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date: 07 October 2022

“National Races” in Myanmarlocked

“National Races” in Myanmarlocked

  • Ardeth Maung ThawnghmungArdeth Maung ThawnghmungUniversity of Massachusetts Lowell, Department of Political Science

Summary

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.

Subjects

  • Political
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Southeast Asia

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