September 30, 2007
Bloodshed in Burma
Much has been said about the uprising in Myanmar/Burma, and as I’m far from being on the cutting edge of international current events, I’ll point anyone who’s curious in the direction of others: Burma Digest; articles from the most recent edition of The Economist; a graphic video over at Crooks and Liars; a roundup from Arlen (a guest poster) over at Shakesville.
I wanted to address the issue of the country’s name, however, as that had been confusing me a bit before today. I’d known before this current conflagration that Myanmar was the name of the country formerly known as Burma; what confused me was the fact that certain bloggers and activist groups (e.g. MoveOn.org) were continuing to call the country Burma. I knew it had to be deliberate, but that made me wonder why.
Naturally, Wikipedia has the answer:
The name “Myanmar” is derived from the local short-form name Myanma Naingngandaw. This name was used as early as the 12th century, but its etymology remains unclear.
In 1989, the military junta officially changed the English version of the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar, along with changes to the English versions of many place names in the country, such as its former capital city from Rangoon to Yangon. This decision has however not received legislative approval in Burma. The official name of the country in the Burmese language, Myanma, did not change. Within the Burmese language, Myanma is the written, literary name of the country, while Bama or Bamar (from which “Burma” derives) is the oral, colloquial name. In spoken Burmese, the distinction is less clear than the English transliteration suggests.
The renaming proved to be politically controversial. Burmese opposition groups continue to use the name “Burma” since they do not recognise the legitimacy of the ruling military government nor its authority to rename the country. Some western governments, namely those of the United States, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, continue to use “Burma”, while the European Union uses “Burma/Myanmar” as an alternative. The United Nations uses “Myanmar”.
Use of “Burma” and its adjective, “Burmese”, remains common in the United States and Britain. Some news organisations, such as the BBC and The Financial Times, still use these forms. MSNBC, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and others use “Myanmar” as the country name and “Burmese” as the adjective. The Newshour with Jim Lehrer is not entirely consistent: Lehrer used to call the country Myanmar but now uses the phrase Myanmar—also referred to as Burma. Reporter Ray Suares, who has been reporting on recent events in Burma, now calls it Burma. The expert guests use various terms, but most use Burma.
Lots of interesting stuff in the Wikipedia article, most of which is well-sourced (huzzah!). My heart goes out to the Burmese people.