I am now in Kuala Lumpur on my way back to Perth. But if I close I eyes it feels like I am still in Rangoon. I hear Burmese people everywhere! In 2005 the Myanmar Times reported 50,000 Burmese workers and over 50,000 Burmese refugees in Malaysia. Seven years on this number must surely have grown and I predict will continue to do so, or remain stable at least, even with the recent democratic developments in Burma. Yes I say Burma, not Myanmar.
In 1989 the military junta changed the country’s official name saying “Burma” was a relic from British colonial rule and implied the diverse land belonged only to the Burman ethnic majority. The current constitutionally decreed title is the “Republic of the Union of Myanmar” and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has stirred up quite a storm by defiantly continuing to use the name “Burma”. On June 29th 2012 the country’s Union Election Commission (UEC), which enforces laws dealing with political parties, sternly warned ASSK to stop calling the country “Burma”, accusing her and her opposition party the National League for Democracy (NLD) of flouting the constitution (DVB 2012). It said that her repeated reference to the country as Burma contravened the military-drafted 2008 Constitution (Associated Press 2012).
In a Burmese language journal earlier this month, ASSK was able to cite the words of renowned Burmese historian Dr. Than Tun that the vernacular word “Myanmar” refers to the “Myanmar” people and is NOT the name of the country. There are many other ethnic races apart from the “Myanmar” who live in the country “Burma”. It is true that the term “Burma” connotes “Burman”, the dominant ethnic group in the country, which some may claim is to the exclusion of ethnic minorities. “Burman” is in fact English for “Myanmar” so “Burma” the country is all inclusive.
At a press conference at NLD headquarters on July 3rd 2012 ASSK told reporters “I call my country ‘Burma’ as we did a long time ago. I’m not insulting other people.” To the UEC’s warning for her and her party to “respect the Constitution” and use the proper name ASSK replied, “The State Law and Order Restoration Council changed the name without a public consensus. They didn’t bother to consider what the public opinion about the new name was. They didn’t show any respect to the people.” (Associated Press 2012). She added, “Freedom of speech… and the right to speak one’s mind freely doesn’t insult anyone. This is also about democratic principles and policy. So I assume that I can use whatever I want to use as I believe in democracy.” (DVB 2012).
For the past week and a half there has been much heated discussion around the world about this one lady’s usage of this one word. Here are some interesting comments I’ve come across online.
“A rose is a rose, no matter how it is called by any other name.
UEC did not much care, and take initiative, about alleged violations or discrepancies in the 2010 general elections. Now it takes its own initiative to warn about calling Myanmar Burma. The two words had meant one and the same thing a long, long time before SLORC dictated the naming of Burma (Myanmar) as Myanmar, as if it can delete the word Burma from world geography and dictionaries, and wipe it out from the national and world stages. Popular calling is one thing while officialdom is another. Why must citizens of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar be so officialese, stiff and call the country by the full name given by a dictatorial regeme. Listen to Bogyoke Aung San’s talks: he referred to his country as Bama Pyi- no offense to our ethnic brethren please. DASSK is showing the way of a proper democracy here in this country. Can the UEC do that?”
Don’t forget China (Zhongguo) and Japan (Nihon or Nippon)!
And here’s a more lighthearted response from a Burmese blogger: http://saw-whar-whar-shee.blogspot.com/2012/07/name.html
So Burma it is!
On a sort of related note, in Burma people think I am Indian and in India they think I am Chinese. Wonder what they will think of me in China.