Depressing news from Burma, where democracy has only made the country's ethnic conflicts worse. We all cheered when pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and led her party to a landslide victory over parties backing the half-mad generals of the military junta.
But as soon as democracy seemed on the rise, the non-Burmese peoples of the country's mountainous north began to agitate for independence. The people of the north (Karen, Kachin, Mon, San and others) were never really ruled by the Burmese until the British conquered them and attached them to their colony of Burma. When Burma was granted independence, British officials who knew the north warned that the hill peoples would not accept Burmese domination, and they have not. Burma's early post-colonial leaders promised seven ethnic minorities an eventual referendum on independence, but that never happened. The ongoing conflict has been one of the main reasons, or at least pretexts, for the military's big role in Burmese politics, and the military has for decades been strongly against independence or autonomy for minority groups.
Aung San Suu Kyi, to her credit, has tried to organize talks with no preconditions, but the military has balked, and so have many members of the pro-democracy movement. So she has moved very cautiously. Peace talks have also been opposed by some of the ethnic rebel groups, some of which have been accused by Human Rights Watch of being little more than drug-smuggling gangs. While the government dithers and the generals work to prevent any real dialogue, the conflict worsens. And that's without even getting into the problem of the Rohingya, Muslims who look more like Bangladeshis than other Burmese and who are considered by most Burmese to be recent interlopers not deserving of even the restrained oppression meted out to long-resident minorities.
One thing democracy cannot do, it seems, is to resolve conflicts among groups of people who are not sure they want to be in a country together at all.