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Junior Scholastic is a current events magazine for grades 6-8 that covers important national and world events supporting Social Studies curriculum. It includes more articles, maps, posters, and skill-building activities than any other Social Studies magazine for middle school students.

 


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Hillary Clinton (above left) with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (above left) with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (AP Images / Khin Maung Win)

Hope for Myanmar

Is repression finally coming to an end?

Even six months ago, it seemed unimaginable—a U.S. official visiting the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (MEE-ahn-mar). In 1988, a repressive military regime took power there. For most of the years since, it has held Aung San Suu Kyi (awng sahn soo chee)— the nation’s leading advocate for democracy and a Nobel Peace Prize winner—under house arrest. Yet this past December, there they were: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.

Myanmar—known as Burma until military rulers changed its name in 1989—seems to be in the throes of a remarkable change. For more than two decades, the government strictly limited personal freedoms. A cloud of fear became a fact of life in Myanmar.

People never knew who was listening or watching, who they could trust and who they couldn’t. Men in uniforms might show up at any time and take people away, and no one would dare to ask what had happened to them. Whenever people rose up in protest, as Buddhist monks and tens of thousands of other Burmese did in 2007, they were beaten, jailed, or killed.

In November 2010, Myanmar held its first elections since 1990. Given the crackdowns on political activity, no one was surprised that the military’s party won. But big changes have taken place since then, including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.

Thein Sein, a former general who became President in March 2011, recently signed a cease-fire agreement with antigovernment rebels and announced pardons for nearly 7,000 political prisoners.

Many Burmese remain skeptical. They say that Thein Sein is either insincere or doesn’t have the power to enact real reforms. Kyaw, 18, is one of the doubters. “The government,” he told JS, “just wants Americans to end the sanctions”— economic penalties that have been in place for decades.

Still, Kyaw and many Burmese are hopeful that elections slated for April will usher in a new era of democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi is running for legislative office, and huge, enthusiastic crowds show up wherever she goes. Like many young people, Kyaw is working to see that her party wins. As she herself said recently, “We can overcome any obstacle with unity and perseverance, however difficult it may be.”

This article originally appeared in the February 27, 2012 issue of Junior Scholastic. For more from Junior Scholastic, click here.

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