March 10, 2007

On Culture, Identity and National Survival: Discussion Continued

By Neineh Plo
Indiana University, Bloomington

Our concern here is real and very close to our hearts. The concern is not of our own as individuals. Rather, it is a concern for the whole of our people, or “nation.” And, to have concern for our “nation” is to have concern for the positive flourishment of our “nationalism.”

Let me elaborate on what I mean by nationalism. While there are many different meanings of nationalism, and many of them carry negative connotations; I take the meaning as a collectively shared concern for the very existence of our people – that concern to me is our nationalism.

This is the closest meaning of the word “nationalism” I could come up with. Further explanations that carry positive connotations of our nationalism can be expanded at your own liberty.

With this definition of nationalism, what I meant in my first letter “To Live” is more than traditional notion of culture. Of course, I appreciate your analyses and discussions on culture. Indeed, it is very important that we preserve our culture.

And, I agree that culture is subject to change. A culture will have to adapt itself in response to the surrounding environments. Every year, we can celebrate our New Year, wearing our colorful traditional clothes, playing our musical instruments, and eating our traditional food. Even though our children who grow up in foreign countries cannot speak our languages, we can make them preserve this culture of ours; if this is all what we mean by culture. Of course, I assume that every one of us will mean more than this by culture.

For me, culture comes under the scope of nationalism and means the very existence of our people. What we are being threatened to lose now is not merely our culture. More importantly, it is our existence, our desire to establish our political independence by ourselves and for ourselves. It is our nationalism, the very desire that we have been fighting to preserve, protect, and defend for generations and generations. It is our nationalism that many of us once held in our hands, and for its sake we proclaimed right before we resettled: “I am leaving my country and people for a land full of opportunities.”

In a private discussion with a Karen friend of mine, she told me that nationalism can form and deform itself. In other words, people can make it up and destroy it. But, she continued, a collective and common desire for the very existence of our people and to flourish is what constitutes our nationalism.

If returning home to Kawthoolei or Karenni means facing hungry lions, then our remaining people there are already in the caves of hungry lions. So, is there any chance for our nationalism to survive?

If our concern for nationalism is confined to statelessness or being stateless in Thailand, all we will be struggling for is a status. Then, is there any chance for our nationalism in a larger context to survive?

There is no “one” solution for this great concern. I do not have solutions. But there are two things I do not try to do with this discussion: I do not try to suggest anything and I do not blame any group – who remain, who seek status in Thailand, and who resettle in third countries. But I seek for any possibilities that would help us to resolve our dilemma and concern, rather collectively.

I welcome any further comments you might have and I hope that you do not take my propositions as an offence.

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