I had something to say here, but I've forgotten what it was.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Unmaking history--Burmese, er, Myamar style
I'm gradually reading Emma Larkin's Finding George Orwell in Burma, and came across this interesting passage:
"'Mandalay' is one of the few place names in Burma that has not been changed by the Burmese military government. In 1989 the regime renamed streets, towns and cities across Burma. Maymyo, the old British hill station that Orwell visited, became Pyin-Oo-Lwin, and Fraser Street in Rangoon became Anawyatha Lan in Yangon. Most of the old names were Anglicized Burmese names that had been used by the Birtish colonial government and the regime claimed that the changes were a long-overdue move to discard these colonial tags. But there was a deeper-rooted motive. The generals were rewriting history. When a place is renamed, the old name disappears from maps and, eventually, from human memory. If that is possible, then perhaps the memory of past events can also be erased. By renaming cities, towns and streets, the regime seized control of the very space within which people lived; home and business addresses had to be rewritten and relearned. And, when the regime changed the name of the country, maps and encyclopedias all over the world had to be corrected. The country known as Burma was erased and replaced with a new one: Myanmar.
"The crucial event which triggered this rewriting of the past was the people's uprising of 1988. At eight minutes past eight in the morning on the eighth day of the eighth month of that year, students launched a countrywide demonstration against almost three decades of poverty and oppression under military rule. Thousands of people flooded into the streets of cities and towns all over Burma shouting, 'Dee-mo-ka-ra-see! Dee-mo-ka-ra-see!' The government response was brutal: that evening, soldiers marched into the streets and strafed the crowds with machine-gun fire. In Rangoon, doctors and nurses, overwhelmed by the wounded, hung a sign outside the general hospital begging the soldiers to stop killing people. The sign was written with the blood of the wounded and dead. When a column of nurses joined the protest in the streets, wearing their white uniforms, they too were shot. Among those who died during the days of chaos that followed were high-school children, teachers and monks. Smoke billowed from crematoriums as the authorities rapidly disposed of their corpses. The uprising did not end until more than 3,000 people had been shot or bludgeoned to death by government soldiers."
As if we didn't have enough problems with memory without governmental forces actively working to undermine them...