During Burma’s 2007 Saffron Revolution, hundreds of thousands of students, monks, and ordinary citizens participated in peaceful demonstrations calling for civilian and democratic rule. Though they were brutally suppressed by the military regime, the Saffron spirit survived and blossomed when the military regime began loosening its hold on power in 2010.
The surge of democratic activity that followed was driven by a diverse range of citizens, including young people like Salai Ceu Bik Thawng. At 29 years old, this politician and activist is General Secretary of the Chin National Party, a pro-democracy party that represents the interests of the Chin, one of the largest ethnic populations in Burma.
His role as a Chin leader allowed him to play an important role in forging the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation, an influential coalition of ethnic parties from across Burma.
Ceu Bik Thawng
Ceu Bik Thawng continues to collaborate with NGOs to address new legislation hampering NGOs’ ability to work in Burma. And as the editor-in-chief of Tlangau Journal, a Chin-language newspaper, and a columnist for Muko Chin Magazine, he is a key voice in promoting and advancing an informed and reasoned perspective of ethnic minority groups in policy discussions.
Thawng looks to General Aung San, the architect of Burma’s independence and father of Aung San Suu Kyi, for inspiration and a role model. “Despite being such a young leader, he courageously stood by his principles when constantly confronted with age discrimination by older politicians whose values were rooted in the Eastern culture of ‘respect your elders,’” Thawng observed. “Being human, he was a man of so many mistakes, but his honesty and sincerity enabled him to win the trust of the ethnic leaders.”
“We need to think about the broader and more substantive issue of how we can achieve harmony and realize peaceful coexistence in a country that is so diverse in terms of religion and ethnicity.”
The Chin State remains the poorest among Burma’s 14 regions and states—73 percent of the people live below the poverty line—but Thawng has been able to focus attention on its need for social services and policies that will help lift his people out of poverty. As a trainer on organizational development, he has traveled around the region to build the capacity of organizations that are already making an impact in the country. He has come a long way from being forced to carry supplies for the Tatmadaw, or Burmese army, as a child. His motto is “Not to be served but to serve.” Today, instead of serving the military, he serves his people and his country.
“Transforming the country from military dictatorship to democracy is but one challenge,” he observed. “We need to think about the broader and more substantive issue of how we can achieve harmony and realize peaceful coexistence in a country that is so diverse in terms of religion and ethnicity.” In a country faced with numerous challenges to its democratic progress, Thawng is a dynamic young ethnic leader and a model for all of Burma.
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