Junta Clamps Down on Ethnic Culture Groups
By Shah Paung and Lawi Weng      June 8, 2007

Culture is the soul of a nation

Burma’s military government has begun to target ethnic culture organizations by refusing to renew work registrations, according to group members.

The Mon Literature and Culture Committee attempted to renew their work registration in early May but were informed by Ministry of Culture a few weeks later that their application had been refused without explanation, according to o­ne committee member.

The member said ethnic representatives from Mon, Karen and Shan states held a meeting o­n June 2 in the Mon State capital of Moulmein to discuss the situation.

A second cultural association, the Shan Literature and Culture Committee in Rangoon, said they applied for registration in November 2006 but have yet to receive a reply from authorities.

“We were required to apply for registration, but we don’t know whether we’ll receive it or not,” a senior member of the committee told The Irrawaddy o­n Friday. 

Committee members are unsure what effect the refusals might have o­n other cultural activities in Burma.

“For yearly events such as Shan dancing festivals, they [the government] can not ban it because it is o­ne of our annual celebrations,” the Shan committee member said.

“The Burmese authorities are trying to ban our ethnic cultural works,” said a senior member of the Karen Literature and Culture Committee. “Now we are trying to find out why.”

The Karen group sent a letter to the Ministry of Culture last month to seek an explanation, but they have yet to receive any response, according to the Karen committee member. He added that the group’s leader is currently trying to negotiate with authorities in Rangoon.

Some group members believe Burmese authorities are concerned about possible links between ethnic organizations and outside groups, particularly political opposition groups.

“They want to destroy us. They seem as much afraid of literature and culture groups as they are of armed organizations,” said a Karen committee member. “That could be o­ne reason why they don’t want us to work freely.”

Ethnic cultural groups have operated in Burma since the 1960s and 1970s.

Recent refusals of culture group registrations follow the refusal in mid-May by the Ministry of Home Affairs to renew registrations for more than 20 social welfare organizations. The ministry later announced that groups could submit letters of appeal, according to o­ne Rangoon-based social group whose registration renewal was refused. 

Social groups affected by the decision included the Free Funeral Services Society and the Chinese Traders Association.