The Hidden History of Burma by Thant Myint-U

The Hidden History of Burma by Thant Myint U

With recent events Coup d’etat in my country, I can’t focus on reading any book. I have left my current reads abandoned. In the midst of reading and sharing news, I tried to read The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century by Thant Myint-U again. Well, more like I flipped through some chapters. It is a riveting account of what Burma has been through over the period with its complex issues over race and identity. Being a historian as well as a former diplomat, and a presidential advisor, Thant Myint-U splendidly and most-humanely told a behind-the-scenes of how the political landscape of Burma has come to shape and its interweaving factors.

From the old Burma in its early civilization to today’s modern Burma, the book covered briefly on the issues from ancient monarchy to the colonial years and thoroughly on post colonial days to socialist party years. Then the writer extensively tells the changes of Burma’s political landscape in past two decades. As the title suggests, it is the hidden history, or perhaps the untold story of Burma cause it includes several information with facts which both local and international media failed to bring up. The book also gives the read a front row seat of the effort to improve things in the nation during President Thein Sein administration as well as other various endeavours in the time of NLD’s administration. Both have some failure and some rather quite successful.

In this book, the writer points out multiple time that the two main catalysts of Burmese political landscape are race and identity. Without handling these issues, political and economic reform in Burma seem rather impossible. Yes, all these racial and political issues are tied to the country’s economy but now in 21st century, we can’t just focus only on the crisis rooted long in our country before. There are issues to be addressed like inequality, climate change, etc. We simply can’t give 20th century solutions to the 21st century challenges. With no partisanship, the writer depict the complexing past and challenging future of the country.

It is a must read to understand the contemporary history of Burma and the multiple crises it has been facing. The calm and collected narrative gives the reader, me as a Burmese citizen, a lot to contemplate about the country’s past, present and future. An insightful read from cover to cover.

I’ve been reading too many news and articles related to the present issues occurring in my country. I am now volunteering on translating news and articles related to current issues. I’m also helping to arise the international awareness and encouraging for the participation of civil servants in the Civil Disobedience Movement. (Okay, the second task is mainly being a keyboard warrior xD but I believe it’s crucial in today’s digital age.)

Along with the coup, the military had detained our country’s President, the State Counsellor and various Senior Officials. There are widespread protests by the citizens against the dictatorship around the country and they are escalating to other towns. I’ve been distressed with enraging hatred and anger towards the junta but at the same time pleased to know that there are multi generational protests against the military dictatorship and the bountiful participation by the civil servants in civil disobedience movement.

Internet were cut down for twice since Feb 1st and social media platforms are banned within the country to restrict us from sharing news or other information about the protests. Now the military has drafted a bill for cyber security which concerns many IT experts in the country as it violates various human rights and it can seriously damage the future development of the country, as well.

Hope things get better soon and praying that our true leaders will be released in new future.

Some insightful points mentioned in epilogue of this book.

Race and identity have been at the heart of Burmese politics since the start of modern Burmese politics a hundred years ago. Colonialism and the immigration of millions of people from India brought on an identity crisis that has not yet been resolved. Any brighter future will depend on Burma crafting a new and more inclusive identity, or not tied to race and not based on a notion of uniting fixed ethnic categories. The British were correct in analyzing Burma as a zone of “racial instability.” Accepting this, seeing it as a strength rather than a weakness, finding a new sources of national identity city, separate from notions of ethnicity, and embarking on an aggressive agenda to end discrimination in all its forms, are elements of a conversation that’s been almost entirely absent.
The focus should have been on radical measures to fight discrimination, enabling a robust and free media, building new and inclusive state institutions , including for taxation, policing, and justice, and creating a welfare state on which all citizens could depend. Instead, the focus has been on interjecting a new layer of partisan competition on an already fractious landscape. The result has been a coursing of public debate and a polarized political class.
The critical questions are not discussed, Burma will before long bear the brunt of rising sea levels, unbearably hot summers, and more-frequent extreme weather, including cyclones like Nargis. China and India’s gargantuan economies next door may be friends or foes. With automation and a changing pattern of global consumption, the world may soon have no need for Burma’s cheap labor of even its natural resources: the ladder of export-oriented growth so successfully climbed by other Asian countries may soon be a ladder to nowhere. So what economic future is possible? What economy can overtake the pull of methamphetamine production and other illicit industries, withstand climate change, and make possible free and dignified lives for tens of millions of people? As importantly, if give a real choice, what kind of life would Burmese people want to live: the lives of other Asian consumers, or something different?
Since colonial times, whatever has happened in Burma, the ordinary people have consistently wound up the losers.
The warning signs are flashing. The two most combustible elements on the Burmese political landscape remain race and inequality. They are now being mixed together with immature democratic institutions, a blind faith in free markets, multibillion-dollar illicit industries, and an uplands awash in weapons. We wish a failed state in the heard of Asia.
Burma is running out of time. The country needs a radical agenda to fight inequality and prepare for the climate emergency to come. It needs as well a new story that embraces its diversity, celebrates its natural environment, and aspires to a new way of life. Perhaps most of all, Burma needs a new project of the imagination.

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