“Although it is true that it is necessary to maintain ethnic groups’ native languages, if we stick to our languages only, we won’t be able to compete in the world.”
Ethnic Affairs Minister Nai Htet Lwin made this statement on Saturday [May 14] at a meeting hosted by the Rangoon Ethnic Literature and Culture Committee at the K.H Hotel in Rangoon.
Attendees included representatives from the Shan, Karenni, Karen, Arakanese, Mon, Lishu and Ta’ang ethnic groups.
Nai Htet Lwin went on to say that ethnic groups must work toward developing their own literature and culture to become strong and long lasting.
During the U Thein Sein administration and in accordance with the 2008 Constitution, ethnic ministers were appointed after being elected from respective states and regions based on the ratio of ethnic populations there. Now, the National League for Democracy (NLD) administration has appointed a union-level ethnic affairs minister, Nai Htet Lwin, who is ethnically Mon.
“Before, when we were in Thailand, we spoke in English. They did not understand. They could not speak it. So, we had to have a mediator. But nowadays, we can see them using English words even in their TV commercials. So they could now compete in the world. If they only stick to their language, they won’t be able to face up to the world. I am a Mon ethnic, and if I speak Mon to you all now, who can talk back in Mon? So, I have to talk in Burmese. It is true that we have to maintain our literature, but we do not have to bond to it.”
Topics at the meeting included securing support from the ethnic affairs ministry to teach native languages, opening research offices for groups to access information on ethnic issues, and holding ceremonies to read ethnic literature and culture materials.
“The government said the Shan language that is being taught in Shan State is not for the Shan people in central Burma. The Shan people there won’t be able to speak Shan. In the future, the literature and culture will disappear. For this matter, we would like the ethnic affairs minister to authorize teaching across the country for Shan people to be able to learn their language. Then, we would like to get support from the government to teach mother tongue,” said Sai Leang Han, secretary of the Shan Literature and Culture Association (Rangoon).
Although it was announced that a ministry of ethnic affairs would be established, there are so far no appointed administrative staff members, departments have not been opened in states or regions, and the government has not yet allocated the ministry a budget, according to U Win Naing, chief director of the ethnic affairs ministry.