By Annika Yan
Imagine a youngster waking up one day, getting ready for their online university lessons, or their part-time job as a salesperson in downtown, only to be told by their mother that all pro-democracy leaders have been arrested. The government has become an autocracy overnight, whilst the fresh memory of the youngster’s first vote lingers.
To an extent, this is all too familiar to students in Hong Kong, and many other Hongkongers who deeply care about the pro-democracy movement, especially after the gloomy night of 30th June, 2020 when the National Security Law came into effect. We wake up early in the morning, scroll on our phones only to find out that yet another activist, or over 50 pro-democracy leaders have been arrested. Now, it is an everyday reality for Myanmar students who spent their childhood under a budding democracy too.
Yet the situation in Myanmar could be even grimmer. On 1st February, 2021, the youngster in Yangon pulls back the curtains and sees the military storming on the streets outside their home. They all hold guns. Their grandmother is even more worried than they are, having lived under military rule and experienced first-hand the cruelty of the Tatmadaw for half a century. She knows they would fire at you if you dare protesting against them. The networks are cut off, and they can’t even open Facebook or call their friends. The TV is showing nothing but blackness, if their family is wealthy enough to afford one in the first place. They think about their university lessons, or summer classes at the institute run by the National League of Democracy (Aung San Suu Kyi’s party)—will the schools even be allowed to open again?
They can’t begin to understand how their life has turned upside down overnight. They only know that they have lost their fundamental rights and freedoms.
Unfortunately, these are true stories and sentiments told by my friends in Myanmar, many of whom are teenagers I taught English to for a summer at an institute run by NLD.
In Hong Kong, we have tasted first-hand the anxiety, heartbreak and fury of being brutally deprived of our rights and freedoms. We fight for democracy amidst increasingly stifling political oppression. Myanmar people who demand for democracy are our allies. Thai Twitter users have also been welcoming Myanmar to the ‘Milk Tea Alliance’—it is time for Hongkongers to welcome them too. Indeed, Myanmar is not only known for its milk tea (လဖက်ရည်), but too for its pro-democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi since the 1980s (despite her decline in international reputation in recent years for defending the Rohingya genocide). Since 2011, Myanmar people finally had the legitimate right to vote for their political leaders in a quasi-democratic electoral system. Overnight, however, that hard-earned right was robbed of again. A new wave of the Myanmar civil disobedience movement has now begun.
On the day of the military coup, many youngsters changed their Facebook profile pictures to plain red (the colour of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party), the map of Myanmar, the three-finger salute and more, expressing their discontent with the military. The next evening, Myanmar people hit their kitchen utensils like metal pots and bowls on balconies to protest against the military and expel evil spirits. The loud noises permeated street after street. On 3rd February, front-line medical workers went on strike and wore red ribbons to demonstrate against the military. Students declared their willingness to participate in the civil disobedience movement by sharing a Facebook post that includes their age, university or profession. Some even vented their anger at the Chinese and Russian governments for refusing to condemn the military coup at the United Nations. At night, the sounds of pot-hitting and car horns grew even louder; phone screens were lit up and waved by the windows. This morning, Mandalay saw the first street protest against the military. The military attempts to block Facebook and even the Internet, but people are teaching one another to use VPN and shift to other social media platforms like Twitter. This is only the beginning of the civil disobedience movement.
As a Hongkonger, I closely observe the movement from 2000km away, trying to contact and share updates from friends in Myanmar however I can. A year ago, Hongkongers waved their bright phone torches, flocked to Twitter and Telegram and took to the streets too; healthcare workers once went on strike and wore white ribbons to protest against the government. Despite the distance, Myanmar and Hong Kong now encounter each other on the road to democracy. May we reach our destination soon.