Why Ethnic Literature Matters

The other week,  Mon State Chief Minister Dr Aye Zan, speaking in Mawlamyine, touched on an issue that lies at the very heart of the stalled nationwide ceasefire agreement:

… the literature and culture of the ethnic people is very important in our state including the signing of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) by the New Mon State Party (NMSP). We must strive for our literature to reach the situation before 1962. The culture may also face the same situation. We need to protect the rights of the ethnic people,

Time and again, over the years I lived in Myanmar, cultural and political leaders in the ethnic states stressed the importance of cultural rights and equality as being integral to the cessation of conflict and a crucial building block towards a frame-work for peace.

The recent literature festivals in Shan and Karen State are a good start, but needless interventions and obstacles, such as the military surveillance of schools teaching the Shan language and literature, or the detention of a Kachin pastor for a prayer reading in the Jinghpaw language or moving ethnic Karen literature teachers to schools where there are no ethnic Karen students just reinforce the widely held belief that ethnic minority citizens are second-class citizens.

The protection, promotion and teaching of ethnic languages and literatures appear to have become a litmus test for the NLD government and Tatmadaw.  Recognising its importance, acting on that recognition will go a long way in breaking ground on a relationship that is tainted and frustrated with mistrust and scepticism.

Image credit at Shan Herald Agency for News

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