During Myanmar’s period of colonial rule, from 1886 to 1948, Great Britain preferred hiring ethnic minorities to work in its colonial administration, for fear of putting the majority Burman in positions of power. As a result, ethnic nationals were often better educated and developed strong ethnic identities.
After independence was declared in 1948, the tables were turned and Burman politicians dominated the government, with long memories of their time in exile. “Many ethnic leaders viewed the Burman leaders as hegemons whom they could not trust,” writes Myanmar observer Kyaw Yin Hlaing. “They agreed to join the union only out of respect for General Aung San.”
Convening a meeting at the town of Panglong, Aung San promised an equal power-sharing agreement, pledging to ethnic minority leaders that they could opt out of the union 10 years after independence if the benefits of cooperation failed to materialize.
The “Panglong Agreement” gave rise to a spirit of equal representation that would be short lived. After Aung San was killed, Burman leaders tried but failed to work the agreement into the new constitution. Ethnic minority groups rebelled, with a handful launching civil wars against the Burman majority.
Does this sound familiar?
It’s interesting to note that Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize winner, is Aung San’s daughter.