hinghough its history is rich and beautiful, Myanmar’s day-to-day for most people is bound by poverty and an oppressive military dictatorship. I’m not an expert on Myanmar’s current political climate or its history. I know enough though that giving you a rosy picture of temples and farmers only is a disservice to its people.
You might know Myanmar by its colonial name, Burma, which was assigned to it by Great Britain when they entered the country to exploit its resources and organize it into western structure. They named it Burma for one tribe, in English called the Burmese. There are 135 distinct ethnic groups in Myanmar, meaning they have their own language, culture etc, now they’re segregated into eight major groups. The Burmese are the most common group in Myanmar, and I’m not suggesting that everything was peaceful prior to the Anglo-Burmese wars. These groups have rivaled through much of the area’s history. However, the colonial restructuring of the nation changed the way conflicts played out. Putting a single ethnic group in a position of power was a process of efficiency for the colonial rulers and one they practiced in many parts of the world. A few years after the end of WW2 Burma gained its independence and established itself as a democratic nation. Upon their exit from the area GB granted power over further areas populated by (now) minority groups to the newly established country. This democracy lasted just over a decade before the military coup in 1962 which declared Burma a socialist state.
In reality Burma was run by a single party military dictatorship, they renamed the country multiple times, in 1988 it was changed to the “Union of Myanmar.” Over the last 50 years elections occurred several times. The results weren’t honored and those who ran were likely to be punished. Most famously is Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the general election in 1990, she was placed under house arrest snd remained there off and on for a total of 15 years. The military dictatorship has systematically oppressed their people and continue to wage a civil war on the minority groups who live there. The censorship and some of the dictatorship’s oppression have relaxed in recent years. 2011 brought another government transition, and things in the tourist areas have eased up. By “the tourist areas” I mean Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan almost exclusively. Outside of these areas, particularly in the border regions a civil war wages steadily on. The Myanmar military regularly attacks tribal people in their states. Here there is is NO healthcare access, education, very little access to clean water and most all freedoms are limited or denied. Many of these people live in the jungle, some of them are ethnically in the same hill tribes as those in Thailand. International groups do enter under threat of attack to provide medical aid and training.
Beyond the government power struggle, there is rampant tuberculosis, malaria, and other neglected tropical diseases. Treatable, preventable and curable diseases are killing people because they have no access to medical care. If you give to charities or missionaries, I ask that you consider a reputable group that provides aid in Myanmar.
Also, if you’re curious to see a bit more of daily life CNN’s Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain (it’s on Netflix) has an episode on Myanmar (Season 1, Episode 1). The interviews included give insight to what life was (and is) like in urban Myanmar, though several things have changed including technology access to those who live inside the tourist triangle. In 205 it’s common to see people with cell phones and power-lines leading into grass huts. Myanmar is changing.