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Myanmar, coup, repression

Waiting for the Fear to Wash Away in Myanmar

The world has moved on from the coup, but the people of Myanmar continue to endure it.

Words: Yint Hmu
Pictures: Yint Hmu

Every year, the wind blows from the west bringing rain clouds to break the dry heat. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the freshly soaked ground, the crisp lightness that fills the air after the first rainstorms. The monsoon brings life. But the people and the land must first make it through the summer months before such reprieve.

From the glistening Bay of Bengal to the snowy foothills of the Himalayas, in Pathein, Mandalay, Lashio, Yangon, Myeik, and more, people in Myanmar are preparing to endure yet another scorching summer. And while the rains will come in due time, another kind of reprieve will not — from 55 years of successive military regimes.

I am distant but tethered in perpetuity by unbreakable fibers woven through my whole being. I carry memories of childhood innocence in Yangon. But I also carry with me the generational pain of a people that continue to shape my life and inform my work.

As the years pass, the tranquil illusions of my childhood have transformed into a tragic acknowledgment of the quiet burden people bore for generations.

I remember reading Frantz Fanon and Michel Foucault, Benedict Anderson, and Hannah Arendt for the first time in college. And as I made sense of my memories from halfway across the world, I remember seeing my grandparents on CNN in line to cast their votes in 2015. That election, the first free and fair one in decades, brought a quasi-democracy. Like a spotty summer shower, it was far from perfect and the reprieve was fleeting. But there was a glimmer of hope, of a sign perhaps that the monsoon might finally come to wash it all away and breathe new life.

Conflicts and abuses long hidden from the world through decades of censorship and self-isolation came to light. The military never truly gave up power. It was naive of us to expect no scars from 50 years of self-inflicted terror. And now there are no icons left; perhaps there never really were any. The 2021 coup d’etat has turned two, and the world has moved on. But the people remain, and they endure.

Terror was the tactic and fear was the controlling emotion to keep the country stable. As Rudyard Kipling thundered of glory and empire, and the submission of a woman who symbolically shared the same name as the deposed queen — a bitter and devastating divide-and-rule pacification campaign shattered the population and structures of governance. The British established a colonial administration purposefully divided by race and religion. Internal stability was enforced by a network of secret police. A young Eric Arthur Blair would find work in this bureaucracy as part of the Imperial Police. Informed by his experiences, he would later go on to pen “Burmese Days,” “Animal Farm,” and “1984” under the name George Orwell.

That colonial legacy is alive and well 75 years after independence. Terror remains the tactic and fear is the controlling emotion for the Burmese military. Politics and policies driven by fear of the people, fear from the people, fear of the other, and the outsider no matter how delusional they may be remain to this day.

As the years pass, the tranquil illusions of my childhood have transformed into a tragic acknowledgment of the quiet burden people bore for generations. These memories remain ingrained in me as I thrive across vast distances of time and space. And still, I see the same fear of the other drive politics in my new, chosen home. Prophesying under the guise of abstract grand theories, we prepare for war in fear of the other.

The time will come when this vicious cycle of politics driven by fear is broken. But until such time, as our ancestors did before for countless scorching summers, the people will endure whether the world remembers them or not. One day again, I know I will feel that westernly breeze, the first rainstorms traveling from the Bay of Bengal. The monsoon will come. And it will wash away this dry heat and breathe new life to the people and the land.

The winding entryway of Yangon Sailing Club in January 2017.
Author at the Yangon Sailing Club in 2009.

Yint Hmu

Yint Hmu is the Senior Associate for Digital Campaigns at Win Without War.

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