Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Burma or Myanmar? How do you refer to the country situated to the west of Thailand?

The answer to this question may simply be representative of what country you personally hail from, or as complex as your political leanings and opinions in regard to the 67 yearlong conflict well known for the systemic oppression of minority ethnic groups taking place in the country in question.

“Burma” was the official name of the country until 1989 when the ruling military junta implemented the name change. “Myanmar” was immediately adopted by the UN and certain countries (e.g. Japan and France), while others (e.g. America) chose not to acknowledge the change.

Being that Ways of Change is working with people who have fled from the very country in question, we must have an opinion on the heated topic, right?

Personally, I have always used “Burma.” Refusal to adopt “Myanmar” has been my way of communicating disregard for the abusive military junta and its right to speak on behalf of the nation which it rules, essentially a small act of protest every time I utter the word “Burma.”

In casual conversations with my housemates and neighbors I have learned that the reason some ethnic minorities prefer “Myanmar” is that they feel that it is more all encompassing than “Burma,” which insinuates reference to people of only the Bamar (Burmese) ethnicity, ignoring the ethnic minorities which make up approximately 32 percent of the country’s population (government statistics regarding the breakdown of ethnicities remain highly contested, particularly in relation to border areas).

On the other hand, some people prefer “Burma” for its historical relevance and, similar to my above point, as an act of disregard for the current government.

Photo courtesy of Carey Scheer

In my recent visit to the country in question, I was surprised to find that most everyone I met seemed to use “Myanmar.” Anecdotally speaking, it is those who have fled, who are a little more likely to use “Burma.”

When I enquired as to the reasoning behind this trend, it was explained to me that it was approximately ten years ago when many ethnic minorities living inside the country in question finally adopted the name change, which had been implemented sixteen years prior, in an attempt to restore unity and connect with the ruling government.

The most telling feeling that has been expressed to me is that of, “I don’t care what they call this country, I just want a better government!”

As you can see, there is no right or wrong answer here. This summary doesn’t offer much solace in deciding on the “correct” way to refer to the country in question is. It does provide a few extracts from people directly impacted and what feeds their decisions.

Political correctness is not what guides me through these types of decision-making processes, what I call “people correctness” is. People correctness involves what is correct for people directly impacted. I want to know what experiences and beliefs make up the human with whom I am interacting and how that translates into making a conscious decision and empathizing with them.

I am not the UN; I am a person, interacting with other people. I want to hear their story and make an appropriate and informed decision for myself which is reflective of my experiences and beliefs. The decision made by political leaders may or may not influence my choice; the decision made by people directly impacted will definitely weigh in on my decision-making process.  

This is about people and consciousness, and this process of decision-making absolutely translates into all areas of my life (e.g. conscious consumerism).

While not everyone all the time has direct access to the resource which makes this process possible; people, we can still use our connections to make conscious decisions. This will create a world capable of empathizing with others around the world, others who have experiences and beliefs we will never understand, only accept.

You can if you think you can!