In this blog post, Zaw Tu Hkawng, a 2020 participant in the McCain Institute’s global leadership program, writes about the troubling situation in Myanmar and the fight for Democracy.
Myanmar’s Bloodshed: The Price for Democracy
As the world focuses on Afghanistan, the world’s attention on the persisting calamity in my home country has been shifted – the execution of innocent civilians in Myanmar deserves our attention.
Myanmar’s military has turned its nation into a slaughtered house – the louder the people protest against the regime, the more intensified the repressive campaign becomes. Sine the February 1st coup, over 1,250 people have been killed and more than 7,250 people are currently under detention in accordance with the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center stated that the number of internally displaced citizens has reached over 500,000 nation-wide. Hundreds of thousands of families are now homeless, displaced and have lost their loved ones due to the violent war in several regions of the country. However, they have misjudged and miscalculated the strong-passion, extraordinary-courage, and iron-willed of the people to stand up against them, to restore what is rightfully theirs: democracy, freedom, and justice.
Then and Now: Coup in 1962, 1988 and 2021
The military coup still came as a rude shock to the entire nation although it has happened twice in the past – 1962 and 1988. Politically, the 2008 constitution guarantees the military 25% of parliamentary seats and allows them to hold three key ministries –Defense, Boarders, and Home Affairs even if they lost the 2020 general election. Economically, they are main drivers of many giant-conglomerates and million-dollar projects of the country. More importantly, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has defended the same military that placed her under house arrest for over 15 years from accusations of genocide committed against the Rohingya at the UN International Court of Justice in December 2019. Meanwhile, every citizen is suffering from the pandemic COVID-19 and the depressing economy.
While the military perceived that they have gained this golden opportunity calmly for a couple of days, a rippling wave of freedom fighters, pro-democracy activists, and peace-lovers across the nation have taken to the streets all day and night for months. One of the mantras that resonated with all protestors was that “our grandfathers failed the military in 1962, and so did our fathers in 1988, but not this time with our generation in 2021”. From the movement, three pivotal forces have emerged: (1) the 2021 Myanmar Spring Revolution led by Generation Z (Gen-Z) who are young, creative, and tech savvy; (2) Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) joined by all types and ranks of professional workers and civil servants; and (3) Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH)/National Unity Government (NUG) composed of many ethnic leaders, outcasted politicians and prominent leaders from civil societies.
Three main differences between the 2021 and the past 1962 and 1988 battle against the coup would be the role of technology, the impact of social media and the power of digital news/media. These three powerful tools certainly led the CDM movement, help younger generations to be more informed, connected, inspired, and empowered, and to gain support and legitimacy from the international community for CRPH/NUG. Each of them conveys a strong message: Gen-Z demonstrates that they do not support the military; CDM warns that nobody wants to work under the murderous regime; and CRPH/NUG shows that government must represent the will of the people. Needless to say, the military council also used those tools to spread their propagandas and fake news to undermine the revolution. Gen-Z, CDM, and CRPH/NUG have become Justice League and a big threat to the military council.
A Climate of Fear: A classic military’s weapon
Like all the other brutal authoritarian leaders, the military incite fear among the people by cracking down peaceful protesters with snipers, guns, real bullets, and hand-grenades in broad-day light in a public square – even killing a 6-year-old girl who is residing at her home. Dr. Sasa, former Myanmar’s Special Envoy to UN, stated in his interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that, “It seems like they (the junta) have a license to kill”. The UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrew tweeted that, “It’s as if the generals have declared on war on the people of Myanmar – late night raids, mounting arrests, more rights stripped away, repetitive Internet shutdown and military convoys entering communities. These are sings of desperation. Attention generals: YOU WILL be held accountable”.
I, myself, have witnessed the deadly crackdown on the peaceful protestors and the arbitrary arrest of innocent young people. At any given time, police and soldiers stop people for no reason and check their smart-phones to find out whether they have posted anything related to the revolution and the military on their social media. The junta also continue its brutal crackdown on ethic villages with air strikes, leaving families to escape from their own houses to find refuge in the jungle. Those who joined the CDM were dismissed from employment and some are ordered and blackmailed to work for them. They control all aspects of people’s lives from physical, mental, to psychological and digital usage. They have taken everything from the people: liberty, life, rights and security. The military always claim that they are the protector and stability of the nation, but in the observable reality, the military is the source of violence and instability of our nation.
A Strong Reaction with Astonishing Courage
The powerful generals have underestimated the power of its own citizens, the people. As former US First Lady Michelle Obama once famously said “When they go low, we go high”. The peaceful anti-coup movement has only become stronger in spite of fears, challenges, and traumas. If one person is shot, thousands stand up. Protests have become a bread and butter for all individuals who have taken up their moral callings. Each day, men and women have become legends and they were marching for a cause that is greater than themselves. Every household have only shown love, support, empathy, and helping hands each other during these volatile times. Thousands sent off their final goodbye to their fallen heroes who were shot mercilessly during the protests and vowed themselves with the three-finger salute to move forward at all costs. This extraordinary courage of the people of Myanmar has truly reflected late Senator John McCain’s address at the 2017 Munich Security Conference:
“We cannot be paralyzed by fear
We cannot give up on ourselves and on each other
We stand for
Truth against falsehood,
Freedom against tyranny,
Right against injustice,
Hope against despair
I believe we must always, always stand up for it.
For if we do not, who will?”
Despite the brutal crackdown, Gen-Z still participates in guerilla combat out in their streets, while CDM is gaining its momentum. The people have shown no sign of surrender to the hands of generals who committed crimes against humanity. At the same time, some Gen-Z and members of CDM have gone into the jungle to learn battle combat from the ethnic armed organizations that have been fighting against the junta for decades for their autonomy. Those who finished the military training join the People Defense Force (PDF) which is the armed wing of the National Unity Government (NUG) to defend its own people from brutal barbarians who butchered innocent civilians. Now, PDF and other armed civilians have pledge allegiance with NUG to form a new resistance to the military coup.
Double Tragedy: Coup and Covid
The answer to coup and covid, in a fragile country like Myanmar, is in the strong standing collaborative power of all individual. Because of those deadliest common enemies, people have become more understanding, kinder with the ability to empathize towards different nationalities, more united than ever. This double tragedy took the lives of many regardless of people’s faiths, races, colors, sexual-orientations, professional backgrounds and social-classes. As a result, the beauty of humility and humanity have manifested across the nation: the majority of Burmese and Buddhists have openly apologized towards the minority groups including the Rohingya for not standing up when they were oppressed and persecuted by the military; the ethnic armed groups who have been fighting for autonomy and equality for decades have gained enormous support from people of all races; and whoever is in pain, it has become everyone’s problem to tackle now.
Thousands of professional workers, politicians, civil servants, prominent artists, and individual citizens including me across the country are on the run and find their sanctuary in the mountainous ethnic areas. Here in the jungle, it is very sad and painful for me to see thousands of children who are starving and helpless. Since April, the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) warned that 3.4 million people in Myanmar will face hunger due to coup, endemic poverty, and the covid pandemic. In addition, the banking system of Myanmar has collapsed – access to money is nearly impossible for civilians and aid organizations.
The third wave of covid hit Myanmar hard and thousands of people are dying every day due to the shortage of oxygen supply. To make matter worse, the junta has prevented people from getting oxygen supplies by arresting civilians queuing up for refill, inciting fears and demolishing rights of people to save the lives of their loved ones. This only adds to the evidence of the junta weaponizing covid to massacre innocent civilians. When stupidity and firearms become the weapons of ruthless Myanmar generals, the dreams of innocent children are crushed; instead, a life war, fear and hopelessness fall upon their heads.
Now, the people of Myanmar are living in a country where there is no law, no rights, no mercy, no cash, nor even a home– waking up to a life of war every day. As much as the people are appreciative of the condemnation and statements by the international communities, they are dying to see strong action towards the murderous military regime before it is too late. The 2021 Myanmar Spring Revolution is purely a warfare between the good and the evil: lawful citizens against lawless generals, a battle for democracy under a dictatorship. Nobody knows how long this is going to last and what future lies ahead. For the meantime, I found strength and hope in the lyrics of “Glory”, a story of oppression about an all-black regiment during the United States’ Civil War, and to it, I cried, “Glory!”.
“Now the war is not over, victory isn’t won
And we’ll fight on to the finish, then when it’s all done
We’ll cry glory, oh glory We’ll cry glory, oh glory
One day when the glory comes
It will be ours; it will be ours
One day when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
Oh glory, glory Oh, glory, glory”