Forming the Union Without the Myanmar /Burman
The flashing of the photo of SSA (Shan State Army) leader Col. Yawd Serk and SSNA (Shan State National Army) and announcing the merger to fight against the genocidal regime in Rangoon, over the media is worthy of inspiration and imitation to all the ethnic groups of the Union of Burma, if not the world. It is also time to think whether we could form the Union of Burma or rather Union of Nationalities minus the dominant Myanmar/Burman tribe.
In order to understand this current trend let us go back to a short history of Burma, the Myanmar tribe originating from South of India known as Mrama became dominant with the ethnic cleansing policy and in the early days wipe out the Pyu, Kanyan and Thet tribes before the founding of the first Burmese dynasty of 1044 AD. Following the ethnic cleansing policy, the founder of the last Burmese dynasty U Aung Zeya gathered all the Mon monks under the pretext and killed all of them in order to wipe out the Mon civilization and race as well. These are all vividly written in the history books. Now when the Union of Burma was formed some of the ethnic nationalities seeing the chance to get independence join the Union while some advanced groups as Karen, Arakan, Mon, Karenni were deliberately left out.
As soon as the Union was formed the Myanmar dominated government, at once launched the ethnic cleansing policy with the avowed goal of one country (Burma) one race (Burman) and one religion (Buddhist). Making Buddhism, a state religion, changing the country’s name to Myanmar, using rape as a weapon of war against the ethnic groups is all authenticated proof, which nobody can deny.
The majority of the Myanmar have an incurable disease ‘uniformity’ and ‘homogeneity’ in terms of ethnicity, culture, religion, organization and even opinion and sexuality, that tends to create varieties of social and political problems. The end result was a never-ending ethnic and racial problem.
When Burma was under the colonial rules, anti-colonial movement in Burma Proper employed ‘nationalism’ in their struggle against the British (see Dharma Vappa) The version of nationalism at that time was ethnicity-and-religion oriented, that revolved around the identity, culture and language of Myanmar and Buddhism in order to inspire the people to rise up against the British. ‘Doh Bama Azi Ayone (and not Doh Myanmar Azi Ayone) became a rallying point and although it worked well for anti-colonial movement it paid no attention to non-Myanmar. Obviously it claimed cultural superiority, partially based on the perceived or imagined glorious past which also led some Burman nationalists to view themselves as superior, not only to British but also to develop the attitudes of superiority and contempt over other non-Myanmar ethnic groups because in their views, these groups were historically conquered by the Myanmar kings. This is the crux of Burmanization or Myanmafication accompanied by forced assimilation and suppression of diverse (dangerous and divisive according to the regimes) cultures, histories, identities and aspirations of non-Myanmar ethnic groups. or in the words of Ashley South, “‘national identity’ derived from the Burman historical tradition”.
Even though the democracy groups both inside and outside of Burma deny that they held or share any ethno-nationalist views of the military regime, their actions and attitudes of many of them indicate otherwise. Their attitudes, worldviews and actions are filled with chauvinism albeit less obvious to themselves and thus, it is very rare for them to acknowledge it, much less to accept it as according to Dhama Vappa, ” Their chauvinism is displayed when they express that their goal for restoration of democracy must precede over the aspirations of non-Burman ethnic nationalities or when they do not recognize the differences and diversities–be it social customs, experiences or aspirations. They tend to refuse to listen to the experiences of the suffering of non-Burman ethnic nationalities and quick to interrupt with: Oh, we understand your sufferings. We also gone through the same experiences. You are not alone.” Another instance is when the news or reports of non-Burman ethnic women are being raped by the military regime comes out, instead of expressing the outrage at the injustice the women have been facing, the defensive mechanisms in some Burman oppositional groups pop up quickly. They rush to say that, Well, the army is not consists of Myanmar alone. There are also other ethnic nationalities as well.” This is because they are unable and unwilling to comprehend the relation between themselves and the system that they live in and gone through, which generate and perpetuate oppressions and destructive ideologies including ethno-nationalism. A classic example is that when renegade Sao Hser and Khun Hom declared independence, most of the ethnic leaders opted for Federal Union but we sorrowfully discovered that the tune of the Myanmar inside Burma led by NLD, the peripherals and the Diaspora are of the same chauvinistic tune.
What more, those ethnic nationalities that grow up among the Myanmar groups were converted to this chauvinist view, e.g. an up coming Arakanese boy from Ontario is defending the chauvinistic idea tooth and nail in the internet. What the ethnic nationalities are afraid of is that such kind of episodes will finally lead them to the disappearance of their race, culture and values. They clearly foresee that in not so distant a future they will be in the lost of vanishing tribes only seen in museum and books as the Pyu, Kanyan and Thet.
The Myanmar being a major dominant tribe have all sorts of human resources and ideas, the idea of “Let the minority fight the minority” is not only prevalent now a days with the Wa taking on the Shan or the Lahus siding with the Wa or the Karen quarrelling the spoils with the Mon etc, they have been in existence long ago. The Myanmar are expert in dividing even among the same group e.g. the DKBA fighting the KNU, KNLF taking on the KNPP, Honsawaddy groups fighting the NMSP, Kachin, Arakans and so on. They created such an atmosphere that one will go for the other throat, e.g. in the assault on the KNPP they forced the KNLF group to go in front, so also the DKBA led the Myanmar army over Manearplaw etc. The Shan has learned great lesson and have sent an example to the other ethnic groups to follow suit. They have come to realize what we say in Burmese as “Aien Kyet Chin Oe Mae Thoke” smearing coke on one cock so that the other would not recognize and fight the other. The most dangerous is the cooking pot where eventually they would land. This means that if the ethnics do not unite they will be handle one by one and will soon be finished.
No doubt some ethnic groups have their hard feelings and bad memories over each other, but these are nothing if compared to the SPDC who will stew them one by one. The ceasefire groups especially the 18,000 strong UWSA should also heed this warning. After taking on the smaller and weaker ones their turn will come as even now the Junta is conniving with the Thai army (how many times have the Burmese generals met with the Thai counterparts) on to take on the formidable Wa tribe. Now that most of the young educated Wa leaders has come to the foe having it would be not difficult for the EN group to organize them, as unlike the days when leadership was dominated by the ethnic Chinese. It is high time to unite. The Wa has clearly indicated that they will never lay down their arms until full democracy is achieved. They may have to stick on their guns as long as they go along with the Burmese Junta and it is time for them to try their luck with the EN groups to see whether democracy is much more nearer. On the other hand the EN groups which is on speaking terms with every ethnic group both the ceasefire and fighting groups should play a leading role as a peace-maker and solidify the bonds of ethnic nationalities.
The EN leaders should see the writings on the wall that their goal of tripartite dialogue is no longer feasible. The Junta will never come to a tripartite table because it does not want to share its power, the Myanmar group both inside and outside the country paid only lip service to the ethnic cause and grievances and even if forced by the international community to the negotiating table is not so sure of the latter support, who still shares chauvinistic idea. The only option for the EN group is to take a leading role and unite the ethnic groups who all have their armed wing and work it to a level that will pose a viable alternative to the Junta. This will have to be proven internationally. It must also be in a position to speak in the language that the Junta understands and the only option is to have all the armed groups under the umbrella of EN and proves to the Myanmar men in uniforms cannot always speak from the position of strength.
The episode of latest Rangoon bomb blast clearly paints the picture. Some one has spoken to the regime in language they understand and that is why such a confusion among the top brass. The regime changes its strategy. To cover up the split among them as well as to create a common enemy they blame the ethnic groups and forced the ceasefire groups either to lay down their arms or to go back to the jungles to fight them. Their strategy of taking one by one has backfired even though they forced the much smaller ethnic groups to surrender. The example is just look at the Shan groups uniting under one umbrella minus Khun Sa.
The 17-ceasefire groups that have participated in the National Convention with hopes of a genuine federal union of Burma have proved to be false. The Kachin who are the first to betray the monolithic unity of the ethnic groups are now in disarray with their leaders having more of an economic eye rather than the welfare of the entire Kachin populace. We do hope that the young Kachin leaders should take the initiative and throw their lot with the other ethnic brethren
However, to unite the ethnic nationalities is better said than done, great care must be taken that the idea and philosophy in fighting the Myanmar Junta must not be the version of nationalism ethno-nationalism. In other words they must not be racist. There must be a broad-minded elements and accept Burmese language as a lingua franca or how would they correlates with one another. It is based on ethno nationalism it will face the same problems such as exclusiveness, narrow-mindedness, pervasive xenophobia, hatred, distrust, prejudices and stereotype of all kinds, which can only lead to more conflicts. Of course there will be extremist everywhere and Philip Resnick comments “Extremists will react with hostility to moderates”. If we were to adopt the attitude that in relation with others, each ethnic group were to give preference for its own interests and aspirations and that other ethnic groups are not important as theirs, if not inferior, it will prevents us from building effective coalitions. The late Chao Tzang Yawnghwe has warned us;” An interesting aspect of resistance base on ethnic and emotional solidarities is that once the enemy — the oppressor nation or race (or class) — disappears from the scene, there is no real freedom for the masses, the people.” For a people to be truly free, for the nation to be prosperous, peaceful and to grow, decent people and their leaders must understand the evils inherent in ideologies that strike people blind and make them dumb.
Hence the EN groups should change their philosophy and goal and lobby for Federal Union of Burma encompassing of the few Myanmar democrats that are not so chauvinistic and who really have the union in heart. If that is not successful, the EN should create its own Union of Nationalities minus the Myanmar group. If the latter is the choice, we should soon be witnessing the Junta and the pro-democracy groups going for each other throat and if the ethnic groups are not united will see the country drifting off to Balkanization. So let us form the Union without the chauvinistic Myanmar. Until and unless we can give an alternative idea and goals there is little or no hope for the utopia of the Union of Burma.
By Kanbawza Win