Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


New voices of protest in Myanmar

  • 02 March 2021
Myanmar has known six long decades of totalitarian military rule. Then from 2010-11 began five years of loosening up, followed by five years of the first civilian government, elected in 2015.  Everyone said Myanmar could never go back to those dark days. Too much progress had been made towards democracy and an open society, they insisted.

They are proved bitterly wrong. On 1 February 2021, the very day that a second civilian government was to be installed after winning an 83 per cent landslide victory in the November 2020 vote, Myanmar woke to the news that there had been a military coup at 2am in the night. The democratically elected leaders, including the President Win Myint and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, were all arrested on spurious charges. Soldiers and military vehicles appeared on the streets in cities throughout the country. The Commander-in-Chief installed himself as supreme leader and claimed for himself all the three powers of government: judiciary, legislature and executive.

Since then, every night there are arrests of activists, artists and prominent persons who might be an active opposition. Over 23,000 criminals were released from prison and encouraged to wreak havoc, freeing space for a new intake of political prisoners. As demonstrations grew, rubber bullets and water cannons have been used; snipers have taken lives in Mandalay and the capital, Naypyitaw.

For a few days there was stunned silence. Rumours flew and confused people. The older ones remembered August 1988 (8-8-88) when 3,000 student demonstrators had been shot and bayoneted in cold blood and thousands thrown into prison where they remained for years. They remembered 2007 when the feared 77th Light Infantry Division had shot at the monks who marched in protest, killing hundreds.  

By late February, demonstrations had grown to hundreds of thousands in a hundred townships across Myanmar. The people reject the coup. They have glimpsed a new light. Let democracy’s dawn grow to a full day, they cry. They refuse to go back to those too familiar shadows. Education, a decent job, public health, a future for their children — all this was promised. It is now stolen.

The young in Myanmar have no personal memory of those events of 1988 and 2007. They are Generation Z, raised on the internet and with new ways of communicating. Their emotions overcome fear. Gen Z meets the deadly threat with humour and creative protest. Ten cars stop on the main road,