As a key investor in Burma, Thailand can play an important role in Burma’s peaceful democratization process. Nevertheless, understanding of Burma/Myanmar in Thai society remains largely based on prejudices, ignorance and restricted information. While concerns over Burma/Myanmar’s political situation and military regime have been raised in the international community, the democracy movement in Burma has gained only limited support from Thailand.
Against this backdrop, the project “Burma Concern” was initiated in 2009 with initial support from the Open Society Institute (OSI). It aims to create a learning space and foster interaction and information sharing among academics, policy makers, Thai and Burmese organizations, media and members of public interest. The project seeks to bridge the gap of understanding and facilitate mutual learning by providing information and supporting awareness-raising activities to promote a broader public understanding of Burma issues in Thailand. These activities include public forums, seminars and lectures, film screenings, photo exhibitions, and research trainings, focusing on historical, cultural, socio-economic, and environmental issues connected to the situation in Burma, and in particular, issues along the Thai-Myanmar border. The project aims to provide a focal point of contact for academics and support interaction between academics, governments, NGOs, development practitioners, civil society groups, media and the broader public.
The Burma Concern project consisted of two key components, titled:
While Forums of Exchange included a variety of events, such as seminars, special lectures, exhibitions, public forums and art/cultural events, Constructing Knowledge focused on publications on contemporary Burmese issues, based on the outcomes of the different forums organized by Burma Concern.
Forums of exchanges such as special lectures, seminars, and public forums, centered around a variety of topics, e.g., the pre- and post-election state in Burma/Myanmar, the situation of refugees and migrants, and the post Nargis recovery of the country.
In particular, activities under the project included:
A series of academic seminars has addressed various aspects of Burma/Myanmar and the Thai-Burmese border, in order to foster critical exchange of knowledge and information, and to provide a better understanding of Burma-related issues among the academic community. Thai, Burmese and non-Southeast Asian scholars, researchers and professionals presented their work on Burma-related issues. Moreover, graduate seminars and special lectures were regularly organized to facilitate exchanges of research experiences among MA students of the Sustainable Development program.
By regularly organizing public forums, the Burma Concern project provided a platform and learning space for interaction among academics, policy makers, development practitioners, NGOs, activists, media representatives and the public, to discuss emerging issues related to the Thai-Burmese border and Burma/Myanmar’s political culture, history, ethnicity and border issues, development, etc. The forums were well attended by students, faculty members and the wider public.
Art and cultural events, such as photo exhibition, talks and cultural performances, were organized in cooperation with partner organizations both inside Burma/Myanmar and Thailand, in order to promote a broader understanding of the cultural diversity among ethnic groups in Burma/Myanmar.