Thursday, June 13, 2013

How should you say: Burma or Myanmar?

Picture by tap tap tap
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a press conference in 1996. She uses the name Burma - bot no more consequently.

What is the correct name, Myanmar or Burma? For years it has been politically incorrect to use the name Myanmar. U.S. governments have refused to acknowledge the name change made in 1989 by the country's military junta - as not to give legitimacy to military governments. The military rulers had changed also a number of other “wrong pronunciations” from the British colonial period such as “Mergui”, “Rangoon”, “Pegu”. They were changed to "Myeik", "Yangon" and "Bago". This was seen as form of censorship.

But as answer to political reforms made by President Thein Sein, the White House has started to use the name Myanmar more often than before. "We have responded by expanding our engagement with the government, easing a number of sanctions, and as a courtesy in appropriate settings, more frequently using the name Myanmar," White House spokesman Jay Carney told Reuters, when Thein Sein met with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on in May 2013 in the first visit to the White House by a president of Myanmar in 47 years.

What's going on now? Asian correspondent Chan Myae Khine analyzes: "People who like to work with government, for instance Southeast Asian countries, may prefer to say 'Myanmar' while those who are less confident about the future changes by the military backed government would call the developing country 'Burma'." And she adds about the opposition leader: "Aung San Suu Kyi always refers to her beloved country as 'Burma' in English but in her statements published in Burmese she has used 'Myanmar' instead of 'Bamar'."

What makes it not easier: The name change to Myanmar was recognised by the United Nations and by countries such as France and Japan, but not by the United States and the United Kingdom. The New York Times began calling the nation Myanmar in 1989, while the Associated Press adopted "Myanmar" in 2006. But the BBC in 2012 told her readers, she would continue to use Burma.

In June 2012 democrazy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been warned to stop calling her country 'Burma' during her overseas visits and use its official name 'Myanmar' in an editorial in the state-owned newspaper "New Light of Myanmar". A statement by the state Election Commission suggested she was in breach of the country's constitution by using the country's former official name. Suu Kyi brushed this off: "I used that name freely in keeping with democratic principles", Suu Kyi said. She added that General Saw Maung failed to consult the Burmese people when he decided to change the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar.

What happened next: There was an announcement on June 3 in 2013, that "BBC World Service has become the first international media organisation in Burma (Myanmar) to deliver news on the mobile platform". BBC World Service Head of Business Development Asia Pacific, Indu Shekhar Sinha, said: “As Burma’s media scene goes through rapid change, we are thrilled to be spearheading the delivery of international audio news bulletins to Burmese mobile-phone users". BBC cooperates with the local leading mobile aggregator, Blue Ocean Operating Management. Its Managing Director, Htun Htun Naing, commented: “I’m very excited to launch this mobile service which is a first in Myanmar."

On June 6 in 2013 Suu Kyi announced she wants to run for president. It will be interesting to see, if she continues to stick to the use of the name of Burma. May be the Banyan Blog of The Economist is too early with this title: Bye-bye, Burma, bye-bye.

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