With families and communities all over the world, we are in shock and pain over the military takeover of the democratically-elected government of Myanmar (Burma) in a coup d’état, detaining civilian leaders, imposing a nationwide internet shutdown and blocking access to social media sites. Like being trapped in a reoccurring and haunting nightmare, on February 1, the peoples of Myanmar (Burma) and around the world learned that the coup leaders had declared a one-year state of emergency, returning the country to full military rule.
Along with the collective of Bridging Borders partners, we are deeply concerned for the safety of our friends and colleagues in Myanmar (Burma) and for the well-being of the extended community of people who once called the country home.
Over the past few weeks, we have all watched in horror as the events surrounding the recent military coup in Myanmar (Burma) have unfolded. For those unfamiliar with Burma’s history, democracy has been a relatively recent experiment in a country ruled by a harsh military dictatorship since shortly after achieving independence from British colonial rule. After almost 50 years of complete control, the military allowed for limited power-sharing with a democratically elected government in 2012.
That agreement was brought to an abrupt halt on February 1, when the military arrested the popular leader of the democratic movement, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and many other civilian, elected leaders. Their official crimes varied, but the charges against Daw Suu Kyi were a slap in the face to democracy and to human rights. She was charged with failing to file the proper paperwork for a few imported walkie talkies. On February 16, an additional charge of violating Covid-19 restrictions was added to her indictment.
Although their justifications for arrests may be slight, their justification for taking full control of the country is more egregious. They have asserted, without evidence, that the recent elections held in November 2020 were fraudulent and so their return to power was necessary for the good of the country. In response, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest. They have also engaged in multiple acts of civil disobedience—including banging pots and pans; blocking streets and railways, and work stoppages.
These protests have been met with the type of response that characterizes oppression and corrupt power everywhere: midnight arrests; detention without charge; suspension of human rights and civil liberties; and, of course, violence. Peaceful protestors have been shot with live ammunition as well as water cannons and rubber bullets. Tanks are rolling down the streets of Yangon and other major cities. Reports from inside the country indicate that the military has released prisoners who are either dangerous or drugged or both to wreak havoc by setting fires and poisoning community drinking water. To cover these human rights violations, the military has attempted to cut off access to social media and the internet.
As is often the case in Myanmar (Burma) the military response has been particularly harsh against the country’s many ethnic and religious minority communities, which have struggled for recognition and equality under military rule. The communities—such as the Karen, the Kayan, the Chin, the Kachin, the Shan, and, with the most global recognition, the Rohingya—are often in border regions. The Karen Organization of America report that the “Army has been deliberately firing artillery shells into Karen villages in violation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signed by the government and the Karen National Union. Attacks against civilians are taking place in Mutraw (Papun) and Kler Lwe Htoo (Nyaungle bin) districts of northern Karen State.”
Although they are powerful, the military faces new obstacles in their efforts to turn back the clock to the days of their absolute control. Over the past decade, the country’s complex systems of government, education, economics, transportation and social systems have grown dramatically. The strength and vigilance of civic and professional leaders, artist, educators, physician, political scientist, journalist and activist in Myanmar (Burma) and across the diaspora will not be turned back and their voices cannot be silenced
At the same time, advances in information and communication technology have enabled civic society in Myanmar (Burma) to forge deep and widespread relationships across borders and continents. The partners of the Bridging Borders collective have benefited greatly from those relationships, which are now the basis for our solidarity with their current struggles. While we may not be able to march in the streets of Yangon, or the Karen State, we can join our friends in our hearts and through our words. We can reach across the borders and walk this path together: educating others, speaking out, and affirming that it matters to each of us as individuals and to all of us as a global community. During the previous pandemic year, we have all learned how powerful remote connections can be in sustaining each other. We must show up to name these crimes against humanity for what they are. To bear witness and to not forget!
We invite you today to join us in this Virtual March in Myanmar (Burma) by spending a few minutes viewing the photos and videos of the evolving crisis below and by posting a message for our neighbors, friends, and colleagues in Myanmar (Burma). With the multitude of our voices and our collective action, they will hear and be encouraged by our voices calling out to them in support.
A 2021 Protest Song from 1988
Words to the 1988 Protest Song: To The End of the World/Kabar Makyay Bu
Protest Pictures from Voice of America
Brief History of the 1988 Uprising Against the Military
Please join us in supporting our neighbors, friends, and colleagues in Myanmar (Burma) by posting a message of encouragement!