Hidden Plight: Christian Minorities in Burma
The notion of “protecting race and religion” in Burma (also known as Myanmar) harks back to the anti-colonialist, nationalist motto a myo ba tha tha thatana, calling on ethnic Burmans to protect their race, language, and religion. It has its roots in the saying “to be Myanmar is to be Buddhist,” a maxim that can be traced back centuries to the founding of the first Burman kingdom when Buddhism was first established as the state religion. Pro-independence leader General Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) broke with this ideology, instead proposing at the historic Panglong conference in February 1947 a secular vision for the new Union of Burma: a federal union based on the principles of equality and self-determination for different ethnic groups. The Panglong promises were broken after General Aung San’s assassination later that year, and in 1961 thenPrime Minister U Nu drafted a new unitary Constitution and formally instituted Buddhism as the state religion.
The 1962 military coup marked the beginning of socialist rule and effectively negated the official status of Buddhism as the state religion. Since then, successive military regimes have sought to portray Christianity as a “foreign” religion brought in under colonial rule— ignoring the fact that Catholicism had been practiced in the country for almost 500 years. From 1988 to 2010, the State Law and Order Restoration Council/State Peace and Development Council (SLORC/SPDC) regime engaged in “nation-building” through the aggressive promotion of an unwritten, chauvinistic policy of “one nation, one race, and one religion,” but also led vicious crackdowns on Buddhist monks who opposed military rule. Although no longer the official state religion, Buddhism was elevated as the de facto state religion.
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အစီရင္ခံစာ ျမန္မာဘာသာကုိ ဤေနရာတြင္ ရယူႏုိင္သည္။