The military government’s decision to raise oil and gas prices in 2007 led to widespread discontent, ultimately culminating in the short-lived Saffron Revolution. Buddhist monks were centrally involved in these protests; the color saffron alludes to the traditional color of monks’ robes. Higher oil prices placed a greater burden on an already-impoverished Burmese populace. Such hardships would also be transferred to the Sangha, which depended on food offerings from lay Buddhists for their sustenance.
Initially, the government showed surprising latitude in their muted response to the protests; such a response was likely due to the heavy participation of the Sangha. However, the tenor of the protests soon shifted and they became more political in nature. Monks stopped by the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy who was under house arrest, and called for a democratic government. In response to this challenge to their authority, the military responded brutally, attacking monastic protestors.
These actions were recorded by onlookers who used cell phones and portable video cameras to document the crackdown. Despite the government’s effort to censor these images by shutting down the Internet in Myanmar, this footage found its way into households across the nation that had gained access to satellite televisions in recent years. Burmese people witnessed the government’s violence for themselves and this attack on the Sangha caused the government to lose legitimacy in the eyes of many. In addition, these images were broadcast around the world, leading to an international outcry.
Stephen McCarthy, “Losing My Religion? Protest and Political Legitimacy in Burma,” Griffith Asia Institute Regional Outlook Paper, No. 18 (2008).
David Steinberg, “Globalization, Dissent, and Orthodoxy: Burma/Myanmar and the Saffron Revolution,” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 9.2 (2008).