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“National Races” in Myanmar  

Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung

It has been conventional wisdom to attribute Myanmar’s entrenched military rule and civil war to the presence of more than a hundred ethnic groups and the near-exclusive political and economic monopoly enjoyed by the central government. While the presence of multiple ethnic groups has made it difficult to negotiate a settlement that satisfies all parties, the conflict that has occurred in Myanmar since the late 1940s originated in the colonial period and is perpetuated by the policies and practices of political and military elites since independence. Cultural identities remained fluid in precolonial Myanmar, but the British colonial government’s attempt to categorize groups based on their languages and to favor some groups at the expense of others reified and rigidified ethnic identities, creating political and economic divisions along these lines. The postcolonial government’s inability and unwillingness to accommodate demands for greater political and territorial autonomy by minority groups, as well as military repression of these aspirations, have further intensified conflict. This has resulted in the death or displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and has sharpened ethnic divisions. However, while minority ethnic and linguistic groups share common grievances against the Bamar-dominated central government, they disagree on how best to promote group interests and interethnic peace. Political reforms in 2011–2020 saw a reduced military role in politics, greater willingness of a semi-democratic government to negotiate an end to civil war, and greater space and opportunities for minorities to promote their language and culture and to push for greater political autonomy. These prospects were crushed by a military coup in February 2021 that has transformed the nature of civil conflict in Myanmar and perpetuated a cycle of violence.


Ethnic Conflict in Modern Central Asia  

Sergey Abashin

Pre-modern Central Asia saw a lot of violence and wars that had religious underpinnings or originated from genealogical claims. The colonial and Soviet reforms brought about reconsideration of cultural diversity in the logic of ethnic division. In the 20th century, reference to ethnicity became the main language of spontaneous violence escalation and explanation. With the weakening of Soviet rule, the region saw a series of heated conflicts. The most massive of them were the 1989 pogroms against Meskhi Turks in Uzbekistan and the 1990 clashes in Kyrgyzstan that took the shape of ethnic confrontation between the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority. Lesser disturbances also emerged in the borderlands and in mixed-ethnicity villages. After the collapse of the USSR, the 1990s saw an increase in social and religious violence in Central Asia. However, despite the violence being different in character, Central Asia had already gained a reputation of a very conflict-ridden region precisely in the ethnic sense. Many experts and politicians listed manifold potential ethnic conflicts about to break out in the region. In 2010, one of these predictions came true in the south of Kyrgyzstan, where a clash erupted between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. These expert assessments were also borne out by occasional conflicts over land and water arising between communities that live in the border areas. Nevertheless, the label of ethnic conflict does not always explain the reasons for violence. The conflicts in Central Asia arise and develop as a variety of local actions, which have different sequences, logic, and motivation. These actions are performed by very different agents—people, groups, and institutes that have their own interests and dispositions. Social and political slogans sound during the events, while the line of confrontation lies between local communities and particular groups of people, not between “nations” or “ethnic groups.” The label of ethnic conflict simplifies all these entanglements; there is usually a political interest or a certain intellectual tradition behind it, which essentializes and historicizes the reasons for aggression.