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Huge Buddha Statue a Fig Leaf for Myanmar Junta Atrocities

August 9, 2023

Myanmar’s regime inaugurated a 1,700-ton Buddha statue in the capital Tuesday, but residents used to the military’s religious diplomacy quietly criticized it.

The Maravijaya Buddha inauguration on Waso’s full moon is the latest attempt by Myanmar’s military administration to portray itself as religious in the Buddhist-majority nation, despite using brutality to maintain power.

A Naypyidaw resident claimed civil officials had “no other choice but to go” to the event despite Waso being a holiday. He, like several others RFA Burmese contacted for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

He remarked, “What I am sure of is that no civilians who aren’t government employees joined the ceremony.” It was only forced junta personnel who went there. The military provided their transportation.”

Myanmar’s newest regime celebrated Dhammasetkya Day, the first sermon Buddha preached, with gusto.

The ordination ceremony for the 63-foot Buddha on an 18-foot throne in Naypyidaw was the largest official religious event in the country since Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing took control two-and-a-half years ago.

Pro-junta media call the 58 billion-kyat (US$27.6 million) carving “the world’s largest marble sitting Buddha statue,” ordered by the junta chairman to “show the international community that Buddhism is flourishing in Myanmar” and “bring peace to the country and the world.”

Residents of the city quickly pointed out the regime’s message of harmony’s absurdity as its security forces have killed 3,861 civilians since the Feb. 1, 2021 coup.

“What we see is that the junta is using a lot of money and manpower in building the statue to make it more famous than previous pagodas,” remarked another local. I have no plans to visit because the military dictator created it with blood.

Other opponents have called the statue Min Aung Hlaing’s vanity effort to portray himself as a Buddhist guardian in Myanmar.

Rights campaigner Zaw Yan noted that Myanmar’s national budget funded the statue. He asked why it wasn’t utilized to feed malnourished people caused by the junta’s economic mismanagement or aid the 2 million UNOCHA says have been displaced by fighting since the coup.

He remarked, “This is just the junta’s attempt to appear as if [Min Aung Hlaing] is a holy king in hope of gaining people’s support as a political exit.”

Remembered as murderers

Political analyst Sai Kyi Zin Soe told RFA that Min Aung Hlaing created the Maravijaya Buddha statue to cleanse his legacy, avoid danger, and extend his authority.

He answered, “That’s what [junta chiefs] usually do.” “There have been similar examples of this.”

The Loka Chantha Abhaya Labha Muni, a 560-ton, 37-foot-tall marble Buddha statue, was consecrated in Yangon by the former junta under Senior Gen. Than Shwe in February 2002. 

Than Shwe moved Myanmar’s capital from the city to Naypyidaw in 2006 and built the Uppatasanti Pagoda, named after a Buddhist chant to prevent invasion, three years later.

Former junta leader General Ne Win completed the Maha Wizaya Pagoda, meaning “extraordinary success,” south of Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda in 1986. Due to its link with the dictator, who killed unarmed students, monks, and other citizens in a 1988 coup, few people visit the pagoda.

On Tuesday, the junta unveiled the statue and declared an amnesty that lowered Aung San Suu Kyi’s prison term by six years and Win Myint’s by four. It released thousands of prisoners from prisons across.

The junta routinely grants amnesties on Buddhist holidays.

Kyee Myint, a human rights lawyer, stated that while some attempt to portray themselves as Buddhist monarchs, they are ultimately regarded as murderers. Try as they might, their wrongdoings will be remembered.”

Waryama, leader of the Spring Revolution Sangha Network of anti-junta Buddhist monks, compared such activities to “hiding a dead elephant with the skin of a goat,” or deception.

He stated generations of tyrants and dictators in our country built temples and pagodas to hide their misdeeds and killings. The junta is using the Buddha’s image to maintain its authority and inflict further suffering. Actually, worshiping Buddha sculptures is a superficial Buddhist custom.”

The statue Maravijaya, meaning “the Buddha who overcomes the devil’s interference,” was presented on Tuesday and symbolizes Buddhism.

The independent research group Institute for Strategy and Policy (ISP-Myanmar) says Myanmar’s superstitious military officials venerate the Maravijaya statue because of the number nine.

The statue (1,782 tons) and throne (3,510 tons) weigh 5,292 tons. When 5,292 is accumulated until one digit remains (5+2+9+2=18, 1+8=9), the outcome is nine. 

The same goes for the Buddha’s and throne’s total height, the number of nearby stone stupas (720), the number of days needed to finish the statue (1,143), the number of monks at the ceremony (900), and the ordination date (8/1).

However, Burmese political analyst Hla Kyaw Zaw in China stated Myanmar’s military commanders “don’t actually believe in religion.”

“They intend to mislead the people by building Buddha statues,” he continued, or “try to set their guilty minds at peace with such religious deeds.”

Monk Myauk Ya Marr from Sagaing’s Yinmarbin township, where junta troops committed some of the greatest crimes since the coup amid violent anti-junta resistance, claimed Min Aung Hlaing could never create enough statues to atone for his killings.

He added, “The sins of the many murders he has committed cannot be cleared by any means.” “He will suffer in hell regardless of his meritorious deeds.”

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson shared his displeasure, calling Min Aung Hlaing accountable for his “record of crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

“This is a man who is one of the worst war criminals in Asia, if not the world, and he foolishly thinks building another Buddhist temple will save him,” Robertson added. “This ridiculous waste of resources doesn’t mislead Burmese people, and the international community shouldn’t either. There will be no peace in Myanmar until Min Aung Hlaing and the [junta] coup makers are punished.

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