Myanmar, the land of the golden temples and the red robes. The nation in the heart of South-East Asia has a mysterious reputation that precedes it.
We think of green, exotic landscapes, spiritual places of prayer, smiling Buddhas and white elephants.
And in fact, the land which is still known as Birma or Burma by many, is characterized by a colourful cultural, social as well as geographical, economic and most of all ethnographic diversity.
For centuries this diversity has brought the land a rather turbulent political history. After the rise and fall of countless kingdoms the country was colonized by the British Crown in 1885.
During this time the country was occupied by Japan during the Second World War, an end to British colonial rule followed in 1948. The independence was an achievement which to a large part was due to a resistance movement under the hero of the state general Aung San. He was shot during a cabinet meeting in 1947.
Many decades later his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi was meant to step in his footsteps. After a long period of military dictatorship which put the economically flourishing country under one central administration isolating and exhausting it, Aung San Suu Kyi set the much needed democratic process going.
Today the Nobel Peace Prize Winner is a state counselor elected with a vast majority who is equally loved and criticised worldwide.
Behind the scenes high-ranking military generals are still pulling the strings. Because the military does not want to give up any economic privileges, poverty and corruption are part of everyday life. Even though strategically placed in a favourable position between China and India the people unfortunately do not make any profit from it. Also, the revenues from selling the abundance of natural resources and land are pocketed by the military elite, diverting much needed funds away from the common good.
Instead, people are forced to remain living in the painful economic isolation they endured during their time under the military regime. The money seeps away into the pockets of the political elite or into bank accounts of rich businessmen from the mighty neighbouring countries.
More than 140 ethnicities are living in today’s Union of Myanmar. The wish for independence and more autonomy of some minorities is the cause for on-going political conflicts.
In the West of the country the mainly Muslim population of the Rohingya suffers under the contempt and persecution of the majority population, especially of ultra nationalist Buddhists. The United Nation speaks about the most persecuted minority in the world but the government in Myanmar remains silent about the massive human rights violations the Rohingya people are constantly exposed to.
On the other end of the country, in the North East, a civil war is raging. Some ethnic groups are fighting against the army of the government. Going on for six decades already the stealth conflict is conspicuous in its absence from almost every public media perception and the resulting coverage.
Despite all the conflicts, Myanmar is fascinating country which one has to discover. With its extraordinary history, its tradition, the picturesque landscape and most of all the heartfelt and extremely hospitable people.