Civil society response to the Myanmar coup

Script from the 25th of February Radio UF‘s episode on the Myanmar coup.
Radio UF is a bi-weekly radio show focusing on international affairs, broadcasted on Studentradion 98.9 (Uppsala University’s student radio).

« Sadly, the Rohingya people are not the only group to face discrimination in contemporary Myanmar. This diverse country has been characterized by ethnic tensions, some resulting in armed insurgencies, at least since the country’s independence from the British colonizer in 1948. Myanmar has been struggling to forge an inclusive national identity that integrates the aspirations of its 135 recognized ethnic groups. And with the NLD’s landslide victory in the last November elections, representatives of ethnic minorities feared further marginalization, as the NLD usually represents the interests of the Bamar majority. 

However, some argue that opposition to the coup could have the potential to unite the country. We have indeed witnessed widespread peaceful mobilisation against the army (Tatmadaw) across the country. The movement has been impulsed by a young generation fearing to fall back into darkness, yet it draws upon older generations’ past experiences, including the 1988 uprising for democracy as well as the 2007 so-called Saffron Revolution. So, what has been the civil society response to the coup exactly? And how has it evolved?

The peaceful resistance has initiated in 2 dimensions: online and in the soundscape.
On February, 2nd, the Yangon Youth Network activist group launched a civil disobedience campaign demanding the return of the democratically elected government on Twitter. The campaign quickly gained momentum due to the immediacy of social media. People also started banging pots and pans every night at 8pm, ‘turning a traditional ritual to cast out evil spirits into a political protest’ (The Economist, 2021).

Then, on the 4th of February, a small group of protesters started marching in the streets of Mandalay, chanting anti-coup slogans and raising three-fingers, a salute taken from the movies The Hunger Games that symbolises resistance against injustice and oppression. The next day, teachers and public service officers joined the contestation, refusing to go to work until the democratic government was restored. Even state-owned propaganda channel staff and police officers joined the movement. On February 6th, thousands of people were taking up the streets in Yangon, despite internet shutdowns. As protests intensify and spread throughout the country, so does the civil disobedience movement.
A general strike was declared on Monday, 22nd. 

In reaction to the mobilization, the army has escalated the force used against civilians. Starting with water cannons and rubber-coated bullets to contain the protests, it then opened fire on a crowd on last Saturday in Mandalay, killing at least 4 people. A curfew has also been imposed, while troops and tanks have been deployed in major cities. Moreover, internet access has been blocked several times, partially or entirely. 

That takes us to an issue that has been intensely discussed amongst journalists and political analysts: what role is social media playing in the opposition to the coup? The question is of particular salience after Facebook has banned the military from using Facebook and Instagram today.  While such networks  have been crucial in mobilizing people and sharing information, Ashok Swain, professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University warns against putting too much emphasis on their importance.
‘Thanks to social media, protests become bigger, they attract international headlines. But does that mean they become successful? Mass mobilization and media coverage alone are not sufficient. What is needed in Myanmar is a regime under international pressure. »

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