“New” and Competing Nationalisms in Myanmar

About the Seminar

This half-day discussion will look at the resurgence of nationalist attitudes in countries like Myanmar, where nationalism has been conflated with patriotism, and ethno-religious themes infuse issues of identity in societal and political life in the country. The National League for Democracy (NLD) government has inherited this legacy, which is morphing into “new” forms of nationalist assertions that have the potential to influence or affect the NLD’s electoral legitimacy in the 2020 elections. The rhetoric of ultra-nationalist entities is tapping into the high expectations nationwide for the NLD government to deliver on its change agenda, particularly the socio-economic life of urban and rural communities. There are also competing views of nationalism in Myanmar. Various ethnic armed organisations all have a vision of their role, rights and resources in the envisaged federal union being discussed in the 21st Century Panglong peace process. Political aspirations have led several ethnic political parties to consolidate their diverse interests in anticipation of the 2020 general elections. Historical grievances and Rakhine nationalism have fuelled the insurgent Arakan Army to take up arms, adding to already existing tensions in Rakhine State. Amidst all this, efforts to foster inter-faith dialogue and discussion are also emerging, with both political and non-political motivations.

Researchers and experts monitoring the perceptions, attitudes and aspects of competing narratives on what constitutes national identity, culture and tradition in Myanmar will discuss and share their views, including how this will affect election platforms and votes.

About the Speakers

Alexander Horstmann is Associate Professor in Modern Southeast Asian Studies at Tallinn University, Estonia. In his approach to Myanmar politics, he combines elements from Social Anthropology and Political Sciences/International Development. His new project is concerned with the rise of Buddhist protectionism, human security and contested belonging in Myanmar. Alexander is writing up a monograph on humanitarian aid among the Karen and has published extensively on his work on human rights, but also on civility and everyday multiculturalism. His latest publication include Building Noah’s Ark for Refugees, Migrants and Religious Communities (2015), Sameness and Difference as Modes of Integration (2017) and the Routledge Handbook on Asian Borderlands (2018). He is also reports on Myanmar for ASIENHAUS, Germany. He is editor of Conflict and Society: Advances for Research.  (Via Skype).

Tharaphi Than is an Associate Professor in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Northern Illinois University.  She received her BA in Biology and Sociology from Grinnell College, Iowa, after which she went to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London for an MA in Southeast Asian Studies and a PhD in History. Her first monograph on Women in Modern Burma was published by Routledge in 2014, and her research interests include borderlands of Burma, censorship, print media, and women. She teaches at Northern Illinois University during the academic year and spends her summer travelling and doing research in Burma/Myanmar.  She is currently working on two manuscripts: feminism in Myanmar and the cultural production of dissent.

Nyi Nyi Kyaw is a Visiting Fellow with the Myanmar Studies Programme at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. He was previously a Visiting Fellow at the Melbourne Law School and a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Asian Legal Studies at the National University of Singapore. He received his PhD in international and political studies from the University of New South Wales in 2015. He works on identity, religion, nationalism, social movements, citizenship, law, and constitutionalism. His country of specialization is Myanmar but he closely follows Indonesia and Sri Lanka where religiously-motivated nationalism and populism affects electoral and non-electoral politics. His research has been published or is forthcoming in the Review of Faith & International Affairs, Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, Social Identities, and Chinese Journal of Comparative Law. He has also contributed to several edited volumes on religion, constitutionalism, and citizenship.

Mon Mon Myat is an independent writer and journalist. She is co-founder and former executive director of the Myanmar Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival (HRHDIFF). She is currently doing her PhD in peace building studies at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She edited the book, Heartless Forest: An Anthology of Burmese Women Writers (2013) together with the editor/translator Nance Cunningham. Mon Mon also produced a few documentary films including Floating Tomatoes which won second prize in ASEAN Festival of Photos – Reportage – Documentary Film 2010. She made a documentary film about Aung San Suu Kyi’s political journey: A Long Way Panglong in 2016.


Tin Maung Maung Than is currently an Associate Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, where he was a research staff member and the resident Myanmar specialist from May 1983 to June 2015. He is also Vice Chair of the Yangon-based think tank Centre for Economic and Social Development (CESD) and Vice Chair of the University Council of Yangon International University (YIU). He has a Masters in nuclear physics (Rangoon Arts & Science University), a graduate diploma in economic planning (Rangoon Institute of Economics) and a PhD in politics (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London). He was a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London) until October 2016 and the Association for Asian Studies (USA).  During his time with ISEAS, Dr Tin authored “State Dominance in Myanmar: The Political Economy of Industrialization” (Singapore: ISEAS, 2007) and has published widely on Myanmar’s economy, politics, security, foreign relations and society as book chapters, journal articles, reports, policy briefs and commentaries. He is well-known in both academic and Track Two circuits.


For registration, please fill in this form and email to iseasevents3@iseas.edu.sg by 27 June 2019.


Jun 28 2019


9:30 am - 12:30 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2