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Southeast Asia


( 363 visitor comments )


Southeast Asia


Why it's Burma, not Myanmar

27 May 2006

From the July 2005 CIA Fact Book:

"Since 1989 the military authorities in Burma have promoted the name Myanmar as a conventional name for their state; this decision was not approved by any sitting legislature in Burma, and the US Government did not adopt the name."

Neither should we, for these reasons:

1. Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the party which won 82 percent of the seats at Burma’s only modern election, pointedly uses Burma.

2. So does the Burmese government elected in the 1990 landslide.

3. So do the majority of Burma’s ethnic groups.

4. So do virtually all Burmese exiles, and their publications and websites.

5. Myanmar is (as Suu Kyi puts it) a name the junta has come up with: and the junta is an illegal government which dissolved the Burmese constitution.

6. Burma is used by (it seems to me) about half the people in Burma - and most of the other half probably only use Myanmar because of government pressure. E.g. a government electronic filter stops emails containing “banned words” such as Burma and Rangoon from being transmitted; being heard to use the word Burma could lead to trouble from soldiers, police or intelligence officers.

7. The UN and ASEAN use Myanmar because member governments (regardless of their legitimacy) have the legal right to be called by the name they choose for their nations.

8. The United States uses Burma - and pointedly rejects Myanmar. So does the EU, and the majority of Western nations, including France.

9. The name Myanmar was introduced in 1989. Therefore, if you write about the country in (say) 1988, you should say “Myanmar (then known as Burma)” or “Burma (now known as Myanmar)” or something equally clumsy. Burma on the other hand obviates such verbiage - as Burma has always been Burma.

10. Most quotable people say Burma rather than Myanmar, meaning that in stories the text will say one thing and the quotes another. This leads to “mixed-up” paragraphs such as: “Myanmar’s membership of ASEAN, she believes, “is very difficult to justify in the international community." She believes it is time to keep the pressure on Burma.

11. Burma is better-known around the world.

12. Myanmar is a really ugly word.

13. Burma is easier to say and write.

14. Myanmar doesn’t appear to have an adjective, leading to less fluid sentence constructions: “The Myanmar people” vs. “the Burmese people”; “Myanmar personnel” vs. “Burmese personnel”. Some people use “Mmyanmarese”, which is particularly ugly.

15. Simply using Burma would require less parenthetical explanations (“called Myanmar by its military regime”) because everyone knows what Burma is, and there would be no need to use Myanmar at all, unless (say) quoting a regime or UN statement.

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