Instrumentalism, empathy or privilege awareness: An evaluation of inter-ethnic solidarities in Myanmar since the 2021 coup
The institutionalised dominance of the Bamar majority group and the correlated exclusion of other ethnic groups from the national identity has been a major cause of ethnic conflict in Myanmar. During the ‘democratic’ experiment of the past decade the National League for Democracy policies reinforced perceptions that power was still in the hands of the Bamar and ethnic issues continued to be ignored.
Since the 2021 coup, the democratic opposition is showing signs that it understands the need for ethnic inclusion for a future federal democracy: abuses against the Rohingya have been acknowledged and the leadership of ethnic armed organisations is regularly praised. Beyond this, public statements and social media posts have been reflecting a change in Bamar perceptions towards the struggles of ethnic people, which highlights the possibility for a radical re-consideration of racial views in Myanmar.
Drawing on Graeber’s (2011) conceptualisation of revolutions as an opportunity to disrupt 'unequal structures of imaginative identification' and Walton’s (2013) theorisation of Burman privilege as a form of institutionalised and structured dominance that is similar to Whiteness, our paper examines the extent to which sudden revolutionary actions and changing solidarities have contributed to shift previous racial or inter-ethnic dynamics.
Drawing on data generated in 2022-2023 and complemented by observations made during pre-coup fieldwork, we seek to answer the following question: How have new forms of inter-ethnic solidarity demonstrated by the Bamar majority towards other ethnic groups challenged unequal structures of racial privilege since the coup?
Based on social media and textual analysis of statements by Bamar leading figures of the Revolution as well as semi-structured interviews with ethnic Mon, Pa-O, Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Shan, Rakhine, Zomi, Tavoyan and Rohingya, we explore how members of these ethnic groups react to changing attitudes of Bamar elites and ordinary Bamar citizens.
Cecile Medail is a postdoctoral Researcher at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies and an affiliate of The Australian National University's Myanmar Research Centre.
Saw Chit Htet Tun is an independent researcher.
CHAIR: Hunter Marston
The Myanmar Research Centre Dialogue Series’ 2023 program includes a special series of nine presentations on the theme of revolution and solidarity in Myanmar, which is based on a collection of papers commissioned by the Myanmar Research Centre and the Danish Institute for International Studies.
ANU Myanmar Research Centre Dialogue Series
5-6pm (AEST) (UTC+10), 1.30- 2:30pm MMT (UTC+6.30)
The dialogues in the series will be held in hybrid mode, ie in-person on the ANU Campus, and virtually on zoom.
- IN-PERSON: Hedley Bull Building #130, Cnr Garran Rd and Liversidge Street, ANU, Acton, 2600 ACT
- ONLINE: Zoom. Once you register here, you will receive access to the online event page in Eventbrite where you will find the join link for the zoom meeting. Please select the relevant ticket, in-person or online, according to your preferred attendance mode.
For more information on the MRC 2023 Dialogue Series please see the MRC website or contact the Convenors:
You can subscribe to the ANU Myanmar Research Centre mailing list here.
We look forward to seeing you there.