April 18, 2021
Opinions and Commentary

IN LOVING MEMORY OF DR. CHAO TZANG YAWNGHWE: OUR BELOVED UNCLE EUGENE

(Delivered by Dr. Lian Sakhong at His Funeral Service on Saturday, 31 July 2004, at Burquitlam Chapel, Vancouver, Canada)


Uncle Eugene was my mentor; intellectual advisor, political leader, and intimate personal and family friend. In fact, he was like my father. When Harn called me and broke the news of his demise just a few hours after he passed away

(coincidently I was holding his picture to hang on our sitting room’s wall), the sadness overwhelmed me all day long. In every single minute, his loving memory comes back to me — the sound of his voice, his smile, his laughter, his joke, even the way he used to eat and the smell of his cigar. I remember him with love, pride, admiration and respect in my own special way.

I will always treasure so many sweet memories; I remember so many roads that we had travelled together during the past three years; in every kind of weather, in all kind of circumstances, so many miles of journey to so many countries all over the world and spoke so many words for the people of Burma, which came from the deepest level of his heart. The words he uttered most were about peace, reconciliation and freedom; and he was a voice for and the voice of the voiceless people of Burma, especially ethnic minority groups. Although his voice was for peace and reconciliation, the way he expressed those words were not always smooth. There always were a number of disturbances, confrontations and oppositions that he had to encounter, for we are dealing with the most brutal regime in the world. But no matter what kind of difficulties we faced, Uncle Eugene never lost his patience and optimism.

It was rather a long journey for him (and for those of us who followed him) because peace was so far to reach; the atmospheres usually were unkind and tedious because there were so many harsh climates of politics and power struggle that brought different opinions to be reconciled and built consensus even before we confronted with the real enemy; political violent and stormy days were quite often and too long because the truth was so difficult to find. He knew that the path to freedom was not paved with flowers, but firmly believed that the truth shall one day make us free.

I know that Uncle Eugene should not be idealized, or enlarged today beyond what he was in life. He should be remembered simply as a good and decent man; he was the one who saw injustice and fought for justice; he saw so many things that went wrong in our society and tried to make it right; he saw the suffering of our people and tried to heal them; he saw and experienced five decades of civil war in our country and tried to stop it, even by holding arms in his hands. He was born into a Shan Royal family but chose to live a humble life in academic world, his life was blessed with fame and wealth but identified himself with the poor and the oppressed; he was the one who dared to abandon promised life under the bright light with neon sign in order to fight the freedom of his homeland; instead of spending glorious nights with sipping ruby red wine and mingle with friends, he opted for a jungle life to free his people; instead of enjoying academic life in the first world, he came back to the jungle for the second time to join the struggle for democracy, human rights and freedom in the very country where he and his family were persecuted and denied for their basic rights of dignity and governing power.

I first met Uncle Eugene in 1998 at a conference in Ottawa, Canada. After a few chat, we soon engaged in a serious intellectual and political debate on Burma; began with a certain historical facts which quickly led us into the question of “why”. The question of “why” in history did not satisfied him, but I maintained my position quite firmly. We quickly resumed our debate when we met again in Thailand after one year in 1999, all the way long from Bangkok to Mae Sod. It was the time we formed the National Reconciliation Program (NRP) for Burma, and the NRP remained very close to his heart until his final days. I later realized that his main concerned (during our debate) was not merely historical fact and the question of “why” in history, but he seemed trying to shift the entire paradigm of Burmese studies by challenging the old school of history and political science in the context of Burma. He challenged the very notions of “nation-building” and “national integration” for the term “nation” is subjective value which cannot be shared objectively between two different people or ethnic groups, which therefore is very problematic in multi-ethnic plural societies like Burma. He boldly proposed
“state-building” instead of “nation-building”; he suggested “unity in diversity” instead of “national integration”; and he was opting for “federalism and democratic decentralization” instead of centralized unitary version of absolute sovereignty.

Although I have been deeply involved in Burma democracy movement since 1988 as a student and later as political activist, and attended several meetings and conferences in exile, I was quite reluctant to go back to the jungle and work fulltime for the movement after I finished my doctorate study at Uppsala University, Sweden. Uncle Eugene did not force me to rejoin, but he once wrote a letter to me and related his life story, in which he mentioned how he escaped assassination attempts at least twice. He also mentioned the reason why he believed in democracy and ready to sacrifice his life for the cause. In short, he wrote the reason why he never surrendered to evil power and willingly continued to live the struggling life of freedom fighter. He completely committed his time and life for the poor and the oppressed people of Burma. I let my wife read his letter, and she burst into tears. For me and my family, we have our own commitment and readiness to sacrifice for the struggle of freedom in our country; but Uncle Eugene was the one who, one way or another brought me back to the jungle life of freedom fighter, to contribute fulltime service to democracy movement in Burma.

Since January 2001, I worked with him. We travelled together all over the world, camped together in the jungle, shared hotel rooms in many cities around the world, and rented small apartment together in Chiang Mai. I saw his humbleness not only in a small room that we shared but also in big hotel lobby and grand dinners with dignitaries. I saw his courage and leadership quality when we faced with unbearable hardship and difficulties. I saw his genius intellectual and wisdom not only in the jungle conference but also in academic seminars around the world. I saw his loving kindness and caring attitude when we met with oppressed, marginalized and less fortunate fellow human beings. He was a loving father and husband who deeply cared family and loved the children. I more realized how committed family man he was, especially after he visited to us to Uppsala in June 2003. He fondly loved children, including my kids, and used to send nice presents to them. The following letter is one example, which he wrote to me on September 20, 2003:

Dear Lian

There are two packs of dried lamyai fruits in my room, I think. They are for you, Aapen, and the kids. Never got around to telling you. I was going to, but you were not around, and even when I see you, there were so many other things that I forgot. Sorry for not remembering. I recalled the fruits only after I go back (yesterday, 19th, at 3PM). I hope you will be back in the office, and will take them back home.

Best, UncleE/CTY

Although we worked very closely during the past three years, we rarely found enough time to talk about our personal matters. Instead, we exchanged notes via e-mail or telephone. In his loving memory, I would like to mention his last letter to me, in which he mentioned his creed, which I think reflects his real portrait and who he was. I didn’t know that this letter would be his last letter to me. The letter was dated on February 7, 2004.

Dear Lian

By the time you read this, you will presumably be at home with your loving family. My regards to Aapen and the kids.

FIRST, I hope you got the book, GOOD MORNING BUDDHA by Phra Phillip, the English monk. I put it on your bed. It is a very useful book, a must.

SECOND, I am happy we had the short phone conversation before you left, and appreciate your honesty.

I am a person who does not believe that anyone owes me anything, not even loyalty, gratitude nor love. My behavior towards everyone is based on the concept that all are fellow human beings, nothing more, nothing less. Hence, no one is perfect. I come into this world alone, perhaps incidentally or accidentally. This is my creed.

But at the same time, I believe that some human beings are noble in spirit and at heart, but some are really despicable, while the majority decent and neither very good nor very bad.

It is my sacred obligation, I believe, to help all fellow human beings, but as a political person, it is my obligation to help, facilitate, mentor, guide the up-coming persons of promise and capabilities, to foster and bolster his/her potentials. And this is what I always do.
You are – in my judgment — one of the leaders and builders of the future Union – the kind of vision I devoted my life to. So, I hope you recognize the burden or cross you will have to bear if you want to give meaningful leadership.

Being a leader is being a politician, and importantly being a good human being above all – not a good Christian, a pious Buddhist, or a devout Muslim. Religion serves to make a person a whole human being – not to show the path to paradise, heaven, or nirvana. Religion should be a very personal moral guide and framework.

To be a good human being, a whole Man, this is the holy grail of a political leader. It is not courage so much, nor intellect, nor is it heroic deeds and words. These are incidental.

Believe me, in my eventful life spanning many decades of turmoil and turbulence, I have met and dealt with thousands of people – the good, the bad, and the ugly. You wouldn’t believe the evil I have confronted, the really bad, and truly ugly, the cold-blooded killers, the cold-eyed back-stabbers, and such. I haven’t survived merely through luck.

You can be assured that I will stand behind you and other up-and-coming hopes of our people – providing that you try to overcome your personal turmoil and emotional immaturity. It is the fate of politicians to have his heart broken, again, and again, countless times. You have not only to bear this cross, but also to recognize it, and embrace it.

I hope you are not offended by my frankness – as a true friend. I am sure that your wife will agree with me if you show her this letter.

BEST, UncleE/CTY

Uncle Eugene was an irreplaceable mentor, leader and friend; his death is a great personal loss to me, and it is great loss also for the continuing fight for equality, self-determination, federalism and democracy in Burma. I feel very heavy and sadden that he will no longer be with us in the rest of our struggle. This reminds me once again that we can not get hold of everything that we wanted in life. Sorrow and emptiness have taken away days and nights with no explanation.

As I recall a loving memory and gladness that he had brought to me, I am very proud and honour that I have a privilege to work with him during his last but finest hours in life. He was a great noble man of freedom fighter, a genius academician, a true believer in democracy, human rights and freedom. He is gone by now, but his legacy will live on! His courage, wisdom, hard work and dedication to the cause of peace and freedom in Burma had firmly rooted in the living history of our country. He will always be remembered as a leader, a hero, a revolutionary and intellectual activist who dedicated all his life for the freedom of the people of Burma. We respect the dignity and legacy of Uncle Eugene and the Yawnghwe family.
With a great honour I salute Uncle Eugene!

Dr. Lian H. Sakhong
General Secretary
United Nationalities League for Democracy-Liberated Areas (UNLD-LA),
Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC)

 

 

 

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