LOI TAI LENG, Shan State—To some it’s just a festive occasion, to others it’s a precious opportunity for a family reunion, but the Shan State National Day—which was celebrated for the 73rd year on Friday in Loi Tai Leng, in the hilly territory controlled by the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) near the Thai border—is meaningful in some way for all who attend.
The first Shan State National Day was held in February 1947, when Shan leaders, as well as the Shan saophas (the former ruling hereditary princes) and public formed a united Shan State and agreed on a Shan national flag and anthem during the Panglong Conference from Feb. 3-12 that year.
The RCSS was founded in 1996 after the Mong Tai Army, a Shan insurgent group, surrendered to the Myanmar military government. It is now a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and a leading organization in peace building and political negotiations.
It celebrates Shan State National Day every Feb. 7 to commemorate the formation of Shan State, but also as an occasion on which Shan refugees-turned-migrants living in Thailand can reunite with loved ones from various parts of the state, who travel from Lashio, Muse, Mong Pang, Hsi Hseng, Tachilek and elsewhere.
Some arrive hoping to find relatives from whom they have been separated by war or economic hardship. Others are first-time attendees who just want to experience the festivities.
Sai Aik Pi from Muse, in northern Shan State on the border with China, was making his first trip to Loi Tai Leng. “I am so happy to be at the celebration—I can’t even express my joy,” he said.
Many parts of northern Shan State have not been able to hold large-scale celebrations like the one in Loi Tai Leng due to the ongoing fighting in the region between armed groups and the Myanmar military. An additional factor deterring events this year is the Wuhan coronavirus, which has made people reluctant to gather in large crowds, according to other participants spoken to by The Irrawaddy.
Ko Pho Sein from Lashio led a group of his friends to visit Loi Tai Leng, as he has been to Shan State National Day celebrations in previous years.
“We could not come to places like this before the NCA; we want to have peace like this all the time,” he told The Irrawaddy.
This year’s event is also special as high-ranking Myanmar military generals led by Defense Service Inspector Lieutenant General Aye Win and government representatives led by Union Attorney-General U Tun Tun Oo visited RCSS headquarters. On Friday, they read messages from the army chief and the President, respectively.
The event was also joined by members of the country’s ethnic armed organizations—both signatories and non-signatories of the NCA—diplomats, representatives of international organizations and members of the various ethnic nationalities including the Shan, Pa-O, Lahu and others who reside in Shan State.
The incumbent Shan leaders, including the RCSS chairman, stressed that Shan State National Day on Feb. 7 is significant in the history not only of Shan State, but also of the whole country, because without the Feb. 7 agreement, Myanmar would not have its Union Day, which falls on Feb. 12, when the Panglong agreement was signed in 1947.
“Whatever the residents of Shan State call the day—whether it’s Shan State National Day or Shan National Day or Shan State People National Day—the day is commemorated for its essence, said Sai Poe Aung of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, who was attending his second RCSS’s commemoration of the Feb. 7 event.