Ethnic Activists ‘Prefer Aung San’s Promise of Equal Rights’ Over New Currency

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The Central Bank of Myanmar officially issued a new 1,000 kyat note featuring an image of the late Gen Aung San on January 7.

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New Myanmar 1,000 kyat note

It is the latest in a series of commemorations to the independence icon, which have ranged from a statue of his likeness erected in Karenni State to a bridge in Mon State named in his honor. These structures are typically met with controversy from local ethnic communities, who say that the emphasis on Gen Aung San as a figure—rather than on his promises of equality and federalism—undermine ongoing political struggles.

Deede, who works with the Karenni State Farmer’s Union, said that putting Aung San—an ethnic Bamar—on the 1,000 kyat note felt like a political move.

“Currency notes are essential in a country. If it’s not a political move, they should print notes with the image of ethnic leaders. Printing notes and building statues is a sort of Burmanization. That’s the message I’ve gotten,” he explained. “We would prefer to get Gen Aung San’s promise of equal rights rather than his image on currency notes and his statue.”

Like Deede, Khuensai Jaiyen, the ethnic Shan director of the Pyidaungsu Institute, said that the country would benefit more if the government focused on Aung San’s political message, rather than featuring his image on money and building statues.

“If the government wants to see better things, the government needs to focus on [Aung San’s] performance and his spirit. I think it would greater benefit all of us,” he told SHAN.

Coordinator of a Mon civil society network Min Aung Htoo said that the current National League for Democracy (NLD) government—headed by Aung San’s daughter State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi—needs to pay meaningful attention to the growing needs of the grassroots rather than focusing on what many see as superficial change.

“What I have seen is that the NLD government is not only trying to print new currency notes but also forming ethnic affairs committees when election is getting close. In my opinion, this party wants to influence other parties rather than [bring] the political values that ethnic people want,” Min Aung Htoo told SHAN.

In a Union Parliament meeting, vice chair of Burma’s central bank Khin Saw Oo said that the new notes were printed because a parliamentarian asked last October that money be issued featuring Gen Aung San.

The previous bank note, introduced in 1990 featured the image of a lion.  

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