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Myanmar Spring Revolution: Gaining momentum, but where is it heading?

Originally published on Mohinga Matters

Rise up against the dictatorship! If we win, the future will be brighter for us.

This statement is part of the rallying cry behind the ongoing revolution in Myanmar, called the Spring Revolution. It is simple. It gives people hope. And most importantly, the removal of the military looks increasingly within our grasp. Surely, the costs are high. In any economic and social indicators, the country’s development progress was driven back for decades. More graphically, in terms of conflict areas, Myanmar has not faced this kind of deep and wide-ranging armed conflict since the Second World War.

But most people take this as an investment for a brighter future, and all the costs in terms of money, efforts, and ultimately lives are just necessary financing to remove the military regime and bring forth a brighter future. With these sacrifices, the regime is facing an increasingly precarious position, with its soldiers, both rank-and-file ones and officers alike, deserting at every opportunity and its territorial control shrinking every day.

Admittedly, the importance of removing the regime is a critical step towards achieving the final goal of having a just, fair, and free society for our future is obvious. Min Aung Hlaing and his military regime have repeatedly proved a disregard for any compromise, any international laws, or the lives of anyone they do not like.

It was his disdain for people’s will that catalyzed the peaceful protestors to pick up arms, just as their contempt for market mechanisms drove the country’s economy down the drain. Worse, even when the regime finds their oppression leading to more troubles for them, their modus operandi remains unchanged from deploying more oppression. This vicious cycle is unsustainable for the junta, and as evidenced by the military situation on the ground, the regime is losing control more every day.

One cannot help but ask, “What’s next?”. Would the regime’s removal alone automatically translate into a just, fair, and free society where we and our children can be happy and proud? After all, the Arab Spring (the name itself is an inspiration for the current revolution in Myanmar), succeeded in the removal of dictators and reforms in some countries, a decade after the revolution, the majority of the people from Arab Spring countries answered to have felt life has gotten worse since then.

While the death of Muammar Gaddafi seemed like welcoming news for democracy in Libya back in 2011, the realization that the fairy-tale-style “remove the evil king and everyone lives happily ever after” narratives do not automatically hold hits hard when Libya descended into more and more serious conflicts and associated humanitarian catastrophe in the following years. Libya is not alone in successfully removing a dictator, only for the entire country to get out of the frying pan into the fire.

While it is inspiring for the American Revolution, the French Revolution (although it’s a really long and painful march), and others to fight and win against the oppressors and went on to build democratic countries eventually, a lot of revolutions fail to graduate towards democratic societies after the removal of oppressors. For instance, 100 years after removing the oppressive Tsars, the Russians faced one dictator after another, up to Putin today.

The courage, determination, and sacrifices of ordinary Russians during the Russian Revolution are equal to those of average French people during the French Revolution. Also, our bravery, determination, and sacrifices are not greater than those of the Syrians, Libyans, and other oppressed populations during the Arab Spring.

However, 100 years after the French Revolution and 100 years after the Russian Revolution led to different outcomes for the oppressed people in their respective countries. The impacts of the Arab Spring are still ongoing, and the Myanmar Spring Revolution is merely two-and-a-half-years-old. Nonetheless, it is clear that the removal of dictators alone would not lead to a society that we can be optimistic about.

Logically, when the masses do their best to defy the oppressors, there is no chance for oppressors to hold power in the long term, for we are the masses and they are the few. The costs of removing the dictators would be high, yet the removal of dictatorships is not unrealistic. However, it takes much effort, diligence, and understanding between a myriad of stakeholders opposing the regime (Ethnic Resistance Organizations, National Unity Government, etc.) to build foundations for required institutions.

The inability to successfully implement self-sustaining democratic institutions after independence created a vacuum in which the military institution under successive dictators Ne Win, Than Shwe, and now Min Aung Hlaing exploited time and time again. With the strong response to the 2021 military coup, the Myanmar Spring Revolution has an unprecedented opportunity to create the bright future we long for, not just by removing the current dictator, but also by preparing the landscape so that democracy can take root and sustain.

The lack of clarity over what would happen after Min Aung Hlaing’s demise is counterproductive even in getting rid of him. Since 2021, much outcry has been raised against the international community for their lack of support. As much as we are not satisfied with the international community’s overall token support (and blatant disregard when it comes to countries such as China, Russia, and some authoritarian regimes among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN) to the will of the people of Myanmar, in seeking international support, by not being able to demonstrate concretely and credibly about what the future hold for Myanmar after the regime is gone, we look like a small business-owner seeking bank loans without a business plan.

The people have proven time and time again that they are willing to fuel the continued momentum of the revolution. The heavy burden of setting up the direction, concretely and credibly, would be up to those who have taken the leadership mantle.


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