Until the 19th century, a number of different
groups of people lived essentially separate from each
other and developed their own culture and character. On
three occasions, however, the majority of Burmese people
succeeded in unifying one area in the larger kingdoms.
When Britain colonized the area during the 19th century,
minority people joined British service while the Burmese
resisted. After a brief Japanese occupation, the country
became an independent federation in 1948.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Burma, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
The earliest known peoples who have left traces of
significant cultures in Myanmar are pyu and mon who
lived in Irrawaddy's delta area a few hundred years
before Christ. After them came the Tibetan Burmese
people, who are the ancestors of today's Burmese. Other
ethnic groups immigrated in stages from long before the
birth of Christ until the end of the 18th century.
Essentially, they lived apart from each other. Each
people has therefore developed their own culture and
Since the 9th century, Burmese have been in the
majority and dominated politically and culturally. Three
times they managed to unite Myanmar into a kingdom.
During the first Burmese dynasty, Pagan, from the 11th
century until the Mongol invasion in 1287, Buddhism
gained entry and with it came an Indian-influenced
culture. This period was Myanmar's "golden age".
In the 16th century, the country united again during
the Burmese dynasty Toungoo. Constant wars weakened the
kingdom, which in turn was dissolved in fighting between
peoples groups where no one was strong enough to take
power. At the end of the 18th century, however, the
third Burmese dynasty, Konbaung, emerged. Border
conflicts with the British East India Company in the
19th century led Britain to gradually succumb to the
area. By 1885 the entire country had been conquered and
later incorporated as a province of British India.
Buddhism as resistance to colonial rule
During the colonial era, Burma, as the British called
the colony, developed into the world's leading rise
exporter. Administratively, the Burmese regions became
heavily centralized by subjugating local communities in
the plain previously governed by chieftains. Tens of
thousands of Indians were sent to Burma to take care of
the economy, trade and administration. Most minority
people, who had not fought colonial power, were rewarded
with a large measure of local self-government. They
volunteered in British service as soldiers and lower
officials, while the national self-conscious Burmese
resisted colonial rule.
An important channel for resistance was the Buddhist
traditions. The Burmese, among other things, demanded
that even Europeans take off their shoes before entering
the pagodas (Buddhist shrines). After a couple of monks
attacked a few Europeans in a pagoda in 1919, the
colonial administration had to give in to the shoe
issue, which strengthened the self-esteem of the
A true independence movement emerged in the early
1930s. Its members called each other thakin
(lord, master, a title otherwise reserved for the
colonial lords). To the population, they became known as
the Thakins. Their ideas were a mixture of socialism,
nationalism and fascism. But above all, they were based
on Buddhist tradition: in a socialist welfare society,
the people could devote themselves to spiritual things
rather than material concerns. In addition, the welfare
of the people would be a merit to the ruler in the
During the 1930s, there were repeated unrest and
strikes aimed at colonial rule as well as against Indian
money lenders and guest workers. The British tried to
appease the nationalists by giving them increased
autonomy. The inhabitants got their own parliament
through general elections in 1936 and a prime minister
appointed by parliament in 1937. But the British
governor retained great powers.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Japanese
contacted Burmese nationalists and promised them support
in the struggle for independence. A group of Thakins,
led by Aung San, were smuggled out of Burma and received
military training from the Japanese intelligence
service. They then formed the core of special allies
that, with raids in Burma, supported the Japanese
invasion in 1942. After the Allies had been expelled
from almost the entire country, Burma was proclaimed an
independent state. But independence became only formal.
In practice, Japan's imperial army ruled, and many
residents were forced into forced labor and brutally
The powerless Burmese regime contacted the British,
who were still in the Kachin state in the north, and the
Allies were willing to cooperate. A new group, the
Anti-fascist Popular Freedom Association (AFPFL), was
formed by many different nationalist groups as well as
communists. The AFPFL was led by Aung San who was now
Burmese commander. On signal from the British commander
in Southeast Asia, Louis Mountbatten, the Burmese troops
mutated and attacked the Japanese. Aung San's forces
then participated in the Allies' recapture of Burma in
After the war, the arms brothers no longer agreed.
The British government did not want to surrender power
to Aung San and the Freedom League, because it was
dissatisfied with the communist element of the movement.
Instead, the British governor let some hand-picked
conservative Burmese politicians form government. The
position of minority people was also a matter of
contention. Several of them, including the Kars, did not
want to be part of an independent nation.
Burma becomes independent
The British attitude changed when unrest broke out
and became so extensive that a general uprising
threatened. After the Communists came into conflict with
the Freedom League and left the coalition, the British
Government signed an agreement with Aung San to hand
over power to the AFPFL. The question of the status of
minorities was solved by making the independent Burma a
federation with some formal autonomy for the minority
people in the different states. In practice, however,
the constitution gave the central government a strong
position of power.
Aung San and six other leading AFPFL members were
murdered in 1947 in a conspiracy led by the conservative
politician U Saw, who was disappointed in power by the
agreement with the British. Another AFPFL leader, Thakin
Nu (later known as U Nu), instead took over government
responsibility at independence on January 4, 1948.
The president criticizes the state administration
In a televised speech, Thein Sein accuses the public administration of
curbing democratization. According to him, many officials exercise poor
leadership and act as if military rule never ceased. According to the president,
local officials in particular are guilty of mystery making, do not listen to the
views of the population and bypass laws and regulations. The result is
corruption and delays in reform.
Police strike protesters
Police receive sharp criticism for brutal interventions against protesters at
a copper mine in the northwest. The protesters, including many monks, protest
that hundreds of families have been forced to move when the China-backed mine
would expand. Many are injured in the police operation, which is the hardest
since the change of power in 2011.
Barack Obama visits Myanmar
US President Barack Obama visits Myanmar to show US support for the reform
process there. Before the visit, more than 450 prisoners are released, but it is
unclear if any of them were sentenced on political grounds.
Financial support from the World Bank and the EU
For the first time in 25 years, the World Bank is providing assistance to
Myanmar (around $ 80 million) and promises additional financial support in the
form of loans. The EU offers over $ 100 million in development aid to Myanmar.
New unrest in Rakhine
In new outbreaks of violence between Buddhists and Rohingyas, more than 80
people are killed and more than 22,500 people are forced to flee their homes,
the vast majority of Rohingyas. In total, around 100,000 people have now become
homeless since the fighting broke out in June. Entire neighborhoods and villages
are reported to be obliterated.
The President visits the United States
President Thein Sein travels to the United States on his first state visit
there in 46 years.
Hundreds of prisoners are released
The government releases over 500 prisoners, including several political
prisoners and foreign nationals.
Parliament dismisses judges
Parliament forces all judges in the Constitutional Court to resign. The
background is that the Court has tried to limit Parliament's powers, including
its ability to monitor the work of government members through hearings, for
example. Both the military-backed USDP and the NLD vote to dismiss the judges.
Pre-censorship is abolished
The Ministry of Information announces that the prior censorship will be
abolished for printed publications. Radio and TV should continue to be able to
be previewed. After publication, all media can still be subjected to review.
Demonstrations for democracy are allowed
Around the country, manifestations on the 24th anniversary are being held by
the mass demonstrations for democracy in 1988 (see Modern History). The
manifestations receive government approval.
Human rights violations and increased violence in Rakhine
Human Rights Watch criticizes the government soldiers for conducting a
systematic campaign of violence against Muslims, especially the stateless
Rohingy, in Rakhine where the violence and the refugee stream continued since
May. Soldiers are said to have killed and raped Rohingya. The government rejects
the allegations, but the head of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Navi Pillay,
calls for an independent investigation into the actions of the security forces.
One month later, the government appoints one.
The United States raises more sanctions
The United States is also easing financial sanctions against Myanmar. US
companies are allowed to "do responsible business" in the country. Every year,
those who invest more than half a million dollars in Myanmar must certify to the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs that their activities take into account human
rights, workers' rights and the environment.
Economic reforms are presented
President Thein Sein announces that the ongoing political reforms must now be
followed by economic reforms. The state's economic role will be reduced, a
privatization commission will be set up and it will be easier for foreign
companies to invest in Myanmar.
Suu Kyi does Europe travel
Aung San Suu Kyi makes a round trip to the UK, Switzerland, Ireland, France
and Norway. In Geneva, she speaks before the UN Labor Organization working
against child slavery in Myanmar, and in Oslo she receives the Nobel Peace Prize
she was awarded in 1991.
Outbreak of violence in Rakhine
Old contradictions between Buddhists and Muslims (mainly the Rohingy group)
in the western state of Rakhine are resurfacing, with dozens dead as a result.
The trigger is a rape and a murder of a Buddhist woman. The murder is followed
by an attack on a bus carrying Muslim passengers, of which at least ten are
killed. The conflict is escalating rapidly, and soon hundreds of Buddhist and
Muslim homes have been burned down. When violence spreads around Rakhine before
President Thein Sein's state of emergency in the state. By that time tens of
thousands of people have moved from Rakhine.
Suu Kyi travels abroad
Aung San Suu Kyi travels to Thailand to meet Myanmar guest workers and
refugees and to attend the World Economic Forum. It is her first trip abroad
since 1988. She now considers that she can travel abroad without fear of not
being able to return.
Government of India visiting
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh makes the first official visit to
Myanmar by an Indian head of government since 1987. A series of cooperation
agreements in trade and diplomacy are signed.
The United States eases sanctions
The United States raises a number of sanctions against Myanmar and
facilitates US investment in the country. The United States also appoints an
ambassador to Myanmar.
The NLD is taking up parliament
NLD members are sworn into parliament. In the past, they have refused to
promise to "protect the constitution". Aung San Suu Kyi gets a passport and the
government says she is now free to travel wherever she wants.
The EU eases the sanctions
The EU abolishes all sanctions against Myanmar for one year, with the
exception of the arms embargo.
David Cameron visits Myanmar
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron visits Myanmar. It is the first time
since independence in 1948 that the country receives a British Prime Minister.
Cameron supports a proposal by Aung San Suu Kyi that the sanctions against
Myanmar should be suspended to encourage the government to continue
democratization. However, the sanctions should not be completely abolished, both
emphasize, because the conservative forces within the regime should know that
they can be re-introduced if the reform process is stopped.
Devaluation of the currency kyat
The central bank decides to allow the Myanmarian currency to float, which in
practice means that its value falls sharply. With the measure, the USDP
government hopes to be able to increase foreign investment and reduce
Aung San Suu Kyi is in parliament
When electoral elections are held in 46 constituencies, of which 40 are for
Parliament's lower house, the NLD wins 43 seats. Aung San Suu Kyi is one of
Aung San Suu Kyi says that electoral fraud is occurring
Two days before Election Day, Aung San Suu Kyi claims that the authorities
are cheating with voting lengths, saying election materials were destroyed and
election workers harassed. She still describes the election as a step towards
Foreign election observers are invited
Myanmar offers the United States, the EU and the Southeast Asian cooperation
organization Asean to monitor filling elections to be held on April 1. This is
the first time the regime has invited foreign election observers.
Aung San Suu Kyi holds a general election
Aung San Suu Kyi holds its first general election in the city of Dawei. It is
the first time in several months that she is leaving Rangoon.
The EU raises visa bans
The EU rewards Myanmar's "remarkable political reform program" by lifting the
visa ban for Myanmar's leading politicians.
Hundreds of political prisoners are released
Several hundred more political prisoners are released, including leading
student activists from the protests in 1988. President Thein Sein says they "can
play an important role in the political process". It is unclear how many
political prisoners remain in the prisons.