Archive for the ‘Burma’ Category

The image “https://i0.wp.com/images.derstandard.at/20060326/aung-sang-suu-kyi.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Aung San Suu Kyi (1945- ) is the leader of the movement for democracy in Burma. Her name sounds like “Owng Sahn Soo Chee”. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

In 2007, as I write this, she is under house arrest. She has been in prison or under house arrest for 11 of the past 18 years. Even when she was free in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the government still watched her closely and would not let her leave Rangoon. They would not even let her husband into Burma so he could see her one last time before he died of cancer.

The generals that run Burma will not kill her outright: her father, Aung San, is a hero to the whole country, even to the generals. In the 1940s he fought to free Burma from British and Japanese rule. He was murdered before he could become prime minister. Suu Kyi was two years old at the time.

Like her father, her courage is bottomless. Once she walked right up to a line of soldiers who all had their guns pointed at her ready to shoot.

To her the root of Burma’s troubles is not one of power and violence. They are just side effects of the deeper issue: courage and fear. Because the generals fear the people, they are violent. Because the people fear the generals they do not stand up to them strongly enough to overthrow them.

Her Buddhist faith makes up the heart of her thought, but she has also taken on Western ideas about human rights and democracy and Gandhi’s ideas about bringing change without violence.

Most of her early life was lived quietly abroad: her mother was an ambassador for Burma. Later she went to Oxford University (St Hugh’s) and then married Michael Aris, an English scholar, an expert on Tibet. They had two children.

She raised their family and continued her studies, studying the history of Burma, especially the life of her father.

They had a quiet life in England, but she warned her husband that one day she would have to return to Burma. That day came in 1988 when her mother became very sick. Suu Kyi went back to Burma to care for her.

While she was there huge protests sprang up against the government. The generals sent out their soldiers and killed thousands. She knew what she had to do.

She sent an open letter to the government, demanding a move towards free elections. She spoke at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon to hundreds of thousands. She crossed the country speaking for democracy. She became the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

The generals put her and other NLD leaders in prison and let the elections go ahead in 1990. But even with their leaders in prison, the NLD still won a huge victory. The generals never let them take power.

The generals still rule Burma to this day, but her story is not yet over.

– Abagond, 2007.

Update (February 19th 2021): The military allowed limited democracy, starting in in 2010, with Suu Kyi becoming the de facto leader of Burma in 2016. She had no control over the military, yet defended its actions when it ethnically cleansed Rohingya Muslims in 2017! In 2021 the military had her arrested for illegally importing walkie-talkies, which removed her from power.

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Burma or Myanmar?

Ortelius Asia 2So is it Burma or Myanmar, that country next to India?

Burma has been the preferred term in the West for over 400 years, but in 1989 the military masters there, after crushing the rise of democracy, informed us the country should now be called Myanmar in English.

So now some call it Myanmar, some still call it Burma.

Here are the sides:

  • Myanmar: the military rulers, UN, New York Times, CNN, AP, Britannica, Times of India, Sify, Al Jazeera. Xinhua, Pravda, Fox News
  • Burma: Aung San Suu Kyi, BBC, The Economist, The Times, Guardian, the CIA, Newsweek, Time, New Yorker, Wikipedia, the Oxford dictionary.

In short, the democrats in Burma, the American government and the British call it Burma, while American newspapers and most others call it Myanmar.

Among websites, three quarters use Myanmar and half use Burma, which means that a quarter use both names.

No one I know says Myanmar, at least not with a straight face.

A bit of background about the two names:

In the Burmese language the country has been called Myanma for almost a thousand years. Over time this became Bama in common, everyday speech. Even before 1989 both names were still used: Myanma is the grand old name you would use in a government report, say, while Bama is what you would call it when talking to a friend.

The 1989 decision only affects English, not Burmese.

Some languages have been using their own form of Myanmar for hundreds of years, like Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese. Marco Polo called it “Mien” like the Chinese.

In the West the name for the place came from the Portuguese, who called it Burma, which probably somehow comes from Bama. The oldest map I could find was a Dutch one by Ortelius from 1574, which calls the country Verma.

When Burma became independent in 1948 it kept the name of Burma in English. It was not till 1989 that the name Myanmar came up.

Notice that an r has been added. Why is that? So that it comes out sounding right on the BBC. Most Americans will mess it up and say Myan-marr, but many in Britain will say Myan-maah, which is right. Think of how Captain Jean-Luc Picard, John Cleese or Hugh Grant would say it. That is what the Burmese generals had in mind.

So Myanmar is not some evil invention of evil generals. It is an old and respectable name for the country.

So which is right?

I say Burma. For three reasons:

  1. I use the Oxford dictionary to settle questions about words. They use Burma. For me this is enough.
  2. Aung San Suu Kyi uses it in English. She received her education in English and, being a champion of democracy against the generals, her heart is in the right place. I trust her judgement.
  3. I am afraid that when the generals are overthrown, as they will some day, the name will be changed back to Burma. Everyone who used Myanmar will then look like a boot-kisser.

– Abagond, 2007.

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Burma (1948- ), also called Myanmar by some these days, is the country just to the east of India. It is a land of rice fields and golden temples, much of it still untouched by the Machine Age. It is the land of Mandalay. It is also home to one of the few heroes on the world stage, Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads the democracy movement against the generals, who have ruled Burma since 1962, longer than most of us can remember.

In 1988 there were protests to hold elections. The generals ordered the army to shoot on its own people. Thousands died. The protests were crushed. But in 1990 elections at last were held. Suu Kyi and her NLD party won a huge victory. But instead of becoming prime minister, Suu Kyi has been under arrest for most of the time ever since.

So things stood till 2007. In late August of that year tens of thousands of Buddhist monks came out to protest against the government. Most people in Burma are Buddhists, so the army could not very well shoot down the monks and think that would end it.

As the monks marched, people stood along the sides of the street and held hands as if to protect them. They came to Suu Kyi’s house. When she came out she cried.

But several weeks later the protests were brought to an end, at least for now. The government brought an end to the protests more by mass arrests than by mass killings, though it seems that hundreds were killed. But we do not know for sure since they cut the country off from the Internet (always a bad sign).

The monks came from the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, the most sacred place in Burma. The pagoda is over 2500 years old. It has eight hairs of Buddha and over a thousand bells of pure gold. The pagoda is made of gold, diamonds, rubies and sapphires. Kipling called it a “beautiful winking wonder.” It gets over 10,000 pilgrims a year.

The pagoda is in Rangoon, also called Yangon, the largest city in Burma. Rangoon stands on the Irrawaddy river where it flows into the sea after travelling down the middle of the country. It was once the capital but in 2005 the little known town of Naypyidaw in the middle of the country became the new capital.

The Burma Road goes from Rangoon to China. During the Second World War the British used it to supply China.

Far up the river from Rangoon is Mandalay, the second largest city. Here the king lived till the British overthrew him in 1885. Mandalay was made famous in the English-speaking world by Kipling, the first to say “on the road to Mandalay”. It was where Orwell was stationed.

From 1885 to 1948 Burma was part of the British Empire.

Burma is poor and backward, as bad as parts of Africa. In the country people still use ox carts. The roads are bad and the army controls much of the rice supply, so many are hungry.

– Abagond, 2007.

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