robert_taylor_article_one_4_ - South East Asia Research ,...

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Unformatted text preview: South East Asia Research , 13, 3, pp. 261286 Do states make nations? The politics of identity in Myanmar revisited Robert H. Taylor Abstract: The central importance of ethnicity as the major deter- minant of political identity in Myanmars modern history has long been accepted as axiomatic in the literature on the country. But this essay, which reviews Myanmars modern political history in terms of the issue of political identity, suggests that perhaps the past is an inadequate guide to the present, and new hypotheses may need to be posed in order to understand more fully the role of ethnicity in contemporary Myanmar politics. Indeed, it can be argued that Myanmars more than 50 years of independence and largely self-imposed or most recently, externally mandated isolation has created new identities that owe less to the past, and more to the willing or unwilling generation of a new focus for primarily political identity for many, if not most, residents of the country. In fact, the question needs to be asked whether 50 years of civil war has not created a nation from the fragments that previously fought over what kind of nation to conceive. While it is too soon to reach firm conclusions, some tentative evidence suggests that this may indeed be the case. Keywords: ethnicity; identity; political change; Myanmar politics The saliency, if not the primacy, of ethnicity as the major determinant of political identity in Myanmars modern history has long been accepted as axiomatic in the literature on the country. The armed conflicts between ethnically designated separatist forces and the central state from the time of independence until the early 1990s seem- ingly served to underscore the central role of ethnic identity in Myanmar. The ethnic conflicts that emerged in 1948 not only added to the level of bloodshed and destruction that accompanied the simultaneous civil war between the so-called sot and communist political forces that battled for state power, but soon became intertwined in the same maelstrom of violence. When the armed struggle between the 262 South East Asia Research Communist Party and the Government of Myanmar finally collapsed of its own futility after more than 40 years, it left in its wake little but poverty, while spawning even more ethnically designated armies. The ceasefire agreements reached between the military government and armed groups, however, have turned these ethnic conflicts into politics by other means. 1 The reconvening in 2004 of a national convention to draft the principles for a new constitution underscores the contention that the politics of ethnicity is the obverse of the politics of national unity in Myanmar. While one-third of the more than 1,000 delegates attending would be considered to be members of the majority Bamar ethnic group, two-thirds came from the other national races that populate Myanmar....
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This note was uploaded on 04/08/2011 for the course POLS 305 taught by Professor Zhou during the Spring '11 term at University of Hawaii, Manoa.

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robert_taylor_article_one_4_ - South East Asia Research ,...

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