Blacklisted journalist Bertil Lintner returns to Burma after nearly 30 years
Long a fierce critic of the authoritarian military government, Lintner believes only Aung San Suu Kyi can unite the country.
Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner’s presence in Burma this month, the first time he has been in the country with an official visa in nearly 30 years, is just one sign of change here.
Lintner was blacklisted by the military government in 1985, but on Saturday he launched a Burmese-language printing of his book “Outrage: Burma’s Struggle for Democracy”, first published in 1995 but banned here just as Lintner was.
Bertil Lintner addressed a group of 20 young Burmese and American journalists at the Savoy Hotel the night before the book launch. Lintner said he could not help but notice the positive changes that have taken place in the country since President Thein Sein announced a series of reforms following his election in 2011, but he remains skeptical.
“The constitution is not democratic,” Lintner warned, the hotel staff that stood along the wall hanging on to every word just as the journalists were. “The military still has control.”
Bertil said he first visited Burma in 1977 at the age of 24.
“I fell in love with the country,” he said. “It’s like being caught in a time warp, quaint and funny.”
But after meeting a man who told him about friends who were either locked by the government or who had disappeared mysteriously, Bertil thought to himself, “there’s something sinister underneath this quaint appearance,” he said.
And indeed he was right, spending the next three decades documenting government abuses as a reporter for a number of publications including the Far Eastern Economic Review, which folded in 2009.
Linter said there are many things to consider when talking about reforms, especially in light of the recent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the country. Both religious discrimination and nationalistic sentiments have long been present in Burma, with the ethnic Burmese majority remaining on the top of the social ladder.
Lintner said he believes that Burma’s constitution must be amended in order for Burma’s most famous dissident, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to be able to run for the 2015 elections.
“The only person who can unify the country is Aung San Suu Kyi because her father General Aung San promised autonomy for all ethnic groups,” Lintner believes.
Although Lintner said that Burma is not yet a democracy, his presence indicates some level of meaningful reform.
“They seem more optimistic than they have been for over a half a century,” he said. “But one shouldn’t underestimate the government.”