A Buddhist temple in the Burmese province of Bagan
Ask most people what they think of the country of Myanmar and you’ll either get one of two instant reactions. The first reaction will be a look of puzzlement since Myanmar isn’t a very well known country for westerners. The second reaction will be by those people a little more in tune with history and current events and they’ll no doubt explain to you that the country was better known as Burma prior to the military junta changing the name of the state to Myanmar.
This second group will also most likely mention three key things in recent Burmese history: the famous dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, Cyclone Nargis, which killed almost 150,000 Burmese last year, and the Saffron Revolution which attempted to take on the Burmese military junta. The officers running the country showed their paranoia to the world by not only beating and killing protestors, but also by rejecting aid for the cyclone victims out of fear of foreign subterfuge.
Why is Myanmar and its military junta so secretive and conspiratorial in its outlook? What do they fear from outsiders? Robert Kaplan takes a look at this strategically important and resource-rich country in Lifting the Bamboo Curtain. Here’s an excerpt from Kaplan’s excellent piece:
But Burma is more than a place to feel sorry for. And its ethnic struggles are of more than obscurantist interest. For one thing, they precipitated the military coup that toppled the country’s last civilian government almost a half century ago, when General Ne Win took power in part to forestall ethnic demands for greater autonomy. With one-third of Burma’s population composed of ethnic minorities living in its fissiparous borderlands (which account for seven of Burma’s 14 states and divisions), the demands of the Karens and others will return to the fore once the military regime collapses. Democracy will not deliver Burma from being a cobbled-together mini-empire of nationalities, even if it does open the door to compromise among them.