Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Emma Larkin

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Emma Larkin

Article excerpt

You've been writing about Burma for many years. What first attracted you to the country?

I've lived in Thailand all my life, and have been interested in what was happening across the border. Burma is a land filled with stories that aren't being written down, because of the regime.

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For a writer, that is endlessly compelling. I think any of us could go back again and again and again and hear stories that we hadn't heard before, and have an urge to record them.

Why did the junta delay international aid in 2008, during Cyclone Nargis? And was the international response adequate?

The most likely explanation is the severe paranoia among the leading generals. They are simply fearful of the outside world. They are nervous of international governments meddling, and of aid workers coming in and seeing what conditions are like in Burma.

You write about the way rumours in Rangoon take on the currency of facts. Does that make it difficult to report from Burma?

Yes, and there are naturally ethical dilemmas. You always have to ask: "Is it true, and how do you assess that?" I used a system whereby if I'd heard something from at least three or more different, unconnected people, then I would think it was something worth pursuing and try to find out more about it. There is a way to take rumours and build on them--and not just take every story that you hear, but to use intelligent speculation to assess whether it's worth writing or not.

What effects does censorship have on Burmese society?

These huge, life-changing events happen and there's no record of them. We can't talk openly about the monks' protests in 2007, for instance. People can't discuss it, it's not remembered. That's really damaging for society in the long term. For individuals -how do you process your life, or the marking points of your life? There are things which happened to you that you felt very powerfully about, but you have no way to acknowledge them.

Would it make a difference if the international press reported more consistently on Burma? …

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