What’s in a name…Burma or Myanmar?

I've always called Burma, Burma. I had no idea where this country that my European friends call 'Myanmar' was. I realised I needed to research a bit more about this country, and began to discover some uncomfortable findings.

Burma’s military-backed government has one of the worst human rights records in the world, with crimes like employing forced labour, using child soldiers and forcing thousands of people from their homes. There are hundreds of political prisoners, the most famous of whom is Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Ki, known locally as “The Lady”. Aung San Suu Ki was held under house arrest for more than 15 years, for a variety of offences made up by the military junta. Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won 82% of the seats in elections held in 1990, yet the military refused to transfer power to these democratically elected leaders.

Aung San Suu Ki

International pressure and sanctions led to the government announcing their plan of ‘roadmap to democracy’, with elections planned for 2010. Ahead of the elections the dictatorship increased harassment of democracy activists, banned the National League for Democracy and placed severe restrictions on parties and candidates. There were widespread allegations of voter intimidation and bribery during the election. Following the elections held in 2010 a parliament was created, but it is dominated by pro-military parties. Next year there will be another set of elections, and there is an optimism here that the NLD will win, and Aung San Suu Ki will be the President.

The name 'Burma' was changed to 'Myanmar' by the dictatorship in 1989, with no referendum to question what the people of Burma thought. Some think switching to the use of Myanmar as yet another reward for the military backed government. The people of Burma, on the whole, and the Democratic Parties, prefer the use of the name 'Burma' to 'Myanmar' which, in line with my thoughts on changing the names of places (see my blog entry on Saigon if you don't know what I'm talking about!), we will use throughout this blog. Similarly 'Rangoon' was changed to 'Yangon', which I think, in comparison, sounds rubbish!


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