The generals, the Buddhists and the RohingyaMyanmar's Gen Z – "You messed with the wrong generation"
"You messed with the wrong generation" is one of the popular slogans chanted by many of the young people who have been demonstrating in Myanmar for weeks. "My ex is bad, but military is worse" or "I don’t want dictatorship, I just want boyfriend" are just a few more of the phrases on signs held up by the young generation. After all, their protest also takes aim at a conservative social order represented by the generals and many Buddhist monks.
An increasing number of city dwellers from poor neighbourhoods and members of ethnic minorities are taking part in the student rallies. Civil servants and office workers have also joined Generation Z and their "civil disobedience movement", many of them even walking out of their jobs to do so. The climax to date was the general strike on 22 February, joined by hundreds of thousands of people despite threats of violence from the military.
Generation Z describes those young people born around the turn of the century who have been influenced their nation’s cautious opening in recent years. Officially, the armed forces only relinquished political power to the civilian population in 2015 after oppressing the country for decades.
Since then, under the leadership of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (NLD) has attempted to gradually reduce the influence of the military.
The party managed to slightly ease censorship of the media and freedom of speech and there were free elections, but to this day the generals still control large sections of the economy and judiciary. And the constitution still in force is that of 2008, which guarantees the military a quarter of seats in both chambers of parliament and three key ministerial portfolios regardless of election results: defence, home affairs and border controls.
However, elections in November last year ended in a debacle for the pro-military USDP party: the NLP won 80 percent of seats in the parliamentary poll. Ahead of the planned opening of parliament in February, the military launched its coup and detained Aung San Suu Kyi.
The situation facing the Rohingya
The NLD government did nothing to improve the situation of the 1.5 million Muslim Rohingyas in the west of the country. Myanmar regards the Rohingyas as "Bengali refugees"; in many circles even uttering the word Rohingya is deemed offensive.
When the military used brutal means to drive 740,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh in 2017, led by the current head of the junta Min Aung Hlaing, the Nobel peace laureate remained silent. In an interview with the BBC, she justified the 2013 pogrom-like attacks by Buddhist nationalists on the Muslim minority and denied genocide against the Rohingya.