Naypyitaw: A Home for Myanmar’s Unexpected Democracy


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When: Sep 6 2013 - 10:30am until Sep 6 2013 - 12:00pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

Naypyitaw: A Home for Myanmar’s Unexpected Democracy

An Asia-Pacific Democracy and Human Rights Seminar featuring:

Dr. Nicholas Farrelly

Research Fellow, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

Dr. David I. Steinberg (Discussant/Guest Host)

Distinguished Professor of Asian Studies Emeritus, Georgetown University; Visiting Scholar, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Burma/Myanmar expert Dr. David Steinberg of Georgetown University (right) served as discussant and guest-host for Dr. Nich Farrelly's (left) presentation at the East-West Center in Washington on what the new capitol of Naypyitaw means for Myanmar.

Myanmar’s ongoing political reorganization comes with an array of revitalized institutions and a brand new capital city, Naypyitaw. Carved out of scrubland and paddy fields five-hours north of the former administrative capital of Yangon, and regularly denigrated by local and international commentators for its unusual design, the city is an expansive, confusing, and contradictory addition to the national political geography.

To help illustrate its role in Myanmar’s unexpected democracy, Dr. Nicholas Farrelly focused on some of the unremarked aspects of this so-called “abode of kings,” to examine three core questions: "Why take Naypyitaw seriously?", "What is the city? To whom?", and "Can it survive?"

Supplementing his talk with numerous photos and anecdotes from his time in Naypyitaw, he described the official logic and narrative surrounding the city, and contrasted it with the the voting behavior of its residents in recent elections, and its emerging cultural and commercial life. Through these different aspects of Naypyitaw, he sought to clarify the trajectory of political, economic, and social change in Myanmar, as imagined by both the current government and its critics. The result was a vivid description of a city so unlike anything else in the country, that it indeed seems to reflect the rhetoric that the future of Naypyitaw is "the future of Myanmar."

Longtime Burma/Myanmar expert Dr. David Steinberg, commented on this, remarking that "as ludicrous as it was to move the capital, it has taken on a life of its own and in this life we find the vitality of the evolving Myanmar."

Additional photos from this event can be found on the East-West Center's Flickr Gallery.

Dr. Nicholas Farrelly is a Research Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University (ANU). His academic interests are Southeast Asian societies; particularly the study of ethnic politics in Myanmar’s borderlands. In 2006 he co-founded an academic website called New Mandala. Based at the ANU, it provides daily analysis of social, cultural and political issues in the Southeast Asian region, with particular attention to Thailand, Malaysia and Myanmar. After graduating from ANU with First Class Honors, he received his masters and doctorate from Balliol College, University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

Dr. David Steinberg is Distinguished Professor of Asian Studies at Georgetown University and visiting scholar at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. Previously he was a Representative of the Asia Foundation in Korea, Hong Kong, Burma, and Washington; President of the Mansfield Center for Pacific Affairs, and served in the Senior Foreign Service for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A specialist on Burma-Myanmar, Korea, Southeast Asia and US policy in Asia, seven of his fourteen books are on Myanmar/Burma. Dr. Steinberg was educated at Dartmouth College, Lingnan University (Canton, China), Harvard University, and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Grace Ruch
Phone: 202-327-9762