Many Bamars – Myanmar’s majority ethnic group – view the current crisis as a conflict between the generals and Aung San Suu Kyi. But with the young generation, raised on the smartphone and the Internet, we could see more than just a return to the division of power between the NLD and the military.
These young people have international connections, with many of them seeking inspiration from mass student protests in Hong Kong and Thailand. The role played by social media cannot be underestimated: to date, the Internet and first and foremost Facebook, a synonym for the web in Myanmar, has served as a key resonance space for Generation Z, a space that they also use for mobilisation.
This is the view of the German daily taz, which has since 2013 invited a total of 45 journalists from Myanmar to attend workshops in Berlin and has access to numerous sources in Myanmar. When the military tried to block access first to Facebook and then the entire web just a few days after the coup, this did more to mobilise the young than anything else. For many, a life without Facebook is inconceivable.
On the other hand, social media have also served as a key propaganda instrument for Buddhist nationalists using Facebook to spread their Islamophobic propaganda – for example, furnishing the Islamophobic film "Fitna" with Burmese subtitles. "Fitna" proved to be extremely popular with young people.
Someone who also claims to be a big fan of Geert Wilders and his film is the Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, described by Time Magazine in 2013 as the "face of Buddhist terror". He was the driving force behind the anti-Muslim pogroms of 2013. Wirathu is just the tip of the iceberg – many Buddhist monks in Myanmar regard Islam as a huge threat to the nation, despite the fact that Muslims make up less than five percent of the population.
Not all of the country’s half a million monks are as radical as Wirathu and call for violence against the minority. But many weave history into their arguments and preach that nations like Afghanistan or Indonesia used to be Buddhist and that Myanmar is facing the same threat of “Islamisation“ if no action is taken to halt the process. The military junta released Ashin Wirathu from prison in mid-February as part of a mass amnesty.
"The Buddhist monks influence the people here, no leading politician can afford to have them as their enemy," says 69-year-old Khin Zaw Win. The political analyst lives with his family in Bauktaw, a suburb of Yangon. This is the place where a few years ago, the radical 969 Movement led by Wirathu was still calling for a boycott of Muslim shops and businesses.