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Challenge and Survival: Political Resistance in Authoritarian Burma Open Access

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Burma`s dictatorial government maintains its power by coupling political repression and social control methods to cultivate a compliant citizenry. Yet non-violent and violent opposition to military rule continues. Armed resistance groups began fighting for independence and autonomy from the state prior to Burma`s independence. Large-scale protests occurred in every decade since military takeover in 1962, the most recent were the monks' protests in September 2007.How do oppositions maintain their ability to challenge an authoritarian state over long periods? Authoritarian conditions necessitate that opposition movements resist by utilizing two imperatives: challenging the regime and ensuring their own survival. Resistance in Burma encompasses the offensive position of the challenge imperative and the defensive position of the survival imperative. Challenge activities confront the authority of the governing regime; the authoritarian government and its entities are the primary audience, although it is beneficial if other segments of society witness the action. Oppositional activities do more than just challenge the state. Oppositions conduct activities that also ensure their survival in the face of repression. Political activities serve to signal in-group solidarity, transfer information to other facets of the political movement and encourage long-term participation. For an opposition to survive repression, member retention is critical and activist family networks help individuals overcome regime-constraints to participation.The challenge and survival imperatives demonstrate that protest does not erupt `from out of nowhere.' Over-relying on protest as a proxy measure of the existence of opposition overlooks the wide range of resistance options available to discontented citizens, especially those living under authoritarian rule. Using a protest events dataset and interviews with activists, soldiers and citizens of Burma, this dissertation examines the range of political resistance used in Burma to challenge the dictatorial regime.

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