Is it Myanmar, or Burma? For some, the answer is not always easy

Is it Myanmar, or Burma? For some, the answer is not always easy
Myanmar | Photo by Yves Alarie on Unsplash

In our interconnected world, language plays a significant role in fostering understanding and respecting cultural diversity. When it comes to Southeast Asia, one country that has sparked debates and discussions is the nation known as Burma or Myanmar. The question arises: Which name should we use? Let's explore the historical background, shed light on the perspectives of the people, and highlight the importance of cultural sensitivity in addressing this topic. Let's embark on a journey of understanding, unity, and respect.

Burma, now officially known as Myanmar, has a rich history that spans centuries. The name "Burma" was inherited from British colonial rule, which lasted from the 19th century until 1948. When the country gained independence, it adopted the name "Union of Burma" as a reflection of its diverse ethnic groups. However, in 1989, the military government changed the name to "Union of Myanmar" to symbolize a more inclusive approach, encompassing all ethnicities within its borders.

While the official name is "Myanmar," the usage of "Burma" persists among various groups within and outside the country. It is important to recognize that this choice often reflects personal, historical, or political viewpoints.

Historical Significance

For some, "Burma" holds deep historical and cultural significance, representing a connection to the country's pre-colonial past and the struggles for independence. It is seen as a symbol of resistance against a period of foreign rule.

Others argue that using "Myanmar" acknowledges the current government's legitimacy and could be perceived as indirectly supporting the actions of the military junta. These individuals prefer to use "Burma" as a way to voice their opposition and show solidarity with pro-democracy movements.

Cultural Diversity

It's essential to recognize that Myanmar is a diverse nation, home to numerous ethnic groups with their own languages and identities. Some ethnic minorities continue to use "Burma" as a marker of their distinct heritage and cultural autonomy.

Burma, as it was formerly known, gained independence from British colonial rule in 1948. The country continued to be referred to as Burma by many nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom. The name "Burma" has its roots in the Burmese language and is derived from "Bamar," the majority ethnic group in the country. It is a name that has long been associated with the nation's pre-colonial history, cultural heritage, and struggle for independence.

However, in 1989, the military junta ruling the country officially changed its name to Myanmar. The decision was made without democratic consultation and was met with resistance and criticism, both domestically and internationally. The ruling junta argued that the name change was a reflection of linguistic accuracy, as "Myanmar" encompasses all the ethnic groups within the country and aims to acknowledge the diversity of its population.

Opponents of the name change argue that it was a strategic move by the military regime to legitimize its authority. They believe that the decision to adopt "Myanmar" disregarded the country's complex political landscape and was an attempt to erase the diverse identities and aspirations of the various ethnic groups. As a result, they continue to use "Burma" as a way to reject the military junta's authority and show solidarity with the pro-democracy movement.

On the international stage, there is no consensus on which name to use. Some countries, such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, still officially refer to the country as Burma, in part to express solidarity with pro-democracy movements and maintain a critical stance towards the military regime. Other nations, including China and Russia, use Myanmar, respecting the official name change. International organizations like the United Nations tend to use both names interchangeably, recognizing the sensitivity of the issue and the diverse perspectives involved.

For many Burmese citizens and pro-democracy activists, the name Myanmar is associated with the military junta and its human rights abuses. They argue that using Burma acknowledges their struggle for freedom, democracy, and the restoration of civilian rule. They believe that the name Myanmar perpetuates the junta's grip on power and erases the decades-long fight for democratic governance.

On the other hand, proponents of using Myanmar argue that it represents the country's diverse population and should be used to promote inclusivity and unity. They maintain that the name change was not solely driven by the military regime but aimed to reflect the multicultural fabric of the nation and acknowledge the rights and aspirations of all its citizens.

Ultimately, the choice of which name to use is a deeply personal and political decision. It is essential to respect the preferences of the people who live in the country and understand the historical and political implications associated with each term. As the situation in Myanmar continues to evolve, it is crucial to stay informed, engage in thoughtful dialogue, and be sensitive to the perspectives of different stakeholders when discussing this complex and evolving issue.


Akhyari Hananto

I began my career in the banking industry in 1997, and stayed approx 6 years in it. This industry boost his knowledge about the economic condition in Indonesia, both macro and micro, and how to More understand it. My banking career continued in Yogyakarta when I joined in a program funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB),as the coordinator for a program aimed to help improve the quality of learning and teaching process in private universities in Yogyakarta. When the earthquake stroke Yogyakarta, I chose to join an international NGO working in the area of ?disaster response and management, which allows me to help rebuild the city, as well as other disaster-stricken area in Indonesia. I went on to become the coordinator for emergency response in the Asia Pacific region. Then I was assigned for 1 year in Cambodia, as a country coordinator mostly to deliver developmental programs (water and sanitation, education, livelihood). In 2009, he continued his career as a protocol and HR officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya, and two years later I joined the Political and Economic Section until now, where i have to deal with extensive range of people and government officials, as well as private and government institution troughout eastern Indonesia. I am the founder and Editor-in-Chief in Good News From Indonesia (GNFI), a growing and influential social media movement, and was selected as one of The Most Influential Netizen 2011 by The Marketeers magazine. I also wrote a book on "Fundamentals of Disaster Management in 2007"?, "Good News From Indonesia : Beragam Prestasi Anak Bangsa di dunia"? which was luanched in August 2013, and "Indonesia Bersyukur"? which is launched in Sept 2013. In 2014, 3 books were released in which i was one of the writer; "Indonesia Pelangi Dunia"?, "Indonesia The Untold Stories"? and "Growing! Meretas Jalan Kejayaan" I give lectures to students in lectures nationwide, sharing on full range of issues, from economy, to diplomacy Less
View all posts

Thank you for reading until here