A group of Myanmar writers, poets and publishers visited Thailand in the beginning of July 2012 in order to share and learn from experiences from personalities of Thai media and literature. The one week trip, sponsored by HBF, was organized by Spirit in Education Movement with the intention to strengthen Myanmar literary society.
Among others the group visited the Bangkok Post to explore mainstream news and the Same Sky Magazine to explore innovative media models. The group also met contemporary Thai poets to share learning and experience with socially and politically engaged writers. Another stop was the office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Bangkok with an introduction to the work of the foundation and the famous German writer and namesake Heinrich Böll followed by a discussion on the current situation literature society is facing in Myanmar.
Myanmar has a strong literature history, crucial especially during the fight for independence in the1940´s, when important writers fought along with General Aung San and other political leaders. Since the military coup in 1962 social and political active writers faced scrutiny, censorship and constant threat. A large number of writers have been forced to go into exile. As poetry can be a way to write in codes during a period of oppression it played an important role for Myanmar society during the time of military dictatorship, as one participant mentioned. Though Myanmar’s contemporary literature is thriving it still lacks social and political engagement of writers due to its recent political past.
Today, most of the social and political engaged writers are facing financial problems since government support is only given to writers in favor of the regime. Thus most of them have to earn their living by other jobs, often writing for weekly mainstream magazines. Censorship is still not completely lifted and the market for books remains small so far. The participants requested more exchange with international literature as Myanmar is still very isolated and often not considered at international literature related events and awards. Very little is known about Myanmar´s literature landscape outside the country.
The journey not only provided an opportunity for learning and exchange with fellow writers and publishers in Thailand, a country which also experienced military rule for many decades. It also allowed the participants to strengthen their network and built a platform their further engagement as writers in Myanmar.
Written by Katharin Kattinger