Shan National Day Commemoration Downplays Armed Resistance

By Nyein Nyein 7 February 2017

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The commemoration of the 70th Shan National Day on Tuesday at the Restoration Council of Shan State’s (RCSS) headquarters on the Thai-Burma border more closely resembled a cultural celebration than a show of military resistance, observers said.

Until last year, the RCSS’s armed forces’ parade for the occasion served as a display of military strength, but the 2017 event reflected the RCSS’s recognized legal standing in Burma—earned by signing the 2015 nationwide ceasefire agreement—and the organization’s investment in the country’s peace process, participants explained.

Col Sai La, the RCSS spokesperson, said, “We are in the process of finding the way toward political solutions; we want to show [that we are working] toward peace,” referring to the shift in tone from previous years’ national day commemorations.

Also known as Shan State Day or Shan State People National Day, celebrations for the event took place in Loi Tai Leng, Shan State, as well as in Rangoon and other cities.

Thousands of locals attended the event, as well as foreign diplomats, leaders of Shan political parties, and representatives from the Karen National Union (KNU), the Chin National Front (CNF), the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).

RCSS chairman Lt-Gen Yawd Serk said in his address that the ceremony is held to “remember a significant day in ethnic Shans’ history” that brought Shan leaders together on Feb. 7, 1947. On this day, Sai La explained, former ruling hereditary princes—known as saophas—and the Shan public formed a united Shan State and agreed on a national flag and anthem.

“Our chairman highlighted how today in 1947 was the initial day in working toward achieving the Panglong Agreement on Feb. 12,” Sai La said, a reference to Burma’s Union Day, on which a pact was signed between some of the country’s ethnic nationality leaders and Burman representative Aung San, promising equality in a future independent, federal Burma.

Attendees at Tuesday’s ceremony were told “to remember the benefits and the disadvantages of the Panglong Agreement,” Sai La told The Irrawaddy.

This year, he said, was “special” because of the greater level of public participation in the national day events, as well as because of the presence of guests, including ethnic armed group leaders and politicians, and Western diplomats who are engaged in Burma’s peace process.

“I have been to many, many national day activities around the countryside over the years throughout Myanmar. I would say this one is more of a national day [that is] sending a peace message,” said Steve Marshall, New Zealand’s Ambassador to Burma and a former International Labour Organization liaison officer in the country.

The ambassador described the 2017 military parade as “simply a cultural showing of national solidarity,” rather than a “show of strength,” a shift which he viewed as “very valuable.”

General Saw Mutu Say Poe, the KNU’s chairman, addressed crowds on the importance of finding solutions for the country through political means and urged the public to “be prepared for the challenges ahead to achieve a genuine Union.”

“We all need patience and good intentions in building our country to become a peaceful and stable Union,” he said.