Cheesman on ‘national races’ in Myanmar

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.”

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