The same thing happens to Myanmar just like some other countries and cities after the collapse of Eastern European socialism: it has two names. During the period of British colonialism and the first stage of the socialist military dictatorship, the country was called Burma. Ever since 1989, within the context of the Soviet Union’s collapse and speedy reforms in China and Vietnam, the country officially became Myanmar.
Many opposition members to the dictatorship, such as the overthrown president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, refused to call Burma “Myanmar”. This battle of words only superficially reflects the contradiction between the autochthonous and Westernization. As Benedict Anderson explained, a lot of this country’s nationalist culture preferred the name Burma and rejected Myanmar because they considered it a trick of words by the dictatorship.
Just like other small nations that share borders with superpowers – next to China and India, Myanmar is a country that is rife with identity struggles. There, nationalism is a way to achieve political unification of a diverse religious, ethnic and linguistic people. With mass migration intensifying, which began in the late 20th century, this phenomenon is no longer a distinctive feature of the post-colonial world. Multiculturalism creates an identity crisis in former empires too.
Recently, Myanmar has made news headlines across the world as a metaphor for post-truth politics. A military-led coup, rejected by the entire world, to varying degrees, just goes to show us how easy it is to distort the meaning of events in the 21st century. The image of an aerobics teacher, moving before TV cameras, while the coup takes place behind her, says a lot more than any journalistic analysis could.
China and India, the US and the EU, rejected the coup, but Suu Kyi’s removal has gone ahead. In the beginning, the military said that the president’s arrest was only temporary. That it was because of a state of emergency declared to prevent fraud and a coup. Later, it emerged that the coup is in fact permanent. The military junta has begun to accuse the leader of corruption.
Thus, this “coup to prevent a coup” ends up being a real military riot. Aung San Suu Kyi was the only relatively democratic leader that this country has ever had in its entire history. Her government was far from being a reference in terms of respecting human rights. However, it laid out the groundwork for a rotation of power and a peaceful presidential transition. This is what the coup has thwarted.
The US made Myanmar a symbol of democratization and Obama even went so far as presenting this country as an example for Cuba. These recommendations always act like weapons with a double blade. Instead of encouraging stability, it stirs rivalries for power in countries with strong authoritarian tendencies.
The accusations the military is making against the former president sound incredibly ridiculous. But you can sense a rivalry that compromises the stability of civil power. The conflict in this country seems to be a lot more serious than a simple electoral dispute. It highlights a deeply-rooted tension between the civil government and military power. This tension is what is being covered up by the post-truth media operation.
The narrative of a “state of emergency”, endorsed by powers that are resistant to US’ hegemony – such as China and Russia -, hides a coup truth that is a lot more organically interwoven into Burma’s military history. It’s revealing that this military conservatism has turned to a subterfuge like Donald Trump’s and his most hardcore supporters in the US. Electoral fraud was being hatched and the government had to be overthrown by force.