May, 26th, 2014
Tanya Bradwell, Ed.D.
Many areas in the world are populated by different and unique ethnic groups and cultures. Some countries in the world house a plethora of cultures and peoples. These different groups take pride in their history, backgrounds, language, and customs, but historically this pride has led to conflicts between ethnic groups (Shiraev & Levy, 2010). These conflicts are attributed to ethnocentric views fueled by this pride as well as power imbalances within the different regions of the world. In most areas, the dominate culture not only has the highest population of citizens but maintains control of the governing body of the region. This can cause issues within countries and regions with many different ethnic groups and historically has led to many levels of conflict, that in some parts of the world last for many years with little to no end in sight.
The current conflict in the Republic of the Union Myanmar, or Myanmar for short, is one that is both political and ethnic in nature. With the significantly largest population of Myanmar, or what others call Burma, being the Bamar people in Myanmar they have heavy control over the government and military power (Thant, 2001). The government for many years focused heavily on the Bamar view of living and the ethnocentric focused ruled isolated and threatened the other several ethnic groups way of life in Burma ultimately causing violent conflicts across the country (Briefing: Myanmar's ethnic problems, n.d.).
Since the mid 1800’s Myanmar was controlled by British rule that had made the country one of its various colonies forcing British impact on the different populations of Burma. When British colonial rule ended in Burma a democracy was set in place, still heavily influenced by British power (Webster,1998). In 1962, a military coup occurred overthrowing the democracy and installing a republic with heavy influence of,military control. With many of the ethnic groups feeling as though they are not being represented properly with the current government in place many pro democratic groups, rebelled in the country against the Myanmar government. With shows of force and military actions, the government aimed to eradicate the rebelling organizations. Eventually, most ethnic groups ended their onslaught and through compromise were able to live relatively peacefully within the current government (Thant, 2001). Although one ethnic group known as the Karen refused to conform and the government responded violently towards their refusal.
Even though Myanmar's current state is much more peaceful than previous years there are still conflicts ongoing between the Karen people and the Myanmar government.
One of the biggest issues that arose in this conflict between the Burman controlled government and Karen people is the refusal of conformity the Karen have shown. The Burman controlled government feels as though in order for Myanmar to become united all ethnic groups must unite under the government rule and Burman ideals (Briefing: Myanmar's ethnic problems, n.d.). This view is supported in the social psychological definition of conformity that according to Shiraev and Levy (2010) is “a form of social influence in which individuals change their attitudes and/or behavior to adhere to a group or social norm." (p.283). Just like in most conflicts between ethnic groups the push for conformity puts both sides fighting not just for power, but who they are as a people.
The Burman people and ruling body of Myanmar are majority Buddhist in cultural and religious belief which can be said of the majority of the other ethnic groups within the country. Buddhism has been a heavy part of the different cultures in Myanmar for centuries with very little power of other religions or cultural views. It was not until the influence of British colonials and other western influences that western religions as