Introduction to Myanmar

I have chosen to focus my country diary on Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Myanmar has recently undergone major political, economic, and social changes. Politically, Burma was a single party state for 39 years with the Socialist Programme Party as the sole political party. In 2011, Thein Sein became the first president of the new civilian democracy.

Burma's military junta. Photo Credit: BBC

Burma’s military junta. Photo Credit: BBC

Myanmar’s President, Thein Sein. Photo Credit: Bloomberg

After the fall of the junta (military) government, Myanmar became much more open to foreign investment and its economy has grown. However, it still remains one Asia’s poorest countries and its economy is corrupt and under developed. Tourism has become an important industry for Myanmar.

Pagan. Photo Credit: BBC

Pagan. Photo Credit: BBC

Socially, there is ethnic tension between the Burmese majority and the different minorities present in the country. It has led to protests and rebellions as well as civilian displacement.The ethnic conflict in Myanmar has resulted in the world’s longest running civil war (63 years) between the military government and a myriad of ethnic groups. The Myanmar government and representatives from over a dozen rebel groups have met to work on the first stages of a nation-wide cease fire. There is also tension between Buddhists, the official religion of Myanmar, and Muslim Rohingya which lead to violence in 2013.

Displaced civilians live in camps. Photo Credit: NYT

Displaced civilians living in camps. Photo Credit: NYT

Myanmar poses as a hostile news environment for a variety of reasons. Until 2011 when reforms were introduced, the government had strict control over the media. It not only censored critiques of the government but also international news. The government has begun to allow privately owned newspapers to publish and previously exiled international and Burmese news websites have become accessible to the public. While these reforms indicate progress, the state continues to maintain control of the major broadcasters and publications and online censorship persists. International news has a large presence through foreign radio. The BBC, Voice of America, and Radio Free Asia are present in Myanmar.

I chose Myanmar because independent research led me to learn of the strict censorship laws that were once in place. I decided I wanted to learn more about the history and current state of this Southeast Asia country.

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