4 Minutes To Read

Myanmar’s Military Coup and the Burmese Abroad

4 Minutes To Read

Chit (a pseudonym) reflects on the military coup as part of the Burmese diaspora.

Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. New York: G. Dearborn & Co, 1838.
Featured image from Wikimedia

I was forced to ponder upon this statement by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America over the last couple of days.

I hail from Burma, but I spent my teen years in the United States, with frequent visits back to my motherland. My attachment to this beautiful country has always been conflicted. Myanmar is a country whose nationalism is deeply embedded in ethnocentrism and religious purity, specifically Buddhism. In Burma, I was often treated as an outsider during my childhood years due to my different physical features and my religion. I was born to an Indian Burmese mother and an Afghan Burmese father. The Burmese genes decided to skip my brother and me, in contrast to most of our Burmese peers. When the Rohingya crisis was at its apotheosis, I became ashamed of my Burmese identity. When my American peers asked, I refrained from revealing my Burmese nationality as it was now an identity associated with mass murder. My connection to the country seemed dimmer each day.

Amidst my internal identity crisis, subconsciously, I was proud of the growth in the socio-economic status of the lower-class citizens after economic and political reforms in 2011.  I closely followed the country’s progress and even considered returning to Yangon to positively utilize my American education towards societal advancements. Although I spent many years harboring mixed feelings towards Burma, feeling like an outsider in comparison to fellow Burmese, I still care deeply about the country. I hoped to contribute to Myanmar’s future one day.

Today, I am outside of Myanmar, feeling helpless as I witness the Burmese military take apart the country’s fragile but hard-won democracy. The vigor and participation of millions of citizens on the street recharges me and motivates me to raise my own voice. The social media campaigns initiated by Burmese youth have been raising awareness about democracy in a way that surpasses the 1988 uprisings. The strategic planning and coordination that “Generation Z” has exhibited is one for the books that was only achievable through compassion towards one another. The generous nature of Burmese culture is still visible even in the height of adversity. This is evident by how protesters are donating meals, sharing network access, and providing of free services ranging from medical to transportation.

I also see that the hopes and faith that the country’s people vested in the international community is still strong, even though the international community has implemented very few effective measures. Economic sanctions will merely be a scratch for Burma’s military regime as long as China remains influential in Myanmar. Now, one month since the coup, citizens participating in the civil disobedience movement are getting detained each day by the military. Peaceful protesters are subject to the bullets of power-hungry military personnel and many precious lives with bright futures have been usurped. I am inspired by the youth but doubtful that the international community, particularly Western countries, can do much to depose the military.

Social media is a powerful revolutionary force in the 21st century. I have shared a few posts with hashtags indicating my defiance to the military coup. I have no fear of counterattack from the military as I write this article in my safe space in the United States. However, I remain anxious about my remaining family members in Myanmar. With the increasing intensity of the oppression, my dilemma continues to grow. I dread the day on which my voice causes my family pain. I don’t put it past the Myanmar’s military to detain my family members because of my participation in protests abroad.

Even in the possession of constitutionally preserved freedom of speech, I still find myself being restricted. What good is a voice if I cannot use it to sing away the pains of my people? Yes, I might have an identity crisis that resulted from my mixed background, but I still wear my Burmese name proudly. I have an attachment to my homeland but also freedom, although as Toqueville says, I wonder how best to use it.

Every Burmese abroad, even with only a seed of attachment in our hearts for this magnificent land, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of the freedom we have. Let us fulfil our responsibilities by remaining as the voices of our brothers and sisters when they lose theirs, as Burmese Americans, Burmese Indians, Burmese British, or many other identities in conjunction with the Burmese identity. Let us use our social media platforms to raise awareness amongst our non-Burmese communities. Let us get out on the streets, peacefully protesting in front of powerful international bodies. Let us stand in solidarity with our Golden Land’s citizens. Let us be a miniscule part of history. 

Chit is a pseudonym for the love the author has for their country. Chit has completed their education in the US and is based in the US. Chit has been researching the geopolitical competition between China and the US in the South East Asia region for several years.