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The times are changing, from Rangoon all the way to Yangon

The times are changing, from Rangoon all the way to Yangon

Not long ago, when one of my articles appeared in another publication, all references to Myanmar were changed, without my approval, to Burma.

Even a mention of The Myanmar Times was altered to The Burma Times, despite the fact that no such newspaper exists.

While embarrassing, it was not unusual. Many analysts, who spoke about Myanmar and Yangon, found their quotes altered to refer to the old colonial names Burma and Rangoon.

As far as the editors of these publications were concerned, it was more important to make a point than to report the truth.

But that was then and this is now, and like Saul on the road to Damascus, they have experienced a startling conversion following the revolutionary steps undertaken by the newly elected government in Myanmar.

Those steps have included releasing political prisoners, unshackling the media, granting visas to expatriate oppositionists and journalists, and even giving free rein to Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s pro-democracy icon.

As a result, the colonial dinosaurs in their fusty editorial backwaters have been put in a fix.

Not only is it palpably dishonest and unethical of them to keep mangling people’s quotes, but by continuing to do so they appear out of step with Myanmar’s reforms.

So, quickly and quietly, in order not to alert outsiders to their embarrassing volte face, they have embraced the formerly hated terms.

Consider the Bangkok Post, for instance, Thailand’s flagship English-language daily, a mouthpiece of the Democrat Party and a forthright proponent of freedom and democracy (don’t laugh).

Until days ago, this great organ, whose masthead motto is “The Newspaper You Can Trust”, routinely bastardised reports so that all references to Myanmar were changed to Burma.

Now, however, a reset button has been pressed and all references to Burma are changed to Myanmar.

Thus, last week, Aung Zaw, the founder of Irrawaddy, a magazine laudably devoted to the pro-democracy movement, was quoted in the Bangkok Post as saying he hopes to publish a magazine in Myanmar, not in Burma.

Even more hilarious was the way, in the same article, the self-righteous edit-meisters hit the reset button again and referred to the DVB as the Democratic Voice of Myanmar. Shum mishtake, shurely?

Perhaps we should not scoff, for the Thai media’s reporting about Myanmar is traditionally suffused with wild speculation, brutal opacity and a shocking tendency to include an occasional accurate statement.

One subject they have not explored in any detail, however, and yet is of great fascination, is which foreign country Suu Kyi will visit first after next month’s by-elections.

No one doubts that she and most of her party’s candidates will win and become MPs, and that soon after, the European Union will lift its trade and investment restrictions on Myanmar.

At that time, Suu Kyi has said she will start to accept some of the myriad invitations she has received from nations around the world.

She has always said that her first visit will be to Norway, which awarded her the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and thus thrust her name onto the world’s stage.

But recently, she has been displeased by the way the Norwegian government has called for the immediate elimination of sanctions and has urged businessmen to start investing in Myanmar right away.

The EU and the United States have always said they will not lift sanctions until Suu Kyi gives the word. And she does not look kindly on anyone else, even the Norwegians, trying to usurp that power. So she is now likely to go somewhere else first and then travel to Oslo.

Probably, it will be Kuala Lumpur, since she recently received a personal invite from Malaysia’s veteran diplomat Razali Ismail, who also visited government leaders and the newly released former PM Khin Nyunt.

When Daw Suu gets to KL, she will speak about Myanmar, not Burma. And then the dodos will all waddle into line.

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