Karens - linguistic & cultural minority










Burma has been a dictatorship since 1962 when Ne Win overthrew U Nu's democratic government. When it was a British colony the Karen people, a minority whose language relates to those of the Tibetan area, were ruled separately from the rest of the country and became mostly Christian. Their demand for autonomy was refused by the new government.

The Ne Win dictatorship (Ne Win died in 2002) followed a policy of separate socialist development, milder than Pol Pot's but with similar effects - the economy has run down. Calls for democracy have been suppressed with army brutality. Some students and others have joined the Karen guerrillas. Other, Communist, guerrillas operate in other parts of the country.

The refusal of the government to accept the 1990 election results in which the opposition League for Democracy won a majority has led to further tension and the dictatorship continues.

In 1991-92 the mass expulsion of Rohinga Muslims to Bangladesh has created an international aspect to the Burma problem.

The wars with the Karens and other minorities continue, but the main war is the oppression of the military over the majority people.

The roots of the military dictatorship may reflect the history of the army. It is not a descendant of British military forces, as are the armies in India and Pakistan, but of the army set up by the Japanese occupiers during the second world war. That is, the ethos of the officer corps reflects the arrogance of the imperial Japanese army, rather than the non-political ethos of the British Army.

Last revised 27/01/10


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