I missed this article when it came out last Monday – thanks Google News – and it makes for an interesting read. In opposition to recent Western media articles, the author Zonn Pan Pwint, correctly picks out the ‘missed opportunities’ that befell the festival among the hype and premature jubilation of free speech, censorship and Daw Suu mingling with Western authors. “Missed opportunities’ that the Burmese writers themselves keenly felt, such as the lack of translators:
“ I think the international visitors had looked forward to hearing more local authors talking about how they had overcome whatever obstacles they faced under the military government.” Said Ma Thida.
Khin Pan Hnin noticed the lack of effort made to facilitate collaboration between the Burmese authors and their western counterparts.
“At dinner [on February 1], the local participants just sat next to their local friends,”
Interestingly, Khin Pan Hnin points to the Burmese authors for shying away from the Western writers through shyness or perceived ignorance of their works as the cause for this. Although, surely the organisers could have predicted this and managed the gala dinners and table settings to ensure a well-rounded mix of individuals.
Ma Thida herself holds no such reservation for who should have been instrumental in arranging a suitable environment for friendly and productive meetings and collaborations:
“I expected closer cooperation between local and international writers, and the organisers should have helped establish links between writers ahead of time by email,” she said. “Since the festival was not well prepared, I recognised the authors on my discussion panel only after I took a seat. And it seemed that our relationship ended after the discussion”
Other local writers, such as Poet Saw Wai, picked up a particular sore point for me, the disparity in regards to the compensation of Burmese writers and the foreign invitees.
“The writers received an honorarium of K5000 a day, but it cost me K38,000 to photocopy my cartoons, not to mention taxi fees,” he said.
“That was one of the factors behind the absence of some bestselling local authors at the festival. They didn’t receive fair recognition and respect, or a deserving honorarium,”.
Perhaps the most poignant and revealing statement of this article comes from Ma Thida, who argues that the festival didn’t live up to her expectations because she raised her hopes ‘too high‘.
I would argue that Ma Thida didn’t have too high a hope, the organisers, intending to create a one off international event catering for foreigners, inelegantly set the bar too low.