CHAUNGZON TOWNSHIP, Mon State — Dressed in traditional white shirts with red longyis, thousands of ethnic Mon celebrated the anniversary of their national day on Wednesday with songs, marches and dancing.
In matching uniforms, marchers on Bilu Island in Mon State’s Chaungzon Township, where this year’s main ceremony was held, paraded with drums and Mon flags.
“We hold this celebration as we intend to fight for our self-determination,” said Ah Deepa Wansa, an ethnic Mon senior Buddhist monk, in an address to the crowd.
“We can celebrate our national day peacefully now. But those who celebrated it in the past, they were arrested by the regime. We need to pay respects to persons who maintained our national day.”
Mon National Day, which is marked annually one day after the full moon day of the lunar month of Thabodwe, commemorates the establishment of the first Mon kingdom, Hongsawadee, in 573 AD.
Ah Deepa Wansa drew on this rich history in his speech on Wednesday.
“We had a kingdom in the past, but not anymore. We should all be concerned for our ethnic peoples’ culture and literature, [or it] will disappear,” he said.
With the National League for Democracy (NLD) set to lead government from April 1, many Mon leaders are hopeful that a more federal system will be instituted granting Mon and other ethnic nationalities more autonomy over their own affairs.
Ethnic Mon parties performed disappointingly in last November’s election. The Mon National Party claimed two state and one Upper House seat while the All Mon Region Democracy Party won a solitary seat—a constituency in Chaungzon Township for the state parliament.
Some voters blamed the two major parties failure to merge into a single entity as a key reason for their dismal electoral showing.
“We need to fight for our federal system,” Ah Deepa Wansa said on Wednesday. “But we need a real Mon government as only Mon understand our [affairs].”
In a speech to attendees on Wednesday, Min Kyi Win, a state lawmaker with the Mon National Party, cited ongoing conflict despite the years-long peace process as a sign there was much work left to be done to safeguard the rights of the country’s ethnic nationalities.
NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi sent a statement to the event’s organizers, recognizing the unique Mon history and culture and expressing support for a “genuine federal system in Burma, with equal rights and self-determination” for all.