Burma? Myanmar? Take your pick and mix.

December 17, 2010

There’s a little debate going on the guardian website.  Tim Garton Ash has explained why he says Burma, not Myanmar having written a piece about a videolink with Aung San Suu Kyi at the LSE.

I quite see why he uses Burma.  I often do.  But I use Myanmar too.  So do my Burmese / Myanmar friends.

Yes, the junta imposed Myanmar but they had a bit of a point when they described the use of Burma as the ‘last vestige of colonialism’; Burma’s what the British called somewhere much more than simply where the Burmese live.  They make up the largest group in the country coming from the flat lands at the heart of the country but on the mountains and along the coasts people call themselves other names.  My friend’s Rakhaine.  Calling him Burmese is akin to calling a Welshman English.

Myanmar has become widely used not least because it means The Golden Land and the locals, in the main, go for that.  A generation of young adults has grown up with it.  Little resentment of it is expressed.  People speak Myanmar.  The number one beer is called Myanmar.  People are proud to be from Myanmar.  Proud to be Myanmar.

People do say Burma as well, especially older people and when they speak in English, but Burma exists more as an abstract now.  A time and place before.  When things were better than they have been, than they are.  A time and place to which they hope to return some time soon.  When change eventually comes.  Maybe they’ll all agree to call it Burma again when that comes about.

Either way it is a golden land.


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