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Interesting Times in the United States and Burma
“It’s an interesting time to be in the United States.” This was a common refrain heard by the Bush Institute’s newest class of 21 Young Leaders from Burma as they met policy makers, experts, and government officials in Washington, D.C.
The comment was of course a nod to the 2016 presidential election that’s been driving national conversations about the American democratic process.
Burma is experiencing interesting times of its own. In the past year, Burmese citizens overwhelmingly elected the pro-democracy National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. This August, the new government initiated a groundbreaking peace conference designed to promote negotiations between Burma’s military and warring ethnic groups and explore the virtues of a federal democratic system.
Two weeks ago, the Bush Institute welcomed its third Liberty and Leadership Forum class to Dallas. The program engages participants on political philosophy, democratization, and leadership, but it also brings them to Washington, D.C. to experience classroom theory in practice The Young Leaders were eager to absorb lessons that might be applied back home in advancing their burgeoning democracy.
They traversed the city hearing about civil-military relations in a democracy from Undersecretary of the Army Patrick Murphy, understanding how the National Archives tangibly connects citizens to their government from U.S. Archivist David Ferriero, discussing policy with congressional staff on Capitol Hill, sitting in the Supreme Court to hear about the country’s most consequential cases, learning about the horrors of genocide from a Holocaust survivor at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and being inspired by the monuments dedicated to the Founding Fathers of American democracy.
A great underlying theme of the visit was how an informed, engaged citizenry is the life blood of freedom and democracy. Whether American or Burmese, mature or transitioning democracy, interesting times or not, it’s a lesson that must never be forgotten.
Christopher Walsh serves as a Manager for the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. In this role, Christopher manages communications, evaluation, and public policy research projects that advance freedom and democracy in the world. He also develops and implements efforts to make the Bush Institute a welcoming place for today’s generation of dissidents and democracy advocates, overseeing visits for training, inspiration, and insight.
Prior to joining the Bush Institute, Christopher worked with the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C. As IRI’s program officer for Central and Eastern Europe, he coordinated political party building and civic advocacy programs in the Balkans and Turkey.
A native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Christopher is a graduate of American University with a B.A. in International Studies. He currently lives in Dallas with his wife and three young children.Full Bio
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Bush Institute Liberty and Leadership Forum young leader Nickey Diamond (Ye Myint Win), of Yangon, Burma, recently spoke to ABC’s Bob Woodruff about the Burmese government’s brutal persecution of the Rohingya people. During the interview, Diamond explained how one-sided messages from the Burmese government and Buddhist leaders manipulate the general public into hating the Rohingya and believing they are terrorists. The segment also enabled Diamond to share his human rights work, which documents Burmese military officers’ crimes against humanity. Diamond has been threatened and often worries for his family’s safety. Still, he told Woodruff, “They’ll never stop what I’m doing.” Watch the full story on ABC Nightline.
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A select group of Burmese Young Leader graduates from the Liberty and Leadership Forum were in Washington meeting with policy makers. In a series of articles, they have outlined Burma’s greatest challenges and the need for U.S. leadership in Asia.