Want to understand some of the deep historical background to the Rohingya issue? Nick Cheesman’s piece from May is invaluable reading.
“National races’ or taingyintha is among the pre-eminent political ideas in Myanmar today” but “It remained on the periphery of political language over the next decade.”
So what changed?
“But on February 12, 1964, a new day dawned for taingyintha, one in which it would go from being a term of limited political salience to the paradigm for military-dominated statehood. General Ne Win, who had seized power for a second time two years earlier, now grasped the idea of taingyintha and wielded it with hitherto unprecedented enthusiasm. . . .
By the 1980s it was orthodoxy that political texts at some point refer to national races’ eternal solidarity, their historical fraternity and their intentionality in working together for a new socialist economic order.
Although that economic order collapsed under the weight of nationwide protests in 1988, the national-race idea not only prevailed, but also emerged stronger than ever. . . .
Because taingyintha identity had trumped citizenship, the place of people belonging to non-national-race groups is precarious. Those people excluded juridically from Myanmar but living within its territory now have to find a way back in to the political community. And the only way available to them politically, as a collectivity, is to submit to the politics of domination inherent in the national races project, and insist that they too are taingyintha, which is exactly what Rohingya advocates have done. . . .
ultimately Myanmar’s problem is not a ‘Rohingya problem’ but a national-races problem: how the idea of taingyintha itself is the problem.”