Guest Column

Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement Carries On in Face of Increasing Junta Repression

By Thai PBS 24 January 2022

A week following the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar, the whole nation erupted with protests in many forms, involving people from many walks of life, including, but not limited to, Generation Z youth, students, doctors, teachers, engineers and even laborers.

While the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) did not come into effect immediately, the leadership of youths and increasing protest efforts against the military dictatorship soon gave birth to perhaps the longest running CDM in the world.

The movement

Two weeks into nationwide protests, the CDM movement’s roots were in the public healthcare sector, with doctors through to local public health administrators taking part.

“I don’t want to do my duty under military dictators. Under them, even professionals must kowtow to people who don’t know anything about the things they are supposed to be in charge of,” said a doctor from the Yangon General Hospital who has been part of the CDM since its inception.

Similar to the doctor, there were many that were unhappy with the coup and had refused to continue going to work.

“After the coup, I stopped going to work and I continued to participate in the protests. From there, I saw people shot down in front of my eyes. That consolidated my decision to stop working under this coup government,” said a public servant from the education sector.

Due to the nonviolent but highly effective CDM, many aspects of governance were put in difficult situations.

According to a press conference held by the military council, nearly 30 percent of public servants are taking part in the CDM, a figure many members of the public and CDM participants believe to be lower than the actual percentage involved.

“Over half of the teachers participated in CDM in my school. If we add in all of the technical universities, I think it will be around 50 percent or 55 percent for the education sector,” said a lecturer from a technical university in Ayeyarwady Region.

As time has gone on, the military government has put the screws on CDM participants through myriad means, ranging from encouraging a return to work for higher salaries and/or promotions.

On February 1, 2022 Myanmar marks one year since a military coup that saw civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi detained and resulted in widespread dissent across the country. (Photo by AFP)

There are also continuing attempts by the military government to conduct surprise checks on private businesses related to the CDM, such as those in healthcare, to ensure that no people from the CDM are employed.

Despite such efforts, the CDM carries on.

“During April, letters were sent out in attempts to call us back to work. None of us did. They tried again in May, threatening legal action and asking us to pay back any loans. Some, over time, broke and re-joined the workforce because of their financial situation, but I believe that it is still around half who are refusing to go back,” said the lecturer.

Soldiers have also been participating in the CDM, starting from around April, two months after the coup. Since then, over 2,000 soldiers have taken part and, according to Nyi Thuta, a CDM soldier, the numbers are still far too low.

“In any organization, a higher rank means more responsibility. It’s nearly a year now. Privates are doing CDM and officials ranking higher should have been quicker than them. Cities and villages are being bombed and mass slaughters are happening. It should not take people this long to oppose the military council doing this,” said Nyi Thuta.

As of this moment, most of the ranks involved in the CDM are privates, sergeants, and some majors.

How is it surviving?

Needless to say, CDM participants are facing hardships, but those that remain, despite being nearly a year in, are holding on however they can.

“There are many things. We had to move out of our allotted apartments because, if we do not want to, we have to go back to work. It isn’t a problem, but the resulting problem of putting food on the table is. I have to do whatever work I can find every month,” said a railway worker CDM participant.

Like him, public service technicians, office staff, and more have transformed into carpenters, vendors, taxi drivers and more.

“Of course, I miss my old life, but kids gave and continue to risk their lives in battle. While that is happening, I don’t want to hold the title of “teacher”. What respect will they have for me? The trade is my honor for my old job. I will not do that trade,” said the lecturer from a technical university.

There are private businesses, hospitals amongst them, which discreetly hire CDM participants or regularly donate to CDM participants, but their efforts are not enough to cater to everyone.

“I hook CDM participants up with jobs with businesses that are willing to hire them, but there are still too many out there that I cannot help,” said a recruitment broker who is trying to help the CDM.

The National Unity Government (NUG), a parallel government formed by exiled lawmakers and other political figures, have also been providing support, but it is reportedly insufficient. The NUG’s myriad attempts at fundraising, while they could be called successful, only manage to support around 4 percent of CDM participants who have officially registered for support from the NUG.

Apart from the financial hardships, CDM participants also have to be wary of arrest by the military. According to them, if anybody is reported as participating in the CDM, it is highly likely that they would have to escape immediately or be arrested in the next few days.

When will the long march end?

It is nearly the first anniversary of the coup and the CDM that was born as a result.

Despite the ongoing hardships and likelihood that there will be even more down the road, those who have remained staunch participants in the CDM vow that they will continue until the dictatorship is removed.

Myanmar’s CDM has been recognized as a nominee for the 2022 Nobel Peace prize and has been listed as one of the longest-running CDMs in the world.

“We will remain strong. It has been a year of many hardships. It couldn’t get any worse than this, so we will march on until the dictators are removed,” said the lecturer.

This article was first published by Thai PBS World.

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