Thant Myint-U: The unbearable burden of history

The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century By Thant Myint U Norton, 288 pp In all my years of writing and journalism, the only time I recall ever being turned down for an interview at an arts event was when Thant Myint-U, pre-eminent historian on Burma and grandson of U Thant, third Secretary-General of the United Nations (1961-71), snubbed me before his appearance at the Irrawaddy…

Continue Reading Thant Myint-U: The unbearable burden of history

Xenophobic nationalism: Myanmar’s curse

    With the corpses piling up in Rakhine State and the number of Rohingya refugees fleeing into Bangladesh eclipsing the 400,000 mark, international good will toward Aung San Suu Kyi appears to be hemorrhaging by the minute. The whole world, it seems, is piling on Myanmar’s former beacon of democracy, blaming her for a crisis the UN describes as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. And with good reason. Once celebrated for her steadfast courage, dignity, and…

Continue Reading Xenophobic nationalism: Myanmar’s curse

An Independent Newsroom Where Self-Censorship Rules

  With the state once again targeting journalists, press freedom in post-dictatorship Myanmar remains elusive. But it’s not just the government that inhibits free expression: the country’s leading independent news daily routinely betrays the ideals of press freedom by promoting hatred against a persecuted minority. Two years ago, Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government officially lifted pre-censorship rules governing domestic non-state media. This was a good sign: after half a century of military dictatorship, a new era of…

Continue Reading An Independent Newsroom Where Self-Censorship Rules

So Long, Myanmar—and Au Revoir, Burma

  Back in February, while sitting down for lunch in Mandalay with Karen Connelly, I reminded the award-winning author of The Lizard Cage of something she had said while promoting her 2009 memoir, Burmese Lessons. Connelly had told an interviewer that, after finishing her epic novel, she thought she was “done with Burma”—meaning as a destination, as place to live, and as a subject for writing. However, having found that she had much more to say…

Continue Reading So Long, Myanmar—and Au Revoir, Burma

Welcome to the Post-Totalitarian Disneyland

NAYPYIDAW—Ever since arriving in Myanmar back in September, I have harboured a nagging desire to visit the country’s new capital city. Naypyidaw, unveiled by former dictator Than Shwe in November 2005 (although not actually given its name until four months later), has become somewhat legendary for all the wrong reasons. Apparently it was so unattractive a place that, when the regime invited foreign embassies to relocate from Yangon, Bangladesh was the only country to take…

Continue Reading Welcome to the Post-Totalitarian Disneyland