The Karen

The Karen

The hills inland along a large stretch of the Thai Southern Line are the land of the Karen – an ancient, stateless nation.

As we squeeze between Thailand and Myanmar, its worth noting that on the other side of the mountains is Karen State in Myanmar – an ethnic group that has been waging war against the Burmese government since 1949, which has meant that the coastal plain we’re travelling through is the home of a huge Karen community. There are around 6 million Karen in Myanmar, and 1 million in Thailand.

Although what makes a Karen is actually a bit fuzzy – there are differnet languages (3 main dialects which are mutually unintelligible), different religions (there are Buddhists, Christians and Muslims), even different ethnicity and politics within the group, and nobody can claim to speak on behalf of them. You don’t know one when you see one, but they tend to know it if they are one.

The Karen supported British Forces in WWII when the Japanese were invading Burma, and when the British left Burma in 1948, the Karen felt abandoned and formed the Karen National Union against the Burmese government, with an armed wing – the Karen National Liberation Army. They were known as fierce fighters that don’t surrender, yet they were soundly defeated by the Burmese. They brutalised the Karen people, and Karen refugee camps were built along the whole Western border of Thailand.

So Karen people claim to be a stateless nation. This means that they: have no sovereign territory, do not form a majority in any sovereign territory, are not recognised as a sovereign state by any other states, an autonomist or successionist movement is afoot, and aren’t a sub-group of a nation. But in that respect they’re in good company (with Bavarians, Catalans, and Scots, for example).

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