I have been trying to keep an eye on everything the junta’s been up to during the past week in its desperate attempts to derail the silent strike, called to mark the one-year anniversary of the military takeover on February 1, 2021. Originally, my greatest concern was what this murderous regime would do on the day of the strike, but today I am more fearful of what might happen tonight, on its eve. Will it be another “Night of the Long Knives” or a Burmese version of Kristallnacht?
Because I’m doing my best to monitor events, I’m not getting much sleep. I awoke early this morning to two notices. Last night the Karen National Union in Hpapun district, Kayin State, a longtime hotbed of regime opposition, put all government servants on notice that they have ten days in which to resign their positions or risk severe consequences. In the past, this kind of tactic has been employed with great success elsewhere in the country. The People’s Defence Force (PDF) in Magway Division recently issued a similar warning, instructing all civil servants to resign from their jobs under the regime or otherwise transfer out of the area. If they failed to do either, they would be regarded as enemy combatants.
The second notice claimed to be from the National Unity Government, the people’s government, now in forced exile, which the regime has designated a terrorist organization. It stated that the February 1 date of the stay-at-home strike had been postponed to an unspecified later date. I quickly discovered that this was fake news, another futile attempt by the junta to put a halt to tomorrow’s strike.
The farcical efforts put forth by the generals in their attempts to crush the strike have revealed how ultrasensitive they are about it. The time, money and other resources they are consuming is staggering. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the coup leader who brought us to this painful point, and who last summer proclaimed himself Prime Minister, is evidently feeling the heat. He appears desperate to ensure that February 1 will not be a repeat of the successful December 10 strike, which resulted in deserted streets throughout the country.
To coax people out tomorrow, the regime announced a few days ago that it would, in Mandalay, be hosting a bicycle race and handing out free food. But someone in uniform must have concluded that having the army encourage bicyclists might look too unmanly. So, also in Mandalay, in a bid to tempt motorists, petrol stations either owned by the military or with ties to the military announced that for one day only they would be selling gasoline at cost. Due to recent sharp increases in fuel prices, people are discussing the merits of taking advantage of the sale for the express purpose of sticking it to the—also military-owned—oil companies. In addition, I heard about a ridiculous effort in an Ayeyarwady Division township: the army ordered residents to produce one person from each household who must be on the street with neighbours to wave their hands during the strike.
During the earlier December 10 strike, people were recruited and paid to join pro-military rallies. One such group assembled in front of the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon where, historically, the largest demonstrations have been held. Using various photographs, I counted roughly 90 people at their “big” event. Last year, in the early days of the coup, before peaceful demonstrators started getting shot and killed, many tens of thousands showed up every day for weeks to protest the takeover. If people could still take to the streets without being shot, there would easily be one hundred thousand protesters surrounding that pagoda on any given day.
Over the past year the top general has repeatedly professed that, in the “next month or two,” he would return the country to a state of stability. As recently as mid December he promised that, come February, he would have the situation under control. That unlikely scenario, however, continues to fade inexorably as time goes by. Should tomorrow’s silent strike be anything like the one in December, it will destroy whatever shred of credibility Min Aung Hlaing and his cronies retain in the international community. Worse, it will be a significant public embarrassment and, consequently, a blow to his bloated ego.