In this video Dr. Thant Myint-U, Special Advisor to the Myanmar Peace Center and Chairman of the Yangon Heritage Trust, joins UNU Rector David M. Malone to discuss the past and the future of Myanmar.
Although many observers have considered Myanmar to be a socio-politically static nation, Dr. Myint-U refutes this assumption, pointing towards the prior decades’ moves towards establishing the current framework of constitutional reform. With the retirement of autocratic rule in Myanmar, the resulting political shake-up displayed just how far back the country had fallen economically, which led to “a desire to catch up” and “provided the intellectual environment for a lot of the changes we see today”. Initial steps have already been taken, as Myanmar emancipates from economic dependency on certain countries, particularly China, and strives to solve domestic infrastructure problems such as the lack of electricity.
On the topic of peace and security, Dr. Myint-U points to Myanmar’s history of civil war since independence in 1948 and highlights the “incredibly complicated” peace process in Myanmar. But he spotlights an imminent nationwide ceasefire and its potential to create a “watershed moment” initiating substantial social, political and economic reform.
Addressing headline violence towards Muslim populations close to the Bangladesh border, and the tensions between the Muslim minority and the Rahkine Buddhist minority in the center of the country, Dr. Myint-U raises three points. First, the history of violence between the two communities dates back to the Second World War and is rooted in longstanding ethnic conflict. Second, there is the possibility of local political manipulation, which benefits from a history of prejudice, despite a long history of friendship on both sides. Third, are the remnants of a long Buddhist tradition that feels that Buddhism is under threat and must be protected. Even though this history of violence may indicate serious problems in the country, Dr. Myint-U remains convinced that Myanmar can progress from the past.
With new economic liberalization and growth, Myanmar’s urban and social infrastructure is undergoing rapid transformation. As chairman of the Yangon Heritage Trust, and as a result of his work preserving the beautiful buildings of Yangon, Dr. Myint-U closes the interview by stressing a few important points about the city’s inevitable urbanization: The acute need for sound urban planning goals and governance, and the importance of appreciating the city’s rich cosmopolitan history and its proud, multifaith and multicultural heritage.