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This country is known in English by two names. Firstly, its colonial name, Burma. Secondly, the name the ruling military government has given it in 1989, Myanmar. The renaming is understandable, because "Burma" led to confusion as the country is made up of one large ethnic group called the Burmans (or Bamar) and a huge number of smaller ones, who are collectively called Burmese; Myanmar is a more neutral term. However sensible the renaming, a lot of media outlets and governments continue to use "Burma" as a symbolic protest against the military dictatorship that ruled it from 1962 to 2010. Basically, it's Asia's version of Britain Versus the UK.
From 1992 to 2010 Burma was a military junta ruled by General Than Shwe, who pursued a largely isolationist foreign policy, with the exception of friendly relations with the People's Republic of China.
In 2010, the junta stepped down, and handed power to a civilian government after flawed elections. However, the military continues to have strong ties with the government. Thein Sein (pronounced "Tane Sane") is the current president, famous for his democratic reforms and reconciliation with the west.
There is great controversy over the government's brutal treatment of various minorities, such as the native Karen. Burma has been involved in a civil war since 1948, the oldest ongoing war in the world.
In fiction, it is generally a nasty Holiday in Cambodia and an Acceptable Political Target, portrayed as an oppressive and genocidal military junta with little regard for human rights or for political dissidents. Then again, in a place where using a modem without permission carries a 15-year prison term...
Oh, and the map on the left is slightly out of date - for whatever reason, the junta moved the capital from Rangoon/Yangon to a purpose-built central city called Naypyidaw in 2005.
Appearances by this country and its inhabitants in fiction:
- Its people appear as the villains in the fourth Rambo movie, which proved highly popular with Karen rebels (especially since the government banned it).
- Mentioned in Spitting Image's "I've Never Met a Nice South African", as featuring unicorns. The BBC noted it as being somewhat of a Funny Aneurysm Moment, as a song that was ridiculing the evils of The Apartheid Era referred to a country that would, in future, be host to even worse things.
- Mentioned by Alfred in The Dark Knight, when he had visited it when it was under colonial rule and encountered a mad diamond thief.
- The Road to Mandalay, of course. And the same poem by Kipling, naturally.
- Appears in an episode of Seinfeld in which J. Peterman has Gone Native (and insane) in a parody of Heart of Darkness. The business over the name is also mentioned.
- Burma has a Fictional Counterpart in Ligon, a Fictional Country in the works of Kir Bulychev, based on his time there.
- French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle did a book, "Burma Chronicles," about his year living there with his wife and son for his wife's job with Medecins Sans Frontieres France