Interview

Myanmar Anti-Regime Leader: Freedom Does Not Come For Free

By The Irrawaddy 24 March 2022

Tayzar San is one of the most prominent of Myanmar’s anti-regime protest leaders and a key member of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) — a body that brings forces opposed to the military regime together. A coalition of elected lawmakers, ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and pro-democracy activists, the NUCC serves as a political consultative body to the parallel civilian National Unity Government (NUG), and is leading the efforts to lay the groundwork for the creation of a federal democratic union.

As one of the junta’s most wanted people, Tayzar San has been on the run for many months. But while in hiding, he continues his mission to eliminate military dictatorship from his motherland.

Recently, the 33-year-old doctor turned activist talked to The Irrawaddy about the urgent need for funds for the revolution and called on the public to take the boycott and social punishment campaigns seriously.

You and other prominent opposition figures have talked about the importance of financing the revolution. How is the current funding situation?

The NUG talked about the defense budget in their six month report on the people’s defensive war. The NUG said that they have received nothing, neither cash nor any material support, from foreign counties for the revolution and depend only on public donations. In fact, finance is the essential need for the revolution and will determine its result. But the coup has plunged the country into political, social and economic turmoil. And so our people are facing hardship and their financial support for the revolution is limited.

But I want to say that to win this revolution quickly, we definitely need more funding. We have all heard and seen that our People’s Defense Forces (PDF) comrades need arms and other material items. So we all need to push and contribute more. I want to say that this revolution is not for the NUG, NUCC and the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CPRH – the NUG’s parliamentary committee), but for all the people of Myanmar. If the revolution is successful, it will benefit all of us. Equally, if this revolution doesn’t succeed, all of us including future generations will suffer.

In the NUG’s six month report, the defense ministry said it has only received around US$30 million to fund the armed resistance. What do you think of that?

I was really surprised by that. I thought the amount would be more. Everyone knows that weapons and ammunition are expensive. At the same time, our enemy, the terrorist regime, is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the military and has had 70 years to build up its infrastructure. Compared to that, spending US$30 million is like tossing sesame seeds into the mouth of an elephant. In a virtual discussion that I joined last year, one EAO leader said that, according to their calculations, if we could spend US$15 million a month on military expenses, we could bring down the regime in a short time. At least US$2-3 million is required to arm a battalion. So US$30 million is nothing. That’s not to be discouraging but to make people aware of the situation. Funding is the lifeline of the revolution, so we need to work together to push for more of it. If we can do that, we can reach our desired destination of a peaceful and flourishing country fast.

What can the NUG do to improve fundraising?

As far as I know, the NUG currently has two sources of revenue [for the resistance movement]. The first one is bond sales, which is well known. People who can afford it, buy bonds. But I think that they can organize a campaign to sell more bonds and reach the business community more. Another source of funds is the People’s Revolution Supply Family (PRF) program. We rely on it a lot. Under it, all of our people can help supply PDFs for a minimum amount of US$20 each month. But so far people have very little knowledge about the PRF. Actually, the PRF program is a great source of fundraising for the PDF members who are risking their lives in our fight for freedom. But as there’s little public awareness of the PRF, the amount of people participating is still very low. While we try to get donations from business people who can make big contributions, we should also try to do more to get the general public to contribute monthly to the PRF.

But the NUG shouldn’t just rely on those two sources of funding. They need to find innovative ways to generate more revenue and also work on how to raise taxes as a legitimate government. For international aid, the world only bets on the winning horse. We need to work to let the international community know that our revolution is moving forward, and that we will definitely win.

What will happen to the revolution if the funding doesn’t increase?

For me, the current situation is not satisfactory as there is a great need of funding but it is also not discouraging. Our [armed] resistance started with any available weapons and even under the current situation with insufficient weapons and ammunition, the PDFs can threaten the junta forces and have taken control of rural areas in Sagaing Region and Kayah State. Tactics will also play a role in battle, while the main difference between us and the terrorist regime is that our fight is spirit-based and has the full support of the people. For them [the military regime], regardless of how well-equipped they are, as soon as they leave their bases or camps, they are in enemy territory. It is certain that we will win this revolution and there is a lot of good potential. But it will depend on us to make that happen. So I would like to urge our people not to relax or be disrupted by events and don’t be disunited.

PDF members train in October 2021 at their base camp in the forest near Demoso in southeast Myanmar’s Kayah State.  / AFP

In terms of public participation in the revolution, you have also recently reminded people of the boycott and social punishment campaigns. Why have you done that?

Because now more than a year after the coup, the terrorist military council members and some of their collaborators, supporters and opportunists are starting to publicly attempt to claim that normality is returning under the regime. They didn’t dare do that before as the peoples’ campaign against them was quite strong. But now they are testing the water. This is a battle between Dharma and Adharma. We need to clarify clearly the line between our enemy and us and we shouldn’t let them get into our society. They are the ones responsible for all the social and economic consequences since the coup. We need to strongly reject all of them. The boycott campaign against any businesses and services owned or affiliated with the military is also important. It needs to apply to anyone, any organization, any product affiliated with the military or supporting the military, because the money we use to buy their products or to use their services will turn into guns and bullets that kill our people and our PDF fighters. So not a single penny should reach the military. Our people already know that. But they might overlook the importance of the boycott campaign and social punishment for the revolution. And the terrorist regime and their collaborators will take advantage of that. We can’t let them do as they want. If we do, we are stupid.

What else would you like to say?

I would like to say that the more people contribute, the faster the revolution will succeed. You shouldn’t assume that the revolution will be over without you participating. There are several ways to participate. I am not asking you to do what the PDF youths are doing: fighting on the ground and risking their lives for the revolution. Let’s push to meet the financial needs for the people’s defensive war. Let’s be a support force [to the PDFs] by joining strikes, continuing to donate, continuing the Civil Disobedience Movement, boycott campaign and social punishment. Freedom does not come for free. We all have to make whatever contribution we can.

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