Nationalism as Political Paranoia in Burma: An Essay on the Historical Practice of Power

Nationalism as Political Paranoia in Burma: An Essay on the Historical Practice of Power

Nationalism as Political Paranoia in Burma: An Essay on the Historical Practice of Power

Nationalism as Political Paranoia in Burma: An Essay on the Historical Practice of Power

Synopsis

This studynbsp;examines the complex relationship between nationalism, violence and Buddhism in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Burma. Gravers' study brings us to present-day Burma and the struggle by Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi for a new Burmese identity. The present volume is a substantially revised and expanded version of the study originally published by the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies.

Excerpt

This essay is an elaborated version of a paper presented at a seminar in honour of Nobel Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at Lund University, Sweden, on 9 December 1991. It is part of a research project aiming at an identification and analysis of those historical processes in Burma which have made ethnic opposition escalate into an unending nationalistic struggle-a struggle that has reduced politics in Burma to extreme violence.

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As preparation for anthropological fieldwork in Thailand from 1970 to 1972 I spent two months in intensive learning of the Pwo Karen language at the Baptist mission in Sangkhlaburi near the Burmese border. I had three teachers. One was Ms Emily Ballard, a long-time missionary in Burma and a brilliant linguist. The other two were a well-known Christian Karen politician Saw Tha Din and his wife. They came to Thailand as refugees and worked for the mission. After the sessions with the Pwo Karen spelling book and grammar, Saw Tha Din explained Karen nationalism during the colonial era and after independence. He gave a vivid and strong impression of how potent the mixture of ethnic self-consciousness, religious affection and nationalism can be in a colonial situation.

The endeavours of the Karen National Union, a visit to one of the Burman guerrilla camps belonging to forces loyal to U Nu and under the command of Bo Yan Naing (one of the famous thirty comrades), and a meeting with Mon leader Nai Shwe Kyin came to mind whilst I was working at the India Office Library and Records in London (now called the Oriental and India Office Collections) in May 1988. Amnesty International had just published a report on Burma, documenting the torture and killing of Karen civilians, and Rangoon was about to explode in anger and repression. Whilst reading secret reports on religious and ethnic rebellions in the middle of the last century, it struck me how the conflict and the

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