Ethnic Youth in Shan State Voice Criticism of Govt’s Forthcoming Aung San Banknote

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The Burmese government is going to issue a new 500 kyat currency note featuring the late Gen Aung San on July 19, but not without objection from the public in ethnic states.

The day marks Martyrs’ Day, or the day in 1947 in which Aung San—a Burmese independence icon—was gunned down with his advisors at the Secretariat in Yangon.

This will be the second time this year that the National League for Democracy (NLD) government—headed by Aung San’s daughter, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi—will have issued new currency featuring Aung San. The first time was a new 1,000 kyat note on January 7, 2020.   

Shan State’s youth have objected to the issuing of the new note amid the more pressing COVID-19 and in the context of diminishing ethnic rights.

“Printing new notes costs a lot of money. Now our country’s economy is falling as an impact of COVID-19. I don’t understand why they are printing new currency notes and for what purpose,” Shan youth Sai Loi Kham Pan told SHAN.

He recommended that the government instead spend those funds on COVID-19 prevention.

Other youth have suggested that ethnic leaders be featured on currency.

9 Martyrs Myanmar Independent Icons
9 Martyrs Myanmar Independent Icons

“His statues have been built around [the country]. His photo is printed on currency notes. In my opinion, it represents the Burmanization of our country,” Khun Oo, the chair of the Pa-O Youth Organization, told SHAN.

Of note is the phrase “the Central Bank of the Union of Myanmar” is being replaced with “the Central Bank of Myanmar” on the new currency, with “Union” removed.

“Has it turned into a unitary state? Does our country remain a Union?” Khun Oo asked. “The way I understand it, our country is a multi-ethnic country. They need to respect all ethnic people.”

Nang Mwe Liang, a member of the northern Shan State students’ union, added that she thinks the timing of the new notes is linked to Burma’s upcoming general election, scheduled to be held later this year.

“I think they are using Gen Aung San’s photo as part of the election campaign,” she said. “I think they should print a memorable thing, which can represent the Union, rather than using a photo of a particular person. I think the value of the currency note and the stability of the currency would be good for the people.”

The new 500 kyat currency note size will be 150 millimeters long and 70 millimeters wide, and printed with reddish brown ink. The “Central Bank of Myanmar” will be printed on front page of the note.

“Ethnic leaders and ethnic people also participated in [the country’s] independence movement. Why don’t they put a photo of ethnic leaders on currency notes?” Mai Mai, a Kachin activist from northern Shan State, told SHAN.

The Burmese government featured of Gen Aung San on the 1, 5, 10, 15 and 25 kyat notes before the military regime came to power. The military replaced Aung San with a photo of a lion after 1990.  

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