It has been three days since the coup in Myanmar, and it seems thirty years. An abysmal distance from the time we are going through, the irruption of a foreign body into our life. Situations already seen in ’88 and 1990: the cancellation of the newly elected Parliament, the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, thousands of political leaders, activists, journalists, artists arrested. Everything as it was back then. What really strikes is the repetitiveness, and the temerity of going against the world and against history.
In Naypyidaw at dawn on 1st February, a few hours before the inauguration of the new Parliament, the Tatmadaw – the army of 500,000 people – arrested the President of the Republic U Win Myint and the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, confining the parliamentarians. Today the NLD parliamentarians, disobeying, gather in Naypyidaw to form the new government.
A real coup, with the military and their armoured vehicles occupying everything, blocking roads, cutting off communications. They are shutting off the Country from the rest of the world again. Two months after the landslide victory by the NLD – Aung San Suu Kyi’s party – in the general election. It is clear that the military leaders had begun to fear that now things would start getting serious, that their political and economic power, their grip on the Country would be reduced. General Min Aung Hlaing was determined to become president. These are the real reasons. The allegation of electoral fraud was just the pretext.
The contrast with Aung San Suu Kyi has been radical for a long time: democracy, pluralism, federalism, the rule of law on the one hand; the military dictatorship, the state religion, centralism, the Constitution tailored to the military, corruption as a political custom on the other hand.
As if politics belonged to the military, not to the people. The distance of the military from the Burmese people is abysmal also in this aspect.
There is something ethically fundamental at stake in Myanmar: nonviolence versus violence, truth versus pretense and lies.
The allegations against Aung San Suu Kyi in a single day yesterday are tragic and ridiculous at the same time: in the morning she was charged with high treason, with sentences ranging from twenty years in prison to death penalty, later she was accused of illegally buying a walkie-talkie, found in her home.
The history of Burma over the last sixty years is a history of violence, of military rule, arrests, imprisonment, killings, massacres, impoverishment of the Country. The alternative was the movement of Aung San Suu Kyi – the NLD born in her home in August 1988.
In her election speech, before the elections on 8th November, Aung San Suu Kyi spoke of the government using the metaphor of someone caring for their garden, which is the Country: it needs removing brambles, weeds, holes in order to grow plants, flowers and fruits. Since 1990 every time the people have been called to the polls, they have chosen her and her party in a plebiscitary way.
Immediately after the coup, the well-known, repeated military script began to unfold: the establishment of new state bodies with new acronyms and leaders, the shutdowns of communications and the blackout of the internet, the staging of fake demonstrations with common prisoners wearing NLD T-shirts released and paid to fight each other for the military to intervene – all tactics that spread fake news and fears.
This coup – the latest in chronological order – is taking place under the eyes of the world.
Even more than before, in this global world. It is already part of the confrontation between the US and China, between the Chinese power that shares a long border with Myanmar and the EU, Great Britain, the West. China is the giant neighbour, which launched the Belt and Road Initiative strategy for leadership in the 21st century a year ago. Myanmar is the first step on the way to the West. Will armies walk on the Silk Road?
The coup is taking place in full pandemic. Now the military governs it, it is a problem for the entire humankind, and for the WHO.
In these first three days following the coup, the civil disobedience of the people was born. “Resist it resoundingly, oppose it as much as you can”: these are the words attributed to Aung San Suu Kyi in the message that runs on social media.
The doctors started it, then women, old people, children on the balconies banging pots and metal objects, and honking horns to make prolonged noise. The strategy of the military also includes the provocation for people to go out on the streets to demonstrate, in this way they can justify the repression. People stayed indoors. An entire country is under house arrest. It may be the beginning of a Burmese spring.
There is dismay among people. These days may be the beginning of a period of further impoverishment and suffering. For young people the sign of the theft of their future.
Myanmar today, in front of the world, explains what is happening to democracy when it stems from the awakening of peoples. It is happening all over the earth, in many places. People – especially young people – ask for dignity and justice, power responds with violent repression. They are the images of this historical time.
It happens in the squares of North Africa, Egypt, Turkey and the Middle East, in American cities and villages in the Amazon, in Eastern countries, in Ukraine, in Russia, in Hong Kong.
It happens in Burma today.
Democracy in Myanmar is our democracy, their freedom is our freedom. As Aung San Suu Kyi has always told us. In the global time of humanity the pandemic unites us, the pursuit of democracy unites us.
What is the international community doing for Myanmar? The shock has been strong after the Western public opinion has seen the human rights icon demolished in recent years. As if it was not known that Aung San Suu Kyi had chosen politics as the expression of her responsibility towards her people. In the given conditions – which have always been so extreme – she has concretely practised it to curb the political power of the military and restore sovereignty to the people. The West has adopted a tragically blurred stance towards Aung San Suu Kyi in recent years. How cannot we understand that her words and her silences, her gestures and her choices have been part of the mortal complexity of her Country?
Today the international community strongly condemns the coup. It is the voice of their communities.
But it is essential that today the public opinion of the world, especially the EU and Italy, make itself heard by lending its voice to Aung San Suu Kyi and her people, whom the military have silenced.
Who is the Tatmadaw to challenge the world? Against all rights, against all laws, against all human values?
Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, pleaded for dialogue between the parties for a peaceful future for Myanmar in his paper yesterday. In order to talk, all restrictions must be lifted, the people arrested must be released.
Give space to politics, stop the weapons, the troops should return to their barracks.
This we have learned from the tragedies of the twentieth century, this must be done today by politics, international organisations – the ones of human rights and cooperation – democratic states, religions, universities, associations of every sector that work for human development.
It is the political challenge of these first decades of the 21st century: to let democracy live and grow like the garden that Aung San Suu Kyi loves to nurture.
This is what Myanmar tells us today, which has entered by force into contemporary history with the most radical challenge: the peace of the nation, reconciliation, inclusive development, democracy. It is the power of the freedom of the peoples that faces the slavery of conflicts, interests, weapons. The Burmese people have paid and are paying the consequences. They are all crucified, as Charles Bo says. The Burmese people are saving human dignity, even for us.
Today we, citizens of the world, are all citizens of Myanmar.
Where is Aung San Suu Kyi now? We have the right to know. She belongs to the world.
We demand the utmost respect for her and her people.
Aung San Suu Kyi must be released immediately.
The Burmese people must be freed.
What is happening in Burma today is plowing the furrow of the history of this century in Asia and in the world. It is the furrow for a new harvest, sown by the consciences of all of us.