will ever adopt federalism. “Their psychology doesn’t work that way,” he muses. “In their minds, China is the center and the rest are its peripheries.”

In the afternoon, we visit Geneva, 94.7 km away. It is pleasantly sunny, the first sun since our arrival.

I visit a bookstore called Payot which has several English books. After more than an hour, I choose one. To my regret, the store refuses to accept dollars. So I return to our hotel empty handed.

Day Nine. Saturday, 23 January 2016

Today is the day for review of what we have learned and how we can put them to use. Which I will not bother the reader with.

Except for one thing: We have learned some, but not as much as we want. Because time has been a great constraint. Maybe a refresher trip is what we need in the near future.  Remember Alexander Pope’s much quoted and misquoted words, that “A little learning (not knowledge) is a dangerous thing”?

Chateau Chillon
Chateau Gruyerse
In the evening, we are out on the bank of the Geneva Lake, just a 100 paces out from the hotel, decked in Shan costumes, for a photo session.

We are sort of like a novelty in town. So naturally many towners take photos with/ of us.

Day Ten. Sunday, 24 January 2016

Today we visit two castles: Chillon and Gruyerse. And then the local hydropower plants.
Our escort  Mr Antonie Dubas whose company works in Burma says: Shan State, like Switzerland, has a lot of streams and lakes. Small hydropower plants should be initiated by the local people. He is critical of the World Bank’s mega projects.

Again when I put the question to him about Bern’s peace efforts in Burma and his company’s involvement in hydropower projects, he is not disturbed. “The politicians do their job there,” he smilingly replies. “And we businesspeople do ours.”

Two days later, we are back in Chiangmai, our home away from home.

By SAI KHUENSAI / Director of Pyidaungsu Institute and Founder of Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)
All views expressed are the author’s own

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Shan to celebrate 69th National Day

Shan people around the world will celebrate the 69th anniversary of the Shan National Day, which falls on February 7.

The Shan National Day was proclaimed on February 7, 1947 by the prince of Tawngpeng, Sao Khun Pan Jing, who served as the President of the Federated Council of Shan States.

The main venue of the celebration is traditionally Loi Tai Leng, the Thai-Burma border headquarters of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S), in which hundreds of people participate every year.

“Shan National Day is unity day,” said Lt. Gen. Yawd Serk, the chairman of the RCSS/SSA-S. “It’s the day that everyone meets and talks to each other to build unity.”
Lt. Gen. Yawd Serk also said that there are three purposes in holding the Shan National Day. The first is to pay respect to “patriots” who have fought for the nation. The second is the unity of Shan people. And the third purpose is to think about the future of the Shan.

“Our new generation has to think critically. We have to learn our mistakes from Panglong Agreement,” he continued, referring to the agreement that was signed by Shan, Kachin, Chin and Burman representatives in 1947 in order to demand independence from British as a unified country.

Townships across Shan State such as Muse, Namkham, Mong Pan, Kesi and Taunggyi are also reportedly holding events to mark the 69th anniversary of the day. Shan communities living in the United States, Thailand, and Japan are also organizing commemorations.

By SAI AW / Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)

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Back to Tell’s Land (Day-7)

Day 7: Thursday, 21 January 2015

If Germans and French, who used to hate each other so much, can live together, I don’t see any reason why you (the nationalities of Burma) cannot.

Georges Martin, Deputy Secretary of State, FDFA, Government of Swiss Confederation

We are to move out today from Murten to Montreux, which is nearer to Geneva, the international capital of Switzerland. So we all are up early to pack our things and get ready to check out from the hotel.

At 09:00, we are at the meeting hall of the Fribourg cantonal parliament, made up of 130 representatives who meet 8 times a year. Fortunately, it isn’t in session.

Here we are received by Mr. Lorenzo Brancher, External affairs; and Mr. Thomas Plattner, deputy cantonal physician.

The following are some of the things we learn from them:

·         Fribourg, name for both the canton and its capital (16.9 km from Murten), is 1,671 square kilometers, nearly twice as big as Jura
·         Population is 303,377, out of which 67,708 (22%) are students and apprentices
·         Unlike Jura, which is uni-lingual (French), it is bilingual: French (63%) and German (29%). The cantonal constitution stipulates that partner language is the first foreign language to be taught in school.
Each official language, for administration, is translated in the other partner language. And trials are carried out in courts in the language of the districts concerned
·         The cantonal government is made up of 7 councilors (ministers) who are all elected
·         The canton has 7 districts: 5 French, 1 German and 1 bilingual
·         Every person living in the confederation must enroll in one of the 90 health care insurances. Every insurance must pay for every curative health service prescribed by a physician. For low income families and children, there must be premium reductions

The reader who may take notice of the cantons having districts as an administrative level, as we do, may be confused, as we do. Because so far, we have been hearing only 3 levels of government: federal, cantonal and communal. And the answer is this:

Most cantons, except 8, including Basle and Geneva, used districts as an intermediate level for administration and court organization for convenience. But a number of them have already reduced its number or even considering its abolition. (Maybe we can do the same back home?)

At noon, we are off to Bern again, 34.3 km away, for the last visit. This time we are attending presentations by two experts: Mr. Bruno Rosli and Mr. Albrecht Schnabel, on the role of the military in a federal state and SSR/DDR, the very topics the whole delegation has been gearing up to listen. And we are not going to be disappointed.

Typical Swiss citizen
The following is the gist of what we have learned throughout the four and a half hours with them:

·         Switzerland has no standing armed forces.
Active duty personnel 2,755
Doing annual refresher training                          120,000                 (Age 20-34)
Undergoing basic each year                                 20,000                  (Age 20-34)
Reserve                                                                 80,000                  (Age 20-34)
Total                                                                   222,755

·         The Councilor for the Federal Department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sports (DDPS) is the acting Commander-in-Chief in peace time. The Commander-in-Chief is appointed only in wartime
·         The Armed Forces is made up of land forces and air force 
·         The land forces comprise the following:
11 brigades (infantry, 2 armed, I log and 1 C2)
4 territorial regions
7 training units (4 for land forces and 3 for air force)

·         The history of its evolution is, I think, something we can all take a leaf from. In 1848, there were only cantonal forces, commanded by a combined federal general staff. In 1872, a popular vote was taken for centralization of military affairs, but it was turned down. It was only recently, in 2004, after 156 years, that the cantonal forces were disbanded. (I’m sure Burma won’t take that long, if an SSR that is mutually acceptable has been negotiated)

As for the Security Sector Reform (SSR), the first thing one should know, says Mr. Schnabel, is: who are part of the security sector. Only then we can consider the reform. They are, according to him:

Having a cost effective and transparent security sector, he says, has its advantages:
  • Security institutions will be seen as “assets” by the population
  • Positive reputation
  • Creation of friendly environment
  • Protection of rights, security, stability and rule of law
  • Conflict-prevention
On the other hand, ineffective and in transparent security sector will create suspicions, rumors, abuses, fear and distrust which will in turn give way to, crises and violent conflicts, the very things the SSR is trying to prevent.
As for DDR, Mr. Schnabel interprets them this way:
  • Disarmament is for the non-state actors (NSA) forces
  • Demobilization is for the state forces, as they no longer need to fight anyone
  • Reintegration will be for ex-combatants from both sides
Naturally, our delegation is confused by our resource persons’ words that the Swiss Armed Forces adhere to a “militia system”: which to them means every citizen become a soldier when called for, but to most of us from Burma means a civilian carrying arms and working for the army. The misunderstanding is of course cleared away soon enough.

Another question from the delegation is: What language do they use in the army, especially when issuing military drill commands? In four languages, as they do in the parliament?

No, only one language is the answer. As units are formed in accordance with the languages the soldiers use, there is no need to give one’s command in several languages. “I used to be the commander of an Italian unit,” recalls Mr. Rosli, a Swiss German. “The language I used was Italian. In our country, officers speak the language of rank and file, not the other way round.”

(Sao Yawd Serk remarks that when the six ethnic armies launched a joint officers training course on the border, more than a decade back, they had solved the problem by using only military commands in English.)

As to my question, how can a country like Switzerland and Burma be allowed to stay neutral by the neighbors who are hostile to one another, Mr. Rosli has this answer:
  • First of all, the neighbors must all agree that our country’s neutrality is in their interests
  • On our side, we have to show them, not only by words, but by deeds, that we are not taking sides (For instance, Switzerland is not a member of EU or NATO)
  • Like Switzerland, maybe you can institute one of your cities as an international peace making center
(Another answer was given by someone before we left: For Switzerland to take sides, it has to risk its own breakup. Because some of us are going to take sides too, and it may be the other side.)

At 17:30, we all climb into the bus to the new hotel in Montreux, 91.2 km away, with our heads still full of questions.

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