What’s the difference between Myanmar and Burma?

Web statistics are a funny thing, and the most curious about them is certainly the list of search terms that bring visitors from search engines like Google, Yahoo or Bing to a web site. If you run a site about Burma, you find search terms like myanmar, mranmar, nyanmar and so on, in all kinds of variations. But the most astonishing thing is the huge number of people who are confused about the two names for country, language, people and many places after the regime decided to change Burma’s history and identity.

Hundreds of people submit their confusion in form of a direct question: “are burma and myanmar the same?”, “what’s the difference between miranmar and burma?” or, in a variation that reveals a deeper familiarity with the issue, “difference rangoon yangon”. We are happy that we can offer to these poor searchers the liberating reading of Bertil Lintner’s analysis, who simply refutes the junta’s lame argument that the new name is more consistent in itself, that it does not discriminate against ethnic minorities, and that it avoids a colonialist point of view. Of course, what’s in a name? The question here is about the legitimization of rule and the accountability of rulers, rather than etymology. One day we all might say “Myanmar”. Or something else.

But: We have recently identified another difference between “Myanmar” and “Burma” (“Barma” in Czech language). On December 18, 2006, half a year after the foundation of Burma Center Prague, two sun bears arrived in the north Bohemian town of Ústí. They were from the zoo in Rangoon (or, yes, “Yangon”) and now the new Czech owners at the Ústí Zoo, who have probably saved them from being sold to a circus, faced the problem of finding good names for them. The solution probably points to a typical trait of Czech humor that helps people escape from any imaginable kind of mental trap: The male bear was called “Myanmar” and the female “Barma” – perfectly matching the Czech grammar that mainly uses consonants as the ending of masculine nouns and the concluding “A” as a marker for feminine gender.

Given this wise decision in Northern Bohemia, we sought to establish a cooperation with zoo and bears. The present result is a blog, “written” by the two bears, and two events on November 19 and 20. While the latter one will take place directly at the zoo, the former one is planned at the Faculty of Science of the Ústí University. The reason for their involvement lies in the fact that last year they adopted the bear Myanmar.

So, at the end of the day we can offer a second answer to the question that continues to give people sleepless nights: The difference between Myanmar and Burma is … well, check it out yourself at the Ústí Zoo. But don’t get too close.

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