"I think they call it Myanmar now."
"It'll always be Burma to me."This country is known in English by two names. Firstly, its colonial name, Burma. Secondly, the name the ruling military government has given it in 1989, Myanmar. The renaming is understandable, because "Burma" led to confusion as the country is made up of one large ethnic group called the Burmans (or Bamar) and a huge number of smaller ones, who are collectively called Burmese; Myanmar is a more neutral term. However sensible the renaming, a lot of media outlets and governments continue to use "Burma" as a symbolic protest against the military dictatorship that ruled it from 1962 to 2010. The BBC now calls it "Myanmar", but note that the very first paragraph also refers to it as Burma. Basically, it's Asia's version of Britain Versus the UK, or the Derry/Londonderry name debate in Northern Ireland. From 1992 to 2010 Burma was a military junta ruled by General Than Shwe, who pursued a largely isolationist foreign policy, with the exception of friendly relations with the People's Republic of China. In 2010, the junta stepped down, and handed power to a civilian government after flawed elections. However, the military continues to have strong ties with the government. Thein Sein (pronounced "Tane Sane") is the current president, famous for his democratic reforms and reconciliation with the west. There is great controversy over the government's brutal treatment of various minorities, such as the native Karen. Burma has been involved in a civil war since 1948, the oldest ongoing war in the world. They moved their capital from Rangoon to a purpose built city, Naypyidaw, in 2005, ostensibly because of a prophecy that Burma would be conquered by a foreign invader from the sea, but more likely because it could be designed to make urban insurgency very hard, unlike the sprawling Rangoon. In fiction, it is generally a nasty Holiday in Cambodia, portrayed as ruled by an oppressive and genocidal military junta with little regard for human rights or for political dissidents. Then again, in a place where using a modem without permission carried a 15-year prison term under the junta's regime... The country is big; at 676,578 km (261,227 sq mi)note , it's the second-largest nation in Southeast Asia (after Indonesia, which is just plain gigantic, even if most of it is water). While the southern half consists of fertile plains and lowlands as in typical of other parts of Southeast Asia, the northern half is littered with hills and mountains, one of which is a part of the Himalayan Range, which means that it has an alpine climate in contrast to the tropics of the lowlands. The highest mountain of Southeast Asia, Hkakabo Razi, is located in the far north, in the border with China. As an Indochinese country, Myanmar exemplifies influences from both countries: it is predominantly Theravada Buddhist and writes with the Indic Burmese script, but the national language of the country is Burmese, a Sino-Tibetan language (though the language is far removed from either that the similarities are hard to spot). Burmese is the indigenous language of the Bamars, who make up 70% of the population. The remaining 30% is made up of a hodgepodge of other minority ethnic groups including Tai, Mon, Shan, Karen, Kachin, Indian, Kayan, Chinese, etc...that are severely discriminated by the government, which is disproportionately made of Bamars. In fact, the country has recently come under fire for indulging in what can be best described as genocide on the Rohingya, an Indo-Aryan ethnic group who are closely related to the Bengalis and actually live near the border with Bangladesh, which makes it seem as if they are Bangladeshis who crossed the border. This last fact is greatly used by the Bamars to make people think that they are illegal immigrants and thus non-entities. In truth, the Rohingyas are recent settlers...that arrived in the 18th century as part of the demand for work when the British conquered the country. Stating that they're non-entities is akin to saying that the Israelis are non-entities because most of them only arrived in the late 1940s. Nevertheless, they are harshly persecuted in everything from politics, economy, and even religion (the fact that they're Muslims is an oft-stated easy target) that analysts have described them as "the most unwanted people in the whole world."
—Elaine Benes and J. Peterman, Seinfeld.
Appearances by this country and its inhabitants in fiction:
- In Stuart Slade's The Salvation War Naypyidaw has to be taken out during one of the battles against the forces of either Heaven or Hell.
- Its people appear as the villains in Rambo IV, which proved highly popular with Karen rebels (especially since the government banned it).
- Mentioned in Spitting Image's "I've Never Met a Nice South African", as featuring unicorns. The BBC noted it as rather ironic, as a song that was ridiculing the evils of The Apartheid Era referred to a country that would later do even worse things.
- Mentioned by Alfred in The Dark Knight, when he had visited it when it was under colonial rule and encountered a mad diamond thief.
- Road To Mandalay, of course. And the same poem by Kipling, naturally.
- Appears in an episode of Seinfeld in which J. Peterman has Gone Native (and insane) in a parody of Heart of Darkness. The business over the name is also mentioned.
- Burma has a Fictional Counterpart in Ligon, a Fictional Country in the works of Kir Bulychev, based on his time there.
- French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle did a book, "Burma Chronicles," about his year living there with his wife and son for his wife's job with Medecins Sans Frontieres France.
- Radical author George Orwell was sent out here as a policeman responsible to the British colonial administration. While here, he became a friend of the family of Spike Milligan (then aged around ten), whose father had been posted here. The experience of Burma shaped his dislike of British imperialism and his later opposition to it. He refers to it in two books, Burmese Days and Shooting An Elephant.
- An episode of the short-lived The Philanthropist series has Teddy go there in after he's publicly accused of endorsing the Myanmar junta (the show was filmed prior to the junta step-down), as his company has dealings with the Myanmar government, and their forced labor. After visiting the country and finding out the truth for himself, Teddy is forced to further cooperate with the junta in order to get his bodyguard out of prison.
- Mentioned frequently in the McAuslan series — the author and his expy/main character served in Burma and it is something of a spiritual prequel to his memoir Quartered Safe Out Here.
- Briefly mentioned in the Arachnid manga. Dinoponera was born in Burma, but, while still a baby, was taken from her Doomed Hometown by a wandering mercenary to be raised in Thailand.
In 2010, as part of the nation's makeover, the old flag (featuring a red field with a canton showing a cogwheel and crops surrounded by stars) is replaced with a flag composed of yellow, green and red stripes, symbolizing solidarity, peace and courage, respectively, while retaining the star of the Union of Myanmar.