The writer is the Burmese coordinator of the UK-based Free Rohingya Coalition and a fellow of the Genocide Documentation Center in Cambodia
One of the most encouraging features of the anti-coup protests unfolding in small towns, cities and villages across Myanmar is the emergence of Generation Z on the streets. Their movement has grown out of the shadows of an iconic politician and her party, namely Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NDL).
Myanmar’s coup leaders led by genocidal General Min Aung Hlaing have vastly underestimated the strength and ferocity of popular revolt, especially the youth, against the blatant violation of the fundamental principle of representative self-governance of a people. It prevented elected representatives from taking the oath of office and discharged their popularly mandated mission of running the country’s affairs.
The Tatmadaw or Burmese military has lost its veneer of patriotism or central mission of national defense and protection of the people who pay their salaries.
People’s sentiment and respect for the military, originally founded as an anti-British colonial revolutionary organization, has diminished seventy-eight years after it was founded by Aung San Suu Kyi’s father Aung San. Aung San was then a 27-year-old Marxist revolutionary, who was patronized and helped by WWII Japan’s Imperial Naval Intelligence to found the Tatmadaw, which was used by the Japanese fascists as a local proxy against the British rule in Burma.
Over the last six-decades of murderous, racist and economically predatory rule – or misrule – the Defense Services of Myanmar has come to be popularly mocked as That – Ma – Daw or Mass-Murderous Military by the Burmese public. The generals, past and present crops, are most reviled for their corruption, narrow-minded racist national vision.
As a professional student and former Burmese Officers’ Training Corps admit at the age of 16 in 1980, I have studied this most dominant of all national institutions for the last 30 years, including in-depth debriefs of Myanmar deserters who previously occupied strategic positions or who organized previous intra-military revolts, including the abortive coup of 1976. Based on what I have learned, I have long concluded that the Tatmadaw leadership is entangled in a vicious cycle of coups, corruption — institutional and individual — and conspiracies against the public.
The Tatmadaw has radically deviated from its stated objective of serving and protecting the peoples of Myanmar, defending the country’s territorial integrity, and forging peace among the country’s diverse ethnic communities — who expect and were promised not simply individual citizens’ or human rights, but importantly the equality of ethnic groups not guaranteed or included in the liberally defined individualistic human rights, as such.
The ethnic Wa region along formerly heroin-producing Sino-Burmese borders is practically a de facto independent state, that has nothing to do with the military-ruled Union of the Republic of Myanmar. They use Chinese currency, keep their own armed forces which take no orders from the Tatmadaw, speak Mandarin which they also use as the medium of instruction in schools, and use Chinese telecommunications services.
The military-sponsored “peace talks” began in 1963, with a total of about six anti-state armed movements including the Burmese communist underground, Shan, Karen, and Mon liberation or self-determination organizations. Sixty years on, every single ethnic community in Myanmar has established at least one armed resistance organization against the Myanmar military, which they view uniformly and correctly as an occupying alien army. As the leader of the Democratic Party for a New Society, unarguably the most progressive political party with a serious youth and new generation base, pointed out in his public address to protesters in Yangon on 10 February, “only one ethnic group has not seriously armed itself, and the military has subjected them to a genocide. They are called Rohingyas.”
This morning I tweeted these lines to remind myself that I am organically connected to the peoples’ struggle, thousands of miles away, and no longer living their daily realities for survival and against systemic repression.
“To Generation Z & all #CDM against #militarycoupinMyanmar. On this day I swear on this 2-volumes Capital that belonged to the late independence revolutionary U Aung San: I will do everything to support #Myanmar peoples to bring down the Fascist Dictatorship, the pledge I made to my parents on the Thai borders in 1997.”
My daily phone conversations and chats online with those who are involved in the protests on the streets confirmed my initial observation: the protests are no longer about Aung San’s iconic daughter Suu Kyi, 75, or not even her election-winning NLD party.
Yes, there are pictures of Suu Kyi, widely popular with the electorate, and signs of NLD.
But deep down — and vociferously — the new generation protesters have weaned themselves off the extremely neo-feudal dependency on Mother Suu to deliver them from the 58-years of military rule, in different guises.
The army’s power grab ended decisively whatever limited form of executive, legislative and judicial autonomy that Suu Kyi and her NLD party were allowed to exercise.
Now the multi-ethnic and multi-class nationwide protests are being formed, not simply the restoration of NLD leader and the elected government, or return to the pre-coup status quo.
Besides, many minority communities such as Chin, Karen, Kayah, Sha, Rohingya and so on have joined the nationwide protests against the Tatmadaw rule. The best organized Christian community — Kachin Baptist Convention in Kachin — is urging its 400,000 members to join hands with all Myanmar peoples of diverse backgrounds.
Importantly, the demands of the current mass revolt in Myanmar go beyond calling for the release of NLD leaders and other civil society actors. The new generation dissidents call for the complete abolition of the Constitution of, for and by the military generals, imposed on 50 million people while the public reeled from the devastating impact of Cyclone Nargis. They have just witnessed that real-life event of what the Black American lesbian feminist poet Audre Lorde poetically warned against: “The Master’s Tool will never dismantle the master’s house.”
They want no more of the military’s charade of “disciplined democracy,” with the generals assigning themselves, in their 2008 Constitution, as the regents and disciplinarians.
Lest we forget the then generals blocked — only a little over a decade ago — international offer of emergency relief to several million cyclone-devastated peoples in the Irrawaddy Delta and the Burmese coastal regions when the cyclone made the landfall. They let cyclone victims drink water from muddy streams, creeks, and river-lets littered with debris, corpses and animal carcasses.
This current crop of military leaders — some my “friends” — have beyond doubt shown a similarly inhuman degree of callousness: they regrabbed all branches of state power in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic during which people were quarantining themselves and by neighborhoods.
But obviously, the people feel and know that there may be a vaccine that will put an end to the ongoing plague globally, but the generals are far more lethal and destructive than the virus has been.
Instantly, the coup has loudly shattered their dreams, hopes and aspirations to lead their lives as a free and democratic people.
In the case of Myanmar’s 58-year-old military dictatorship, the civil disobedience is seen as an effective vaccine, a medicine, a jab.
As I write, my initial fears and anxieties are being replaced with optimism and hope. I think loudly that this time — and against the fierce opposition from the youth, and the older generation dissidents and the public at large, including millions of civil servants — we are living the last phase or days of the Tatmadaw’s murderous, kleptocratic reign.
A number of crucial factors are converging that facilitates my optimism.
Grinding forward are global justice mechanisms around the UN such as the International Criminal Court and the UN-established well-financed Independent Investigative Mechanism — which are principally tasked with collecting evidence of Myanmar’s international crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and preparing future cases of Myanmar military perpetrators, as well as the Gambia vs Myanmar genocide case at the International Court of Justice.
There is a radically different US leadership in President Joe Biden, who yesterday announced the first series of punitive policies, including the freezing of $1 billion Myanmar Government Fund held in the US. It signals the US to restore American policy credibility, which may — and should — view the unfolding nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar as a strategic opportunity in Asia and the Pacific Region.
A new progressive US Administration supporting concretely Myanmar democrats in the frontline trenches striving for a regime change from below will send a very strong signal to other democratic communities such as the Milk Tea Alliance of Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan in Asia. Southeast Asia is an important region where 500 million peoples want to fight back China-backed autocratic regimes such as Myanmar or Cambodia.
There is also this palpable ambivalence of Myanmar’s ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors to the thuggish military leadership in Naypyidaw and its ill-considered and poorly-timed military coup: it has disrupted the status quo in Myanmar which has served external actors (for instance, Asian investors) well. Perhaps most importantly, there is this explosion of political outrage among the new tech-savvy, independent and critically minded generation of youths — 1/3 of 38 million electorates — and the growing civil disobedience of civil servants nationwide. China is reportedly providing Myanmar coup leaders with technological assistance as the latter move to pass draconian Cyber-security Laws designed to disempower tech-savvy Generation Z as they coordinate resistance in cyber-space.
Myanmar people fear their murderous rulers no more, however.
No freedom struggle from below against a state tyranny has a chance to prevail unless internal and external factors converge. The American Revolution was NOT the product of the home-grown American revolutionaries from the original 13 colonies who cried “No Representation, No Taxation” as they dumped East India Company’s tea into the sea at Boston Harbour. The French naval help as well as radical Republicans such as Thomas Paine — my role model of a revolutionary exile — played their parts.
I am feeling buoyed by what I am witnessing.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.
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