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Southeast Asian Movement at Yale

Brownbag Insider

Feb 01, 2022

A Year of Reckoning: Resistance to Myanmar’s Illegal
Feb 1 Coup

by Victoria Liando

One year after the military coup in Myanmar, the Council of Southeast Asian Studies at Yale invited activists, artists, dissidents, politicians, and scholars to share their different yet unified experiences in a webinar. Though some speakers remained anonymous or were unable to attend the webinar due to connection failures in Myanmar, their stories and calls to action are unquestionable testaments to their spirit amidst great suffering.

The webinar began with a scholar who acknowledged the unprecedented courage, endless creativity, and compassion that broke through ethnic and religious barriers amidst this crisis. Ultimately, however, as pointed out by another participant, the military committed atrocities that ruthlessly infringed on human rights.

After a solemn introduction including a moment of silence and the reading of poems written by poets who lost their lives to state violence, the invited speakers began sharing their experiences. A former member of parliament from the National League for Democracy (NLD) described the military’s crimes: illegally imprisoning NLD leaders, immorally failing to defend the people of Myanmar, and unconstitutionally overturning final election results. To this observer the coup was premeditated; as early as November 2020, the military had been seen celebrating as if they had not lost the election despite the NLD’s landslide victory, indicating long-term planning toward the coup. However, since the coup, parliament members have formed legislative committees including the National Unity Government to restore democratic federalism.

Stories of former college students then dominated. In contrast with the Yalies in attendance who experience academic freedoms and abundant security, many students in Myanmar joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) and lost access to education at every level. One student works as a teacher in a camp where food shortages, poor shelter, and disheveled classrooms are abundant. He highlighted the injustice his young students experience. Uprooted from their homes and struggling to learn without technology, they ask him how airplanes work and dream of days when air strikes do not happen.

Afterwards, a Burmese doctor took the floor, conveying the state of Myanmar’s public health emergency. Of the approximately 800 attacks worldwide on healthcare personnel, facilities, and commodities, attacks in Myanmar accounted for roughly 300 of them. The military demolished clinics, arrested healthcare workers, and seized medicine supplies because they perceived health personnel to be supporters of the CDM. The displacement of communities has exacerbated this dire situation. Living in unhealthy conditions without access to immunization has left many vulnerable to more vaccine-preventable diseases beside COVID-19. This risk of epidemics threatens not only Myanmar but its neighboring countries.

A scholar then drew attention to the double vision of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities that has emerged since the coup. Historically, the majority Buddhist Burmese population has had an exclusive hold on the country’s national imagination through governance and regarded Myanmar’s ethnic minorities as rebels. The coup changed this: people from various ethnic groups have been uniting together in resistance to the military. However, those who come from ethnic minority communities such as the Karen and Kachin wonder: how deep will this unity be beyond the opposition to the coup? The scholar believes that in rebuilding Myanmar, multiculturalism will be a strength, not a weakness. As the second most ethnically and culturally diverse nation in Southeast Asia, he believes that Myanmar must be more inclusive.

Though absent, artists and poets from Myanmar spoke through their artworks. These included The Longest Spring, a video slideshow exhibiting various artists’ works in different media including photographs, drawings, and collages. Altogether, they painted the people of Myanmar’s pain, anger, spirit, and cry for viewers to take action.

The webinar ended with practical ways to support the people of Myanmar. Professor Erik Harms, Chair of the Council for Southeast Asian Studies at Yale, conveyed three actions for scholars: to listen to the people of Myanmar from all ethnic groups, to direct efforts to amplify the voices of Myanmar’s people and start movements, and to stop trying to explain their own situation to the people of Myanmar. Tom Andrews, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, called for international solidarity. The United Nations Security Council has failed in passing resolutions on weapon embargoes and economic sanctions on Myanmar. Some UN member states have imposed sanctions that stymied Myanmar’s military-owned conglomerates, but the potential of this response has yet to be fully realized. Andrews called upon viewers to raise awareness to their governments to take more coordinated and targeted action against the military. Finally, a student shared a link with ways to tangibly support the resistance movement by listening to local Myanmar voices, connecting with Burmese diaspora organizations, and donating to the CDM and to address other urgent needs. Maintaining the revolution requires funds.

Attendees trickled out of the webinar with the words of a rally cry on the screen. The people of Myanmar want democracy, have rejected dictatorships, have stopped going to work, and must win the Spring Revolution. What will the webinar’s listeners be spurred on to do? ︎

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Victoria Liando