In 1989, the military government of the Union of Burma changed the name of the country to the Union of Myanmar. Myanmar is the spelling of the official name of the country in Burmese script, the full term of which is Myanmar Naingandaw (lit., "the Royal Country of Myanmar"). The military claimed that this was ethnically a more neutral term and would lead to greater harmony among the state's diverse peoples and "provides a feeling of release from the British colonial past and ... give a previously divided and fractious country a sense of national unity under a new banner 'The Union of Myanmar.'"
In regional and ethnic terms, a variety of humanitarian crises continue to be at their most serious in minority-inhabited areas, all of which have severely detrimental impact on human and economic development in the country. The causes can be attributed to a combination of factors, including decades of conflict, militarization, under-expenditure on health and education, and failures to achieve consensual reform. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the result of this cycle of impasse is a pattern of "human insecurity" in which three "disparities" are significant: regional and ethnic, rural-urban, and gender.
Burma's political history since the late sixteenth century can be conveniently divided into three or four obvious periods, distinguishable by the prevailing style of state-society relationship: the time of the kings, between the founding of the Restored Toungoo dynasty in 1597 and the deposition of King Thibaw in 1885; the period of British colonial rule, cut off by the Japanese invasion of 1942, but not terminating until Burma's attainment of sovereignty and membership of the comity of nations in 1948; and independent government and politics to the present day. The latter period can be divided, at 1962, between the predominantly civilian government that preceded that date and subsequent military dominance.
The colonial world that the most ardent Myanmar nationalists found unacceptable was dislodged initially not by their own actions but rather by a rival imperial power to that of the West, Japan. But the Japanese invasion of South East Asia in late 1941 and 1942 unleashed social and political forces which proved to be overwhelming for all foreign interests in the country ... The result was Myanmar's independence from Britain only six years later following the determination of the British Labour government to grant India independence.
Myanmar shares over 6,000 km of contiguous land frontiers with five states and possesses a coastline stretching over 2,200 km. Hemmed in between the two most populous states on earth (over 1.2 billion Chinese and 1 billion Indians) Myanmar's 49 million inhabitants were outnumbered by two other neighbors with the exception of Laos. Until the 1990s, the frontier zones have been, more often than not, contested areas where drug-traffickers, warlords, and insurgent groups challenged the authority of the central state.
Since the 1970’s, the government has increasingly attacked civilians in ethnic minority areas, resettling residents in sites guarded by the military. In its struggle to maintain power, the junta tried to negotiate agreements with all ethnic state armed forces. The Karen state did not give in to the junta; thus, in 1990 the government launched a systematic offensive against the Karen. Reports as recently as February, 2010 state that the Burmese government continues to burn Karen villages, displacing thousands. In November 2010, Human Rights Watch reported the Burmese army continues indiscriminate shelling, abusive sweeps, and forced labor in attempts to terrorize civilians.
The Nation we know as Burma was first formed during the goldenage of Pagan in the 11th century. King Anawratha ascended the throne in 1044, uniting Burma under his monarchy. His belief in Buddhism lead him to begin building the temples and pagodas for which the city of Pagan is renowned.
A military-dominated regime led by the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) held power for the next 26 years. There were no free elections, and freedom of expression and association were almost entirely denied. Resistance to the regime occasionally flared, and student and worker demonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s were brutally crushed. Torture, political imprisonment, and other human rights abuses were common. Throughout this period, costly guerrilla wars with ethnic opposition groups along the country's frontiers continued.
Despite Burma's growing GDP due to increasing oil and gas revenues, the regime's mismanagement of the economy has created a downward economic spiral for the people of Burma. The state remains heavily and inefficiently involved in most parts of the economy, infrastructure has deteriorated, and rule of law does not exist. The majority of Burmese citizens lead a subsistence-level existence with minimal opportunity for economic improvement.
Burma's population includes dozens of different racial and ethnic groups, including the Mon, Burmans, Kachins, Chins, Shans, Rakhine, and Karens, each of which have historically dominated a particular area of the country. Although Burmese is the major and official language, more than a hundred local and regional dialects are spoken throughout Burma.