April 18, 2021
Opinions and Commentary

New flag for Burma: A symbol of Burmanization

29 October 2010 (Chinland Guardian): Two weeks before its planned election of November 7, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) unveiled a new national flag for Burma on 22nd October, 2010. The new national flag consists of a large single white star set against three horizontal background stripes of red, green and yellow.

According to the military, “the green color of the flag represents peace, yellow solidarity, and red, valour.” While the SPDC is hell-bent on materializing its own version of a discipline-induced democracy, once again it finds itself caught in a self-induced contradiction: the SPDC’s unilateral unveiling of the flag runs counter to the due legislative process of a democracy.

As the key national symbol of any nation, it is imperative that a due process is followed in the legislative branch. Without formally allowing the future legislative chamber to deliberate over the design and meaning of a new national flag, the SPDC hijacked the ratification process, officially (and symbolically) setting the stage for a one-sided election which disregards the wishes of the many while advancing the will of the ruling few.

The attempt to build a strong centralized Union without acknowledging the existence of ethno-cultural diversity has long been regarded by ethnic national minorities as a policy of Burmanization – the policy of assimilating all ethnic national minorities into the dominant ethnic Burman group – which would result in the loss of their cultures and ethnic national identities.

In designing a national flag, it should accurately reflect the distinct national characteristics of its represented country, including its diversity. That means the symbol of the flag should not carry a loaded or biased connotation capturing only one social fragment. Neither should the flag be employed by any dominant group to advance its own policy over others for its own gain in a way that would be seen as detrimental to other stakeholders.

Let the meaning of the chosen colors and symbols for a national flag be defined in any way a country wishes. But the flag must also symbolize the characteristics of the common polity is meant to represent. For example, “the United States of America’s national flag consists of thirteen horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with 6 white. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies, the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. The colors of the flag are symbolic as well: Red symbolizes Hardiness and Valour, White symbolizes Purity and Innocence and Blue represents Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice.”

For a heterogeneous society, diverse and plural – like the Union of Burma – any national symbol has to represent the multi-national characteristics of the country. Make no mistake, the Union of Burma (Myanmar) is a multi-ethnic country made up of eight major ethnic nationalities: the Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Chin, Mon, Arakan, Shan, and Burman/Bama. Each ethnic nationality in the Union of Burma has its own territory, culture, language, and ethnicity. Each of them concentrates in their respective land and territory.

For instance, Chin state is populated by ethnic Chins and form a majority within Chin State, as does every ethnic group in its geographical homeland. Divisions in Burma are deep-rooted, so any institutional process – including the selection of a flag – that does not reflect the heterogeneous characteristics of the country will face a fierce resistance by ethnic nationalities. Throughout the nation building process in Burma, this policy of Burmanization has been pursued in various ways. A native scholar and leading democracy activist, Lian Hmung Sakhong, argues that “successive governments have carried out [the] nation-building process in terms of one race, one language, and one religion.”

Along that line, the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the leading armed resistance movements in Burma, also alleges that the leaders of the Burman ethnic group – especially the military regime – have been employing a policy of “Three As” against Karen ethnic groups: Assimilation, Absorption, and Annihilation. Rightfully, ethnic nationalities have collectively resisted such an ethnic-cleansing policy.

Driven by the need to preserve their identities and defend their national right to self–determination against the Burmese military regime, all ethnic minorities have resisted the regime’s ethnic-cleansing policy. I argue that the underlying intention behind the unilateral promulgation of the national flag – a single monolithic star set against green, red, and yellow colors – is consistent with the regime’s long-standing goal of creating a monolithic ethnicity by assimilating all ethnic nationalities into Bama lumyo in Burmese – the Burman “race.” The junta has given the resistance movement a new symbol to strongly resist.

By Salai Za Ceu Lian


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