Union Day in Myanmar is a public holiday that comes on every February 12th to commemorate the passage of the Panglong Agreement in 1947, which gave the country full independence from Great Britain after more than 100 years of colonial rule.
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The Panglong Agreement also unified the various tribes and regions of the nation under a central government in a way not achieved in earlier days.
At the time of the British annexation of Burma, now known as Myanmar, in 1886, the region was not a unified country. The central parts of Burma were indeed settled by the Burmese people, but the peripheral areas were populated by various smaller tribes. Even today, minority groups occupy two-thirds of Myanmar’s land and make up 30 percent of its population.
The Panglong Agreement was negotiated between Bogyoke Aung San, leaders from the Shan, Kachin, Chin, and other Burmese states, and the British government. Bogyoke Aung San had previously led student protests in the 1930’s that demanded independence for all Burma, for which he served prison time. In 1940, after being released from prison, he went to Japan and later returned as a general in a Burmese army unit aligned with the imperialist Japanese invaders. He became a leader in the Japanese puppet state of Burma, but later turned on the Japanese and led his troops to join the Allied cause in 1945.
After World War II, Aung San led a rebel group that opposed both fascism and British colonial rule. He had essentially become de facto head of state in Burma by 1947, when he led in the peace negotiations that culminated in the Panglong Agreement of February 12th of that year. Not until January 4th, 1948, however was independence actually implemented, and by then, Aung San had already been killed by an assassin. All Burma grieved his loss, and still today, he is a much-remembered national hero.
Celebrations of Union Day in Myanmar begin months in advance and are much anticipated by the Burmese people. As the date approaches, school children will write patriotic poems and essays, and speeches on the importance of national unity will given.
Some other activities to expect if in Burma around the time of Union Day include:
- As far as two months before Union Day, the Union Flag will be carried through the capital cities of the various Myanmar states. At each place where the flag stops, there will be a parade, cultural events, and entertainment.
- Only five days prior to Union Day, the Union Flag will again be moved, this time through 45 different towns until it arrives in People’s Square in Yangon, where celebratory ceremonies will be held.
- In Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital city since 2005, there will be a Union Day concert, which will also include ethnic traditional dancing and other festive activities. Naypyidaw is about 200 miles north of Yangon.
- You can also visit the Panglong Monument in the very garden in Shan state where the Panglong Agreement was signed in 1947. There will be a ceremony on site on February 12th, and the monument’s facade has representations of Bogyoke Aung San and other independence leaders.
Tourists will find there are many patriotic and cultural events to attend in Myanmar on and near Union Day, and much will be learned of the history and traditions of Myanmar’s people.