Jesua Lynn, Young Peacebuilder and Researcher, Myanmar
Trigger warning: this article describes acts of war, including firsthand accounts of torture, that might be uncomfortable or disturbing for some readers.
On February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military overthrew the elected civilian government and seized power. Though the coup leaders did not expect such widespread national resistance, peaceful protests led by the younger generation and the Civil Disobedience Movement initiated by government servants erupted across the country within the first week of the coup. Thousands of peaceful protestors demanded their votes be respected and that democracy be restored. The military leaders refused to listen to the voices and wills of the people, instead cruelly killing and shooting innocent protesters.
According to the documentation of the Association Assistance for Political Prisoners, more than 1,566 civilians have been killed and 12,249 people have been arrested since the coup began. Among the victims, 93 children under age 18 have been brutally killed by the military, and 224 young people have been arrested, according to the data of the Ministry of Human Rights, the National Unity Government. Amid such terrible evidence of the junta crimes, younger generations, especially Generation Z, have been on the front lines of the anti-coup resistance movement since it began.
Due to a succession of oppressive regimes, young people in Myanmar were disengaged in social and political movements. Because of systematic oppression and blocked access to political knowledge, young people did not have many opportunities to learn about and understand social-political issues. Additionally, the totalitarian military regime made it dangerous for young people to be active in social and political activism. In accordance with the research findings of the Next Step Myanmar (2020), the majority of young people who participated in the study did not actively advocate for social or political issues, instead preferring to donate money to a cause. That is, until February, 2021, when the young people of Myanmar took to the streets.
Historically, the young Myanmar people have been the instigators of change in the country, never remaining silent in the face of injustice. Since Myanmar became independent in 1948, young people have been on the frontlines of the anti-colonial movement. When the first military rule began in 1958, the youth led the resistance movements. Similarly, younger generations took on a leadership role in the 1988 uprising against the socialist regime and supported the Saffron Revolution against the military regime in 2007. Even during the democratic transition period in 2015, students actively expressed their opposition to National Education Law. In 2021, a new wave of youth resistance emerged to demand justice, democracy, and human rights.
Brutality of the Coup
After witnessing unthinkable brutality from military personnel, young people had no choice but to take action. “I am not a politician and I do not know anything about politics. But I know what is right and what is justice. I cannot keep silent if the military is treating me as an enemy and ruining our future,” says 23-year-old university student Kyaw Kyaw.
The level of military brutality is quite beyond oppression; many people have been tortured during their detention and arrests. In the report released by the Ministry of Human Rights, one LGBTQ detainee shared:
“They tortured me… They stripped me off and I was naked and my pants were on my knees. They made me kneel down all the time and they beat my back, my shoulders and my head and the worst is that they burned my nipples with cigarette tips and also used paper clippers; very hard ones and clipped my nipples and took glass bottle and made me kneel down as well as hand-cuffed me and put those bottles into my anus. They also used the back of hammer something like horns to scratch anus and this time the torture was so bad. And those pains healed only after a month. My shoulders were all black with bruises. After they were happy with torturing me.”
That is just one story amongst many; trauma that is far too familiar for so many people in Myanmar. Because Generation Z has taken initiative in the anti-coup movement, they have been targeted and treated as the criminals by the junta forces.
Activists and prominent people have been fleeing to liberation areas or other countries. Some have been motivated by their experiences to join the armed resistance. “The military left us no choice but to take arms and fight for our rights. My friends were shot and killed in my sight during the protests,”said Kyaw Kyaw, who joined the armed training in the jungle. More than half of the current detainees are young people between ages 27 and 30, and they are less likely to be released until democracy is restored. This encourages others to continue the anti-coup resistance no matter what.
Provoking by the Nature of Youth
Young people are naturally responsive, courageous, creative and dynamic in nature. Generation Z shows remarkable courage by continuing to counter the brutal military in the face of incredible danger. Though it has been over one year since the start of the coup, young people are still protesting in every corner of the country. Additionally, Gen Z has an advantage of understanding and using technology to carry out creative anti-coup resistance tactics, such as coordinating a nightly routine of banging pots and pans in streets across the country. In Myanmar, we believe such sounds ward off evil, so we use this tactic to make the evil junta go away.
Other anti-coup resistance tactics include running social media campaigns, and creating innovative fundraisers, like gamification (raising the funds through playing games) and click to donate (more audience clicks and watches raises more money for humanitarian and anti-coup organizations).
A 63-year-old retired civil servant expresses his feelings about the role of young people in the resistance when he says, “Today’s Generation Z is so much different from our time. They are more courageous and they have no fear or hesitation to continue street protests though they might be shot or arrested. Their activities using the technology are miraculous. This 2021 is purely led by Generation Z, not the elder generation.”
Young people in Myanmar are rising to the occasion as military brutality continues. The change and justice they’re after demands action and participation in the current political movements. The younger generation in Myanmar is determined to reach their goal of restoring democracy in any possible way and knows they must take action. Generation Z in Myanmar marks another point in the country’s history of youth leadership as the driving force in the restoration of democracy and justice.
This is a collaboration between GEN-ZiNE and Driving Change.