Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Burma or Myanmar?

The debate about the name of the country is one that has been going on for some time. however, i believe the focus should not be about political associations, but more about how the name has historically evolved, and what implications that has for the country's future.

Pre-colonialisation, the official name 'myanmar naing ngan taw', literally translated as great myanmar nation, was used in referring to the country internally. Colloquially, the majority burmans refer to the country as 'bamar', a reflection of their own majority in the country. some of myanmar's neighbours have always and still refer to the country in the traditional way: 'myan-tien' in mandarin, 'min-teen' in cantonese. Others with prominent contact with the burman ethic group have, however, referred to the country by its colloquial name, 'pama' in Thai, 'bamar' in Hindi.

As western civilisation became familiar with the country through asian trading routes and the early colonisation attempts of the british, contact was made with the burman majority ethnic group. the west then adopted the name 'burma' to refer to the country, in the same way they adopted malaya to refer to malaysia (malays were and are still the predominant ethnic group) and ceylon for sri lanka (a reference to the sinhalese people).

The military changed western street names, city names and of course, the country's name in 1989 through setting up a language commission, made up of a minority of four linguists and a majority group of military and civilian government officials with no knowledge of the language, a breeding ground for irrational and unscientific decision making. I therefore believe that despite the official reasons given for the change of name, it is the military regime's dislike of interference, particularly from the west, led to its wish to eradicate any evidence of the strongest type of interference, namely colonisation. Some view this as xenophobia - I view it as fervent nationalism, a quality which, in moderation, can be a positive one.

While pro-democracy activists would point out that the initiator of the change is a regime they despise, the fact remains that they are nationalists themselves - why else would they be campaigning endlessly for their country's 'second indepedence'? As a prudent nationalist, one will acknowledge history as it occurred, but will aim to preserve and develop the national indentity that existed before colonisation.

For this reason, I believe the name of the country should remain as myanmar, without any implications on political views.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

The issues facing Burma/Myanmar today

I have been observing the political scene in our country from the sidelines since the early 90's. I have watched our people going through a mild stint of optimism and prosperity after the conversion to a market-based economy due to the devastating riots of 1988.

Despite the optimism following the 1990 elections and the economic reconfiguration, our people's condition has deteriorated. My brief analysis is certainly not an exhaustive list of all our country's issues; instead, it will serve as guidelines for my future blog posts and discussions with you all. I believe our people are currently suffering in the following ways:


  • A political stalemate with neither the regime nor the opposition budging much from their position
  • Lack of genuine progress towards democratization due to the stalemate
  • The lack of political experience by the country’s civilians due to them being excluded from multiparty democracy for the last four decades. Where opposition civilians have attempted to practice democracy in the last four decades, this has been confrontational and uncompromising, lacking the maturity of politics seen in other democracies in Asia and beyond


  • Restrictions on freedom of speech and domestic/international movement due to mistrust, misunderstanding and the regime's military mentality of asserting absolute control
  • Oppression of our ethnic minorities, ranging from the teaching of ethnic languages in schools being forbidden, to the misfortune of our ethnic people being caught in the crossfire between Tatmadaw and rebel armies
  • The poor quality of social services such as health and education, accounting for a disproportionately small portion of the national budget relative to military expenditure
  • The poor infrastructure (transport, electricity, water, telecoms) due to lack of investment, lack of expertise, economic sanctions and the greed of contractors
  • The emigration of our country's top talent abroad when our country needs all the talent it can hold on to; this is understandable as emigrants can currently attain a wealthier, freer standard of living for themselves and their families
  • Increased scrutiny on our monks and their religious ceremonies they hold, due to mistrust arising from the September 2007 protests


  • Widespread economic sanctions imposed by Western countries. While these have certainly impacted those the sanctions were aimed at (eg. Htoo Trading), the far greater impact has been on the numerous innocent lower-class civilians unavoidably working in such companies
  • Economic mismanagement by officials with little academic or practical experience
  • The entrenchment of the welfare of family businesses in economic legislation, due to the desire to protect one’s own family, greed and corruption


  • The creation of arbitrary laws, sometimes at inopportune moments (eg. the import of cars and vital machinery) due to a lack of a constitutional framework on which legislation should be based
  • The inconsistent enforcement of law, with high levels of corruption from a local to national level, necessitated by poor living conditions for lower level officials and greed and corruption for higher level officials
  • Questionable judiciary practices particularly for trials related to state affairs (e.g. trials of political prisoners) due to a lack of independent judicial appointments, poor standards of living for judges/lawyers, and the potential repercussions from upsetting senior government officials

One underlying message is present – the current political stalemate is affecting the welfare of our people. It tarnishes our country’s image ASEAN and the international community. It weakens our country when negotiating with stronger economies such as China, India, Thailand, Singapore and to a lesser extent the West. Our people deserve to be proud and strong, the way to get there is to end the decades-long political deadlock.

My blog will tackle each of the problems above in turn. I will also analyse articles from both pro- and anti-government sources. I will respond to comments in the articles with the aim of trying to:

1. Create awareness and understanding of issues from both an anti- and pro- perspective
2. Identifying common grounds between both sides
3. Suggesting a way forward by putting the social, economic, political and legal welfare of our people first and foremost.
4. Where appropriate, identifying if and where the way forward is included in the constitution

Hope you all find this interesting reading, and as always, I invite your comments.

Who am I?

Hello all. I started writing this blog the day after our nation was hit by a strong cyclone. I wish all the families in the hard hit coastal areas and Yangon well, both in terms of how they are now, and the swift recovery of their health, property and belongings.

I believe a personal introduction is necessary to allow you to decide where the bias of my blogs and the opinions expressed within them lie. Here is a short account of me:

  • I take a neutral, objective view to the issues facing our country
  • I am neither pro- nor anti-government but I am pro-people and pro-development (I believe some people call this the "third force")
  • My aim is to promote mutual understanding between both pro- and anti- groups to work for the benefit of our people
  • I was born in Yangon
  • My family do not own any businesses in Burma/Myanmar
  • My family are professionals; there are no government or military officials of any level in my family, either by blood or by marriage
  • My family have no need to keep a close relationship with government and military officials in the line of our work
  • I return home frequently (around once every two years) to visit family, observe the state of the country and make charitable donations to needy individuals (the sick, poor, orphaned, disabled and monks)
  • I studied abroad as a student and am now working in an international company in the UK
  • I am able to speak, read and write to a medium level in "bamar" (Burmese) as I took the national exams up to the 6th standard; due to my upbringing abroad, my English is far more fluent

Feel free to leave me comments on my blog entries, but due to the strongly polarised opinions of my audience I will be moderating comments. I will not hesitate to present facts and opinions as I see them even if it ends up criticizing both parties. I understand this may alienate me from my audience, but in the tense political climate our country finds itself in, there is little value in presenting one-sided opinions which do not serve the interest of the people.

Without further ado, I will now work to get the blog regularly updated. Enjoy the blog!