EXPLAINER: Myanmar, Burma and why totally different names matter

This week, the army overturned years of quasi-democratic rule in Myanmar, with troopers taking management of the nation in a rigorously orchestrated coup. The army mentioned the seizure of energy was vital as a result of the federal government did not comply with by means of on its unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud within the November elections, which the social gathering of the nation’s de facto chief, Aung San Suu Kyi, received in a landslide. He says the takeover was authorized.

However the place precisely did the coup happen? Was it in Myanmar, because the nation is formally known as? Or was it in Burma, the identify Washington continues to make use of?

The reply is difficult. As a result of with regards to Myanmar, just about all the things is political. Together with the language.


For generations, the nation has been known as Burma, after the dominant Burmese ethnicity. However in 1989, a yr after the ruling junta brutally quelled a pro-democracy rebellion, army leaders immediately modified its identify to Myanmar.

At the moment, Burma was a world outcast, determined for any means to enhance its picture. Hoping for some worldwide legitimacy, he mentioned he rejected a reputation inherited from his colonial previous and would promote ethnic unity. Officers say the previous identify excluded the nation’s many ethnic minorities.

At dwelling, nonetheless, that did not change something. Within the Burmese language, “Myanmar” is just the extra formal model of “Burma”. The identify of the nation has solely been modified to English.

It was a linguistic sleight of hand. However few folks have been fooled. A lot of the world has proven a problem to the junta by refusing to make use of the brand new identify.


Just a little over ten years in the past, the nation launched into a stumbling semi-democratic transition. The army retained intensive political energy, however opposition leaders have been launched from jail and home arrest, and elections have been allowed. Lengthy-time pro-democracy activist Suu Kyi has turn out to be the nation’s civilian chief.

Over time, many nations and information organizations, together with the Related Press, have began utilizing the nation’s official identify. Because the repression eased and worldwide opposition to the army subsided, “Myanmar” turned more and more mainstream. Contained in the nation, opposition leaders made it clear that it did not matter a lot anymore.

Not like most nations on this planet, the US authorities nonetheless formally makes use of “Burma”. However even Washington softened its stance.

In 2012, throughout a go to to the nation, then President Barack Obama used each “Burma” and “Myanmar”. An adviser to the President of Myanmar known as this “very constructive” and mentioned it was “recognition of the Myanmar authorities”.


Washington’s response to the coup appeared designed to spotlight previous critiques, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden pointedly avoiding the nation’s authorized identify.

“The USA has lifted sanctions towards Burma over the previous decade primarily based on progress in the direction of democracy,” Biden mentioned in an announcement. “Reversing this progress would require a direct evaluate of our sanctions legal guidelines.”

Most different nations, nonetheless, continued to name it Myanmar.

Initially revealed February 2, 2021 at 11:02 pm

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