* The writer is an exiled Myanmar dissident with more than 30 years of scholarship and activism in Myanmar affairs.

By Muang Zarni


Tuesday marks the first anniversary of the military coup made to look like the generals’ constitutional take-over of the reins of the state from the re-elected government of the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

If one week in politics is a long time, one year feels like an eternity. It is well worth reflecting on how Myanmar Spring celebrated worldwide had gone so wrong – so much so that Myanmar now resembles France of 1789. The civil disobedience movement launched by hundreds of thousands of civil servants across different sectors including police and military units has crippled the state and its organs repurposed for repression and wealth extraction for the military as the ruling class since 1962.

More than 50 armed resistance groups – known as People Defence Forces or PDFs – have been founded – with thousands of urban and rural youth from multiple ethnic and religious communities as their nuclei. They are provided with military training, sanctuary, arms, and other support by a cluster of some of the most civil-war-seasoned Ethnic Armed Organizations such as the Kachin Independence Army in the north, the Chin National Front on the West, the Karen National Liberation Army, Karenni National Progressive Party. Even the publicly “neutral” Arakan Army is said to be providing support for the nationwide armed resistance.  

Multiple groups with different agendas

Although there are many actors and multiple groups with different agendas, it is fair to say that there exist roughly two sides – the unprincipled and inhuman side of the murderous military and those who want to end the half-century-long reign of the military, by any means.

Targeted assassinations of anyone linked to the repressive security apparatus are on the rise, and extremely popular with the public consumed by the rage against the unprecedented level of regime brutality.

Completely shocked by the scale and resoluteness of popular resistance, the military regime has resorted to the characteristic crackdown. It has reportedly killed over 1,500 people in the last 360 days – that is, on average four people in a day – and has locked up over 10,000 citizens.

Successive military regimes since Gen. Ne Win’s eventual official coup of 1962 had successfully if brutally, crushed all waves of popular anti-military protest movements – in 1962, 1988, 1997, and 2007.

Since the coup, the civil society’s response has been arranging non-violence protests with music and fanfare on the streets of cities and towns throughout Myanmar to a textbook political and social revolution, from the bottom-up. The social side of the unfolding revolution confronts the old neo-feudal social norms of a deeply orthodox predominantly Buddhist society. The new generation – Generation Z – reimagines a new inclusive social order where the Rohingya will be embraced as equal citizens with their own ethnic identity intact.

No chance to be defeated

To conclude that the one-year-old revolution of Myanmar people has no chance to be defeated. Admittedly, I am writing this essay not simply as an arm-chair Myanmar watcher or a neutral expert, with no emotional or life’s investment in Myanmar’s affairs, but rather as a former officer in 1980 and a long-time exile, who has pointed out that the national military has retained its fascist DNA as World War II Japan’s local proxy against the British rule in the then colonial Burma.

Since the regime’s deliberate denial of emergency aid to Cyclone Nargis victims in May 2008, I concluded that the leaders of the regime, young and old, have become too greedy, delusional, paranoid, and invested in their instrument of wealth accumulation and political power to allow either broader political reforms or remaking the military fit for a new democracy.

Over the last 10 years, I have written scathing criticisms about both the all-too-obviously farcical nature of the regime’s top-down democratic reforms and the genocide in Myanmar, jointly presided by the military and Aung San Suu Kyi. The day Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was elected in a landslide election win in November 2010, I stressed the mathematical impossibility of any real reforms and democratic transition emphatically, within the Constitution of 2008, with the military as the final arbiter of anything of policy significance.

Painfully for me, the Myanmar military, where many of my relatives and friends have served over three successive generations, has morphed irreversibly from national armed forces to an alien occupier over its 54-million multi-ethnic people. The 70-years-old ideological or communal bond between the People and the military has completely broken, beyond repair.

Bright future

The overwhelming majority of Myanmar people now believe, with good reasons, for them to have a bright future – or any type of future – this entity must be dismantled, in the same way, the repressive, callous French state was dismantled by the revolutionary forces of 1789.

Their multiply fronted violent, armed, and peaceful resistance speaks volumes.

In the “reform decade of 2010-2020, international and Burmese politicians, as well as business-men and -women may, and do characterize as “democratically transitioning” the Burmese military regime, which opened itself up for commercial and strategic partnerships while they hold their collective nose to the genocidal policies towards the Rohingya.

That was precisely what the ousted and detained leader of the populist National League for Democracy, namely Aung San Suu Kyi, had done since she decided to tango with the generals whom she called “my (general) father’s sons.”

She was not alone in legitimizing the mass-murderous institution: a large pool of internationally known Burmese intellectuals and professionals had ended up playing as the military’s “enablers.” Thant Myint-U, the Burmese American grandson of the late Secretary-General U Thant, was selling Myanmar military’s “sham reforms” as “baby steps” in the democratic direction while keeping completely silent about the genocide that his boss President Thein Sein was presiding over in 2012.

While Suu Kyi is locked up, again, Myint-U has re-surfaced as a regime lobby in EU countries such as Ireland, Denmark, etc.

The painful truth is, however deep their patriotism and concerns for the people, whatever their reformist intentions or respective personal ambitions, these Myanmar elites had failed to provide accurate and incisive analyses and policy briefs to the international institutions and policy circles that sought their country expertise. 

Realities on the ground

Moving forward, international policies must be based on empirical evidence and accurate analyses that reflect the ground realities, as opposed to arm-chair theorization by elite Burmese serving as consultants and advisers to various international bodies.

The first and crucial step in righting the previous international policy wrongs must be based on the empirical analyses of the realities on the ground as lived and understood by the 54-million people. Listening to the same failed circle of Burmese and international consultants in Myanmar affairs will simply not do.

The people of Myanmar are singing, to paraphrase Les Miserable’s iconic theme song. The world should hear and heed their song of a total revolution. Emphatically, the days of the so-called pacted transition to a semi-democracy, to be shepherded by the likes of Aung San Suu Kyi, within the Constitution of, for and by the generals, are irreversibly over. 

Myanmar Spring has finally arrived a decade after the premature celebration of an elite deal. The coup one year ago, and the subsequent two-way violence – the brutal repression and the resulting people’s armed self-defense – have totally shattered any global policy, media, and population illusions about the genocidal regime of Myanmar democratizing the country, if slowly but surely.

*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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