"Unfortunately, I’m one of the few Buddhists in Myanmar to vocally oppose the extremists. That’s very frustrating," says Win. His own life has been dramatic: In the 80s, he joined the pro-democracy movement and sent reports to international human rights organisations during the military dictatorship. For that, he spent 11 years in prison.
The current demonstrations give him a sense of hope. "All religious confessions have joined hands for the purpose of the protests, old walls of marginalisation are collapsing," says Win. At the demos, an increasing number of placards can be seen apologising for years of violence against the Rohingya and accusing the military of genocide.
In social media too, the number of voices showing solidarity with the Rohingya is growing. At the latest since the 33rd light infantry division shot dead two demonstrators in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, on 20 February. The unit is one of two divisions distinguishing itself through atrocities, killing and the burning down of villages in the 2017 offensive against the Rohingya.
Although this solidarity with the Rohingya is not yet a mass phenomenon, it provides a pinprick of hope. For the Rohingya too, forced to live in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Many send pictures with the three-finger salute, the symbol of the movement. In Yangon, smaller groups of Rohingya are even openly participating in the rallies against the generals and welcomed with open arms by other demonstrators.
Khin Zaw Win and many of his fellow campaigners from "Generation 88", those who protested against the military junta in the 80s and 90s, have also thrown their weight behind the contemporary movement. Employees, primarily from the health and education sectors, have downed tools, as well as personnel from state media, the public energy company and the nation’s transport service.
The large-scale participation of civil servants and state officials who would have previously kowtowed to the generals is remarkable. The military leaders did not expect entire workforces of authorities, institutes, public utilities and hospitals to protest against the putsch.
Even more unexpected for coup leaders and therefore particularly celebrated by the protest movement are police offers who suddenly give the three-finger salute or as in the city of Pathein, clear their barricades away to allow the demonstrators to pass. On 4 February, a 40-member police unit in Loikaw, a town on the border with Thailand, changed sides. "That didn’t happen before," says Khin Zaw Win.
This is a period of great upheaval in Myanmar. Whether Aung San Su Kyi will emerge from the conflict as the winner or the loser is uncertain. Although she is again in the "role of the underdog" and this feeds her popularity, says Khin Zaw Win, "despite her successes in the past, she has regularly left the country and its people in the lurch." A new perspective could potentially arise beyond the NLD and the military. The young generation appears to hold the key.
© Qantara.de 2021
Translated from the German by Nina Coon