Saturday, 23 September 2023 08:45 GMT

Myanmar's Resistance: What Are We Actually Fighting For?

(MENAFN- Asia Times) It has been more than two years since Myanmar's army staged a coup. The country has since descended into a dangerous spiral of violence, dire economic hardship and a deepening humanitarian crisis.

As of May, more than 3,500 people have been killed and more than 22,000 arrested, and around 1.8 million remained displaced across the country. A staggering 17.6 million people in total are predicted to be in humanitarian need within this calendar year.

The costs have been immeasurable – in terms of lives lost, livelihoods and infrastructures destroyed, and psychological trauma inflicted. Despite that, the people of Myanmar continue to resist and actively fight against attempted full-blown military rule, once again .

They do this through making difficult decisions in their daily lives. For instance, whether or not they should join (or remain a part of) the civil disobedience movement . Whether or not they should send their children to junta-run schools . Or whether or not they should attempt to flee their homeland only to be face exploitation elsewhere.

Every day, individuals, families and communities across the country have been painstakingly making their way through this post-coup nightmare. In the meantime, the resistance movement as a whole – the “spring revolution” – has undergone a transformation in its own right.

Originally framed as a non-violent movement, the revolution has become increasingly heavily militarized. Not only is the use of violence – by all sides – now completely normalized. It is also routinely encouraged and even celebrated.

It is therefore urgently necessary for all of us to reflect on this trajectory of the resistance movement and pose two fundamental questions about its very purpose. Who and what are we fighting against? And who and what are we fighting for?

Simply being 'anti-coup' is not enough

Myanmar's Spring Revolution is often described as an anti-coup movement, referring to the disastrous military takeover on February 1, 2021. If we took this designation literally, it would suggest that this is a movement against the current military junta – the so-called State Administration Council – its leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and most probably also the institution of Myanmar's army as a whole.

Consequently, it could also mean that“reversing” the coup would potentially be enough to satisfy the demands of such a movement. As if simply rewinding time to the pre-existing status quo in the country.

This is highly problematic. As we have already argued in a previous piece on Asia Times, going back to the pre-coup times in Myanmar would mean continuing to recognize the military-drafted 2008 constitution , under which the contested 2020 general elections had been held. However, the public has since widely rejected this constitution and the committee representing pyidaungsu hluttaw has formally abolished it.

In addition, the political path Myanmar was on before the coup had serious shortcomings. The decision-making power continued to be centralized. Women, ethnic and religious minorities were still systematically marginalized. Freedom of speech was receding . Political leaders and the general public struggled to accept that genocide had most probably taken place in their beloved homeland.

Many of these views have drastically shifted since the coup. It would be a shame to“undo” this change, since it represents the coup's only silver lining.

Finally, having a clear common enemy has definitely brought Myanmar's diverse political actors together more than ever before. However, this is not sufficient for the Spring Revolution to succeed. Long-term alliances need to be built on shared values and a common vision for the country, rather than simple opposition to those who stand in the way of Myanmar becoming more peaceful, democratic and just.

Need to practice democratic values

Alternatively, Myanmar's Spring Revolution is frequently referred to as a pro-democracy movement. But what does that really mean? Most of us would agree that being for democracy requires adherence to democratic values, such as accountability, transparency and pluralism, as well as respect for human rights.

Applying this definition on to the resistance movement, we see a lot of space for improvement. One simply cannot be calling for democracy and, at the same time, be actively suppressing or avoiding a critical examination of one's own decisions and procedures, or even accusing those with critical views to be siding with the enemy.

One cannot be talking about democratic values as long as one is not ready to accept – or at least engage with – diverse opinions and perspectives. Importantly, one cannot be fighting for democracy while inciting violence, torturing prisoners of war or targeting unarmed civilians.

Of course, having to face an institution with absolutely no limits as to what kind of damage it inflicts on its own country and the people in it is indeed challenging. What is the right course of action vis-à-vis armed forces that have never adhered – and surely never will adhere – to the country's laws, let alone international humanitarian law or any democratic principles whatsoever?

Still, in the middle of this moral dilemma, it is crucial to remember that the Myanmar army's vicious practices are exactly why the revolution exists – and has existed for many decades – in the first place, and why we in the movement need to reject these practices ourselves. We must not turn evil in the process of fighting evil.

Instead, any and all political actors that like to consider themselves a part of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement should be ready to be held to democratic standards and take full responsibility in case they fail to do so. A dignified revolution is not a revolution in which no one makes mistakes. What makes a dignified revolution is handling those who make mistakes with transparency and decisiveness.

Pro-federalism: the necessary step further

Let us imagine that suddenly, from one day to another, Myanmar was on a path toward democracy. In this scenario, it would be crucial to ensure that the newfound political stability lasts long enough – at least a few election cycles – for democracy really to take root in the country. For it not only to take root, but actually to thrive, federalism is absolutely necessary.

Only through federalism would the country's member states be able to attain their sovereignty and self-determination. Only through federalism would genuine power-sharing and equality finally replace centralized structures dominated by one party and one set of political, cultural and religious beliefs. This way, federalism in Myanmar would offer something for all its diverse communities and areas, not just a selected few.

So how do we go about establishing federalism in Myanmar, especially in these revolutionary times?

Waiting for an agreement on and implementation of federal principles at the top level is one approach. Fortunately, it is not the only one. Instead, we can focus on building local government and strengthening local governance institutions in areas of the country where this is possible and at least relatively safe.

Many of these structures have been in existence for decades. This is despite having faced enormous obstacles and limited resources, receiving no support from the central state. Enabling and empowering local communities to govern themselves is not only the most practical and effective way to help them instill self-autonomy in their areas. It is also how we can build federalism from the ground up.

The 'resistance continuum'

Naturally, federalism in Myanmar would not be able to succeed without democracy. To be pro-federalism, one must thus, inherently, also be pro-democracy and anti-coup too. However, belonging to either of the latter two“camps” does not guarantee adherence to federal principles at all.

That is why it is crucial for all of us in the movement – but also international stakeholders working with or supporting its various actors – to be clear about where on this“resistance continuum” they stand.

Our standing is that the resistance movement needs to go beyond its anti-coup or even pro-democracy designations, and become unapologetically pro-federal. We believe that our ability to resist the temptation to resort to violence and inhumane tactics in the name of revenge or political expediency is what will set us apart from the evil that we are fighting.

We also believe that our appreciation of diversity and decision-making based on kindness, generosity and empathy is what will ensure a more peaceful and prosperous life for the future generations.

Yet we also understand that Myanmar's diverse resistance forces might find themselves on different parts of the resistance continuum. That is OK, as long as our overall direction is the same. We simply ask each and every actor involved in the movement to reflect continuously on their values, approaches and actions.

This way, these can then be communicated and discussed more openly and straightforwardly, which will ensure a fruitful dialogue moving forward – toward a better Myanmar of tomorrow.

Editor's note: While the authors would prefer to use the name“Burma” for various reasons, they have agreed to adhere to Asia Times style and accept the usage of“Myanmar,” the official United Nations designation (and that of the regime itself).

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