Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Burmese – Achokacha ana

May 25th, 2011 · No Comments · Burmese, Sovereignty

Achokacha ana

Relates to sovereignty

Achokacha ana is a broad concept encompassing security, referents of security, threats, and strategies to deal with threats.  In the Burmese security discourse, sovereignty is closely tied to conceptions of the motherland, the nation, and independence.  State propaganda frequently warns that the country’s sovereignty is under constant threat, and thus the disintegration of the state, chaos, anarchy, and foreign enslavement are ever-present dangers.  Accordingly, the ‘perpetuation of sovereignty’ is proclaimed as a national duty.[1]

Achokacha ana can be literally translated as ‘supreme governance authority’.  Achokacha means the primary point, the person in full charge of an undertaking, anything of the highest kind or order, gist, compendium, or epitome.  Achok combines the noun forming prefix a, and the verb suffix chok, which variously means

  • hamper the free movement of somebody or something; bind
  • confine; detain
  • control; withhold (of feelings)
  • summarize; abridge
  • head; lead
  • make an obligation (such as contract); binding; sign
  • come to an end; bring to a close; cease
  • sew; stitch.

Acha means foundation, base, or status.

Ana is a form of power derived from one’s dominion or office, in contrast to charismatic power (hpōn), power from force of character and personal ability (let yōn), and the power to influence people on the basis of personal characteristics or charisma (awza).[2] According to traditional conceptions of kingship, all four forms of power were derived from a ruler’s Karma (kamma) or merit, which was determined by one’s deeds in the current and past lives.  Accordingly, ‘the personal qualities of the king and the extent of his dominion were the visible measure of his kamma’.[3] The baldest form of Ana is dictatorship anashin, literally ‘authority-master’.  In contrast, Burma’s great king Alunghpaya, who unified the disparate smaller kingdoms under central rule, boasted that he was a ‘master of glory’ by virtue of his good Karma (hpon-kamma-shin).[4]

Pre-colonial conceptions of state power were not conditioned by a notion of fixed borders or uniform power throughout the dominion.  Rather state boundaries waxed and waned depending on the strengths and powers of the king.  Only the core of the polity around the capital was ruled directly, while the remaining areas were ruled as autonomous appendages and vassal principalities, which may have been subordinate to more than one polity.[5]

In contrast, the contemporary conception of sovereignty regards Burma’s territorial integrity as a sine quo non of sovereignty:

Sovereign power must be applicable in the whole country: it is not permissible for one single village to be taking orders from the outside.[6]

The non-disintegration of the Union is central to protecting Burma’s sovereign territory:

Non-disintegration of the Union means that we will never remain indifferent or look on with folded arms in the event of attempts at separation, partition or loss of any part of the existing territory of our country.  We must make sure, with might and main, that no bloody wars, followed by disintegration of our country break out.[7]

Proposals to delegate authority to ethnic states under a federal system of government are castigated as the antithesis of ‘national unity’ and regarded as an exigent threat to sovereignty.

Sovereignty is invoked with increasing prominence in Burma’s constitutions.  All three of Burma’s constitutions define the ‘sovereign powers of the state’ as its ‘legislative, executive and judicial powers’ and note that it resides in (is derived from)[8] the country’s citizens.  However, the 1974 and the 2008 Constitutions emphasise that sovereignty exists throughout the country – perhaps reflecting Burma’s post-independence history of secessionist ethnic insurgencies.  While the 1947 Constitution contains only three references to sovereignty, the 1974 Constitution contains nine references.  Strikingly, the 2008 Constitution contains thirty references to sovereignty and sovereign power, elaborating citizens’ duty to protect sovereignty and the conditions under which the military may assume power.

Senior General Than Shwe, the head of the military regime, provided a brief exegesis of his conception of the term:

Sovereignty [achokacha ana] is the life-blood[9] of a nation. The three powers – legislative, executive, and judicial – must be understood as sovereignty [achokacha ana]. These three powers must be in the hands of our citizens [naign ngan thā] and our national races [taīng yīn thā lu myō myā]. We cannot put them in the hands of any alien directly or indirectly. Once the sovereignty [achokacha ana] of our country is influenced in any way by others, it is tantamount to indirect enslavement [kyun pyu][10] under neo-colonialism.[11]

The regime attributes every major instance of political instability in Burma to the machinations of ‘neocolonialists’, ‘treasonous minions’, and ‘traitorous cohorts’ in conspiracy with foreign powers to undermine the sovereignty of the Burmese state.[12] Similarly, all major expressions of domestic opposition are equated with foreign efforts to disintegrate the state (naing ngan thaw pyo kwāe aung).

The contemporary government’s preoccupation with sovereignty occurs against the backdrop of separatist insurgencies which have plagued Burma since its independence, the invasion of the country by the Kuomintang with CIA backing, and on-going border disputes with Thailand and Bangladesh.  However, the regime’s security rhetoric often attempts to baldly justify repression and continued military rule.

Political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the main opposition party, are frequently detained under the State Protection Law promulgated to ‘prevent the infringement of the sovereignty [achokacha ana] and security [lonchonyēi] of the Union of Burma against any threat to the peace [eī chan tha ya yēi] of the people, and against the threat of those desiring to cause subversive acts causing the destruction of the country’. [13] (See security and peace).

As elaborated by the Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, the deputy commander in chief of the Tatmadaw,

security entails non-interference in internal affairs and freedom from external pressures. Security is synonymous with the basic right to choose freely one’s own political, economic and social systems and to determine one’s future at one’s pace and in accordance with cherished values and ideals.[14]

However, ‘the right to chose’ is foremost an expression of the government’s right to govern vis-à-vis external actors, who seek to interfere in its domestic affairs. The government confers the ‘right to chose’ to its citizens only within the strictures of ‘disciplined democracy’, in a manner that often runs roughshod over local conceptions of autonomy and sovereignty.[15]

A political tract of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), an insurgent group that launched a secessionist rebellion in 1961, elaborates a similar conception of sovereignty for an independent Kachin Land, free of the foreign domination of Burmans:

What is the sovereignty of the country?

The sovereignty of the country is the civilian’s authority to independently decide, make, and follow the rules concerning politics, economics, political attitude, governance, defense, foreign relations, business, career, development, culture, education, religion and life style inside their own country.

What is the sovereignty of a citizen?

The sovereignty of citizens is their ownership of the country free from controlling ties of foreign countries, and the citizens’ authority to endeavor to develop and protect their country.[16]

 

 

 

Heppner, K. (2006). ‘We Have Hands the Same as Them': Struggles for Local Sovereignty and Livelihoods by Internally Displaced Karen Villagers in Burma. International Conference on Land, Poverty, Social Justice and Development. Netherlands, Available at http://www.khrg.org/papers/wp2006w1.pdf.

Houtman, G. (2002). “On Miltary Authority (ANA) And Electoral Influence (AWZA): An Excerpt From: Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics.” Burma Debate.

Koenig, W. J. (1990). The Burmese polity, 1752-1819 : politics, administration, and social organization in the early Kon-baung period. [Ann Arbor, Michigan], Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan.

Lieberman, V. B. (1984). Burmese administrative cycles : anarchy and conquest, c. 1580-1760. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press.

Min Min Maung (1993). The Tatmadaw and Its Leadership Role in National Politics. Yangon, Guardian Press.

Nawrahta (1995). Destiny of the Nation. Yangon, News and Periodicals Enterprise: Ministry of Information.

Than Shwe ( 1999). Addresses delivered by Commander-in-chief of Defence Services, Senior General Than Shwe [in Burmese and English]. Yangon.

 

 

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[1] 2008 Constitution, Article 383.

[2] On the distinction between the two concepts see Houtman, G. (2002). “On Miltary Authority (ANA) And Electoral Influence (AWZA): An Excerpt From: Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics.” Burma Debate..

[3] Koenig, W. J. (1990). The Burmese polity, 1752-1819 : politics, administration, and social organization in the early Kon-baung period. [Ann Arbor, Michigan], Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan.

[4] Lieberman, V. B. (1984). Burmese administrative cycles : anarchy and conquest, c. 1580-1760. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Nawrahta (1995). Destiny of the Nation. Yangon, News and Periodicals Enterprise: Ministry of Information.

[7] Than Shwe ( 1999). Addresses delivered by Commander-in-chief of Defence Services, Senior General Than Shwe [in Burmese and English]. Yangon.

[8] The 1947 and the 1974 constitutions use the verb te (reside, lie in, repose) while the 2008 constitution uses the verb hsīn thet (descend from or derive from).

[9] Life-blood is a literal translation of the Burmese athet thwē.  See the related term blood.

[10] Literally to ‘make a slave’.

[11] The passage quoted is the official English translation in Than Shwe, Address Delivered by Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Senior General Than Shwe from 50th Anniversary Armed Forces Day to 1999, 1997 speech, pages 35-36 in English, and pages 51-52 in Burmese.

[12] Government of Burma (GOB), The Conspiracy of Traitorous Minions within the Myanmar Naing-Ngan and Traitorous Cohorts Abroad. Yangon: News and Periodicals Enterprise, Ministry of Information, 1989a.

[13] “State Protection Law,” Pyithu Hluttaw Law No. 3, 1975, preamble.

[14] Gen. Maung Aye, Address at the 50th Anniversary Special Commemorative Session of the UNGA, 23

October 1995 (in English).

[15] Heppner, K. (2006). ‘We Have Hands the Same as Them': Struggles for Local Sovereignty and Livelihoods by Internally Displaced Karen Villagers in Burma. International Conference on Land, Poverty, Social Justice and Development. Netherlands, Available at http://www.khrg.org/papers/wp2006w1.pdf.

[16] KIO’s Politics Way, Kachin Independence Organization, Headquarters Committee, September 30, 2004.

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