Christopher J. Walker describes the tragic and the comic, how they exist side by side under oppressive military rule in Myanmar.
Editor’s Note: This post is the twenty-ninth installment in an ongoing series, Chronicle of a Coup, comprised of reports written from within Myanmar by Christopher J. Walker (a pseudonym), a longtime resident, which together sketch one person’s first-hand account of the weeks and months following the February 1, 2021, military coup. A selection of his reports will be posted weekly, every Friday. A chronological archive is also available here.
Tea Circle is grateful to Christopher for sharing his personal account of life under military rule in Myanmar. Recognizing that his voice is one of many, we encourage other authors to submit their own accounts.
Eulogy | August 12, 2021Embed from Getty Images
A group of young people, some known to us, were trapped yesterday by soldiers in a safe house where they had been in hiding. They decided that their unavoidable capture would be on their own terms and not on those of the military, leaving them only one way to escape.
How many more stars, I wonder, will have to fall from the sky?
You could have just fallen half a metre, dropped to your knees and surrendered with hands on your heads. But you knew for sure what your fate would be. In fact, you talked about it that very morning with our friends, didn’t you? Knowing that if you were arrested you would be tortured and forced to name names, you told them just hours earlier that you would prefer to die. So rather than bend, you chose instead to fall 15 metres, the five of you holding hands, to your near-certain deaths. Like the five points of a star, falling to the ground, but with a light we shall all see forever, one that can never be extinguished.
After so many before you were killed by shots to the head, poet Ko Khet Thi, arrested and tortured to death on May 9, 2021, had tried to explain to the soldiers and police something about the people:
They shoot us in the heads / They seem not to know that the revolution lies in our hearts.
But the soldiers did not listen. They could not, nor were they able to hear your bodies falling toward the earth. They hate you for what you did. They despise you, because as your courage and selflessness lay at their feet, you forced them to look inside. And what they saw was how much farther than you they themselves had fallen. They thought that courage was what they experienced last week as they held an index finger on a trigger, took aim at the head of unarmed, 25-year-old Ma Thu Thu Zin, and pulled—the bullet crashing through her head. You have exposed them for what they are: tin soldiers with hollow hearts.
So great was their hatred toward you for exposing them to themselves, that they beat you with the butts of their rifles in that alleyway as you lay motionless at their feet. And they beat you and beat you with a burning rage as if by doing so they could somehow beat the ugliness out of themselves. Their memory of you will forever be salt in their wounded psyches.
And the captains, colonels and generals who lead them to such horrific savagery, so disgraced are they by your actions that they now must scramble to invent a tale—you were terrorists making bombs, you were on drugs, you failed to see the edge of the roof, you slipped and fell—to hide a truth they cannot bear to face. Anything but the truth, the truth that would expose their lies, the truth of the courage you exhibited that they will never demonstrate.
And to conceal the truth from which they can never hide, they refuse to give over your bodies to your families, nor will they allow them even one last look before they burn the evidence of their cowardice and shame. Any delusions they may have once had of being gallant officers leading their men into righteous battles were burned with you. Your stars are beacons that will forever scorch and torment them.
Their Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing, months ago confessed that he had never expected to see such resistance from the Burmese people. So blinded is he by his greed, ignorance, arrogance and megalomania that he now looks away thinking that he can ignore the unavoidable truth. But he will never be able to turn his back on the five of you. Your fall, your hands clasped in solidarity, will forever be his biggest disgrace; your story, which your ashes will one day rise up to tell, of the man he never was, his biggest fear.
What could he possibly know of courage such as yours? His extravagance of medals, badges and ribbons merely emphasize his callous, egotistical propensities. He has never once in his military career faced invaders from a foreign nation or upheld the soldiers’ code of honour by protecting Burmese civilians. His counterfeit awards are a testimony to the only battles that he has ever known: those he directed against unarmed men, women and children. As you five have fallen, so has he. But unlike you, whom the earth caught and cradled, he continues to fall and fall and fall.
Considering your bravery, millions are left in profound sorrow. When we look from our balconies, we will forever be reminded of each of you by what you bravely left painted upon our street so many months ago. Although your words of defiance are beginning to fade, never will they or you disappear from our hearts. We look toward the day when the paint is freshened and preserved for future generations, when a child will ask what it all means. We hope to be there to answer proudly, speaking of you and all that you tried to do. We will miss you and all we shared. We will never forget you. Disperse now like the leaves before the wind. When we meet again, we shall all hold hands together.
To our dear friends and supporters,
This is the saddest and most painful thing I have ever written, and my greatest hope is that I will never have to do so again. Since I began writing about events in Myanmar almost six months ago, it has always been my goal to convey to you the feelings that we experience here on a daily basis. Yet I know that I have failed in every attempt, in part because of my questionable writing skills and also because my goal is simply not humanly attainable.
There is much more to this story that I cannot reveal. I apologize for that. But at some future time it deserves to, and must, be told to honour the memory of the five who chose to fall. Nothing they did would you have found morally or ethically objectionable. Nothing they did would you not have done yourself.
Though the police and military will fabricate a false narrative, what is written above is the true, although incomplete, story of what occurred on that horrible day. Despite the necessary omissions, I hope that what has been included is sufficient to stir you in some way so that the Burmese people can continue to resist. You can join in their resistance by standing alongside them in any way or by any means possible. The help that they need now is even greater than in the past, so that what has happened here will never happen again.
As U Kyaw Moe Htun, Burma’s ambassador to the U.N., declared before the assembly of nations in a courageous and emotional speech in which he strongly denounced the February coup and gave a three-finger salute to the people of Myanmar, the revolution must succeed! အရေးတော်ပုံအောင်ရမည်
With tears for the memory of those who took a selfless leap to protect the security of others, and to all who read this, our heartfelt thanks.
Mind games | August 16, 2021
What if they held a lottery and everyone was a big winner?
I have always had a deep-seated dislike of lotteries, because they are, primarily, a means to extract vital resources from the poor and uneducated looking for a miracle. Having succumbed to a cynical illusion, they gladly permit their money to be repeatedly stolen from them, thereby helping to ensure their state of perpetual bondage. But now I have learned about a lottery in which even I am willing to participate.
During this ongoing attempted coup it has become exceedingly difficult to get money to anyone in need, because to do so is expressly against the law, or at least whatever law the regime comes up with on any given day.
In order to get around this, we must learn to think outside the box if we want to help. Recently the National Unity Government (NUG)—the so-called shadow government that approximates the people’s choice in the last election—came up with a novel idea. Cruising beneath the military’s radar, they organized an online lottery. People sent money to the lottery to buy an online ticket. Not knowing much about Facebook or other types of social media, I’m not sure how they were able to pull this off. But it was done in such a way that non-traceable electronic payments were made to the lottery, without any payments going directly to the NUG.
The military regime has officially branded the NUG a terrorist organization, so funnelling money to them is a major breach of some newly concocted law. I know, I know. It’s perverse and paradoxical, the military calling the NUG a terrorist organization.
However, the NUG was successful in pulling this off. I’ve been told that they were able to sell more than a half-million dollars in tickets in the first hour and a quarter. Best of all, in this lottery everyone’s a winner. All the money raised is committed to supporting striking government workers who refuse to co-operate with the regime and consequently remain out of work to this day. Those terrorists, what they won’t think of next!
While the military was ultimately able to shut down the lottery after a couple of days, yesterday I learned by speaking with an NUG Member of Parliament that they already have a workaround and will soon be launching a raffle. Nothing like a good old-fashioned raffle to further rattle the Tatmadaw.
It would not be a huge leap to imagine that, in the future, once the raffle has successfully run its course and also been shut down, the NUG may very well be organizing an online bingo. To the junta, Watch out! You are up against some of the world’s most cunning and dangerous terrorists. Why not appeal to the U.N. for assistance. Unfortunately, based on recent experience, you will, in all probability, have to wait a few months for a response, and before that happens you might hear someone shout, Bingo!
Christopher J Walker (pseudonym) has called Myanmar home for a number of years. He thanks his friend and editor Mathieu Lukas for his assistance in preparing these reports for safe and timely publication.