Myanmar Interview

March 3rd, 2021

By: Karina Zybaczynski


“If we follow this path, Myanmar will be the next North Korea”.

Making sense of the news - what’s happening in Myanmar?

Context

In the early hours of February 1st, 2021, shocking news broke out about Myanmar - the democratically elected government, as well as prominent politicians from the democratic parties were under arrest; Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de-facto leader, and state counselor, and the president had been arrested before being sworn in as the official leaders of Myanmar. The coup d’état of the Burmese military was, according to military spokespeople, caused by the military’s claims that the November elections were undemocratic.

For context, in November 2020, the National League for Democracy (NDL), the party led by Ms. Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory in the national elections, while the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) fared rather poorly even in its key strongholds of Mandalay, Meiktila, Pyawbwe, Yamethin, and Thazi. Humiliated by the result, the USDP alleged that the election was subject to widespread fraud. However, international observers, including the Carter Center, the Asian Network for Free Elections, and the European Union’s Election Observation Mission, all declared the elections a success. The European Union’s preliminary statement noted that more than 95% of the observers had rated the process “good” or “very good”.

The aim of the interview is to be able to thoroughly understand what’s happening in Myanmar, as well as how the nation’s citizens are doing their part in dealing with the national political and social crisis they are facing. This interview has been conducted in an effort to see through the looking glass of a Burmese teenager and to raise awareness about the alleged crimes against humanity, breaches of international law, and claimed war crimes that the military has committed in Myanmar.

On February 21st, the Burmese police opened fire on the protestors in order to disperse the demonstrations, resulting in two deaths and several wounded. The first death, however, occurred during the first week of the protests, on February 9th; among the dead, a twenty-year-old woman and a boy under the age of 18.

Interview

1. Where are you from? How old are you?

I am an 18-year-old from Mandalay, Myanmar. It’s the second-largest city in the country, the former capital, and has recently been home to some of the largest protests in the nation against the recently instaurated military dictatorship.

2. What do you plan to study for university? How have the recent events affected your plans for university?

I planned on studying Computer Science or related fields for university in Singapore. Unfortunately, as all flights have been shut down since February 1st, I have to rethink my university plans if the regime will persist. It’s really sad that so many young people have had to radically change their future plans - it’s even worse for the ones that got accepted into their dream universities, as I have, because of all of the plans, commitments, and dreams we will have to abandon if the dictatorship doesn’t fall.

3. Now, for the question that most people have been asking themselves since the shocking news broke in the early hours of February 1st - what’s happening in Myanmar? What happened during the military coup d’état?

‘What’s happening in Myanmar’ is a very broad question, so I’ll begin unpacking it with the account of the events since the coup. We first found out that politicians from the democratic parties had been arrested across the country, including the president and the state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi. This was terrifying to hear, as the Internet went down and the only TV channel that was still broadcasting was the military-controlled station. On the second day, CDM started (interviewer note: the acronym for the Civil Disobedience Movement, a movement that gained popularity as labour strikes began). Healthcare workers were the first to begin the strike and, shortly after, government officials and civil workers nationwide walked away from their jobs.

Since February 7th, protests rejecting the military coup have been going on every day. Today (interviewer note: February 22), had the largest protests yet. People organized them so that the date would line up like the 8888 protests (interviewer note: the 8888 protests - The 8888 Nationwide Popular Pro-Democracy Protests or the People’s Power Uprising were a series of protests, marches, and civil unrest that culminated on August 8, 1988, in Myanmar, which was then known as Burma). Internet services have been regularly cut down every day from 1 am to 9 am since February 14th; there have been several occasions when the Internet was cut out well before the designated time frame.

The civilian response up till now has been in the form of the CDM, as well as peaceful protests and the 8 pm ‘Pots and Pans’ campaign (interviewer note: the ‘Pots and Pans’ campaign is a means of expressing disagreement with the current governance, often associated with a legacy of protest dating back to at least the 19th century. Since then, movements around the world have followed each other in using common household items to sound their dissent).

The response from the military to the civil unrest throughout the country has mostly been a message of hate, abuse of power and fear-mongering, constituting of night raids, hiring hooligans to incite anarchy and violence during the peaceful protests, psychological warfare, censorship of information, and the inhibition of the CDM movement by threatening the employees on strike. These practices have the sole reason of frightening the civil population into obedience and forcing them to conform to the newly established regime - with little success in regards to the protesting teenagers and young adults.

The international response until now hasn’t been single-handedly decisive in the matter of the dictatorship - the United Nations Secretary-General condemned the use of deadly violence and lethal force, intimidation and harassment against protesters; the Security Council is still deliberating on whether it should intervene or not, but the United Nations Human Rights held a General Assembly Meeting on February 8th to discuss the situation and voted on a resolution by February 22nd. The United States and the United Kingdom were quick to send a message to the regime that continues to threaten the Burmese democracy, by applying targeted sanctions to the country.

4. What’s your opinion on the recent events? What would you like to tell the readers of this article?

As anyone could imagine, I’m standing in solidarity with the protests and I hate that this is happening to my country. We’ve been under the military’s rule since the coup d’état of ‘62 until a civilian government took over in 2010 - even then, it was still pretty much a puppet government, since the military-backed party and the military had over a quarter of the seats in the Parliament (interviewer note: Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution reserves by law 25% of all seats in the national parliament by law for the military; additionally, the military is allowed to appoint the ministers of defense, border, and home affairs, as well as a vice-president). 2015 was the year when the first fair, all-party elections took place - technically, there was a fair election back in 1990 as well, after the ‘88 uprisings happened, but the military didn’t recognize the results, similarly to what’s currently happening now.

If the military dictatorship goes on, we’ll be drawn back to “the dark ages” - we are most likely going to end up like another China or North Korea. Right now, CDM seems to be the most effective method of resistance. People are now also against paying taxes in order to cut off the government budget. Boycotting brands associated with the military started as early as the 2nd of February.

Interviewer's Note

The interview was conducted on February 22nd, 2021. Due to security concerns caused by the recent arrests and the brutality that the military uses to enforce its undemocratic and barbaric regime, the name of the Burmese teenager whose interview we have taken will not be published. The sole purpose of this interview is to shed a light on the gruesome acts taking place in Myanmar since February 1st, as well as to provide a platform for the Burmese voices that are being ignored by mainstream media and silenced by the regime.

“Freedom and democracy are dreams you never give up”
- Aung San Suu Kyi

References

Facebook’s Ban of Myanmar’s Military Will Be a Test of the True Power of Social Media Platforms