Hungry for War: My Journey from Peace Poet to Revolutionary Soldier | Burma
DShortly after the February 2021 military coup, protests erupted across Myanmar. The military responded by firing live ammunition at unarmed protesters. People have been beaten, arbitrarily detained and imprisoned.
On the front lines of protests in Yangon in February and early March, I saw soldiers and police firing live ammunition into crowds, and on March 8 I was one of hundreds of protesters who were barricaded for at night on Kyun Taw Road in Sanchaung Township in Yangon, where soldiers and police were going house to house looking for people to arrest.
Witnessing the army’s atrocities and campaign of terror from the front line, I realized that the only way to fight back was with armed revolution.
I am one of thousands of activists and young people from towns and villages in Myanmar to take up arms. Some have joined existing armed groups – known as ethnic armed organizations – in the country’s border areas, where minorities have been fighting for self-determination for decades; others, like me, formed new revolutionary groups.
During the first week of March, I traveled to a border region of Myanmar and joined a group of 17 people to form the Bamar People’s Liberation Army on April 17.
As a poet and human rights activist, my revolutionary journey has been very difficult. We have to overcome our ego, our homesickness and our intellectual pride. Our trainers have always told us that we must lead a revolution in ourselves before we can lead a revolution against others.
During the three months of training, we held drills and studied the battlefield and governance systems without rest from 4am to 10pm. To train our minds and bodies to become stronger, we were allowed only two meals a day, limited to five minutes, and sometimes went days without eating. Food outside was also prohibited and we were never able to fill our stomachs.
I have endured days in the scorching sun without a sip of water; I also stood to attention in the pouring rain to the sound of harsh commands that sounded like hot liquid iron being poured into my ears, and felt the feeling that cane strikes could fall on my hips at any time.
By the end of the workout, my belly was gone and I was just skin and bones. I used to tire myself just climbing three flights of stairs in my apartment building downtown; now i am running on hilly terrain in the jungle. My state of mind had also hardened. I had lived all my life as an anti-war poet. But the former peacemaker who once couldn’t even stand the sound of gunfire now craves war. I believe we have no other choice.
This month, in an alliance with an armed ethnic organization, we engaged in active combat with the army, which continues.
My history as an activist goes back to around 2012. It was the early years of the country’s political transition, and I was elected as a representative of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) for a youth working group in Yangon.
In 2015, while campaigning for the NLD for the November general election, I was jailed for defamation for writing a satirical poem about the President’s tattoo, Thein Sein, on my penis. I spent over six months in the notorious Insein prison in Yangon. Remembering that time is like a nightmare. I was interrogated many times, without a break to eat, and subjected to mental torture.
I was released in May 2016. It was just three months after the NLD government was sworn into parliament, where it shared power with the military under the rules of a military-drafted constitution. in 2008.
Since my release, I have continuously dedicated myself to promoting freedom of expression and equal rights. In 2016, I started advocating for the amendment of the telecommunications law. Introduced in 2013, the law criminalizes defamation on telecommunications networks and has seen more than 250 people, including 37 journalists, charged during the NLD’s tenure.
In January 2018, I founded Athan (Voice), a research-based activist organization focused on promoting freedom of expression, media freedom and the right to access information in Myanmar.
When I joined the NLD, it was with the hope and expectation that they could bring human rights and justice to everyone in Myanmar when they came to power. But in October 2018, I resigned from the party due to my differing views from Aung San Suu Kyi on the state of press freedom in the country, and in particular her decision not to stand up for the rights of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe. Oo, who were imprisoned for covering up the army’s massacre of 10 Rohingyas in Rakhine State.
During the NLD’s five-year tenure, I openly criticized party leaders for the oppression of minorities, including the Rohingya, restrictions on press freedom and freedom of speech, the closure prolonged use of the Internet in Rakhine and Chin States, and their failure to speak out against human rights abuses. openly committed by the military.
I have also played a leading role in many militant campaigns for the rights of journalists, activists and oppressed minority groups, including the Kachin, Karenni, Arakanese and Rohingya.
On November 8, 2020, the NLD again won a landslide victory in the general election and the newly elected government was due to convene parliament on February 1. The military, whose party suffered a humiliating loss, had refused to accept the election results, and its commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing had previously warned that the military could “take action” if its allegations of irregularities elections were not processed. Still, I didn’t really believe that Min Aung Hlaing would dare to stage a coup.
IIt became clear to me that the coup had taken place at 4 a.m. on February 1, when I received a call informing me that two friends and fellow activists had been arrested by the army. Soldiers also came to arrest me, but luckily I was not at home.
On February 11, I joined people from different ethnic groups, including the majority Bamar group to which I belong, to form the Nationalities General Strike Committee. We called for the repeal of the 2008 constitution and the establishment of a federal democratic union – demands that were ultimately supported at the national level.
On April 1, a body of elected parliamentarians operating in exile announced the abolition of the 2008 constitution and the establishment of an interim government of national unity based on a federal democracy charter. It marked the first stages of a change in mentalities.
The public has given up on the idea that we have to endure whatever the military does to us and compromise according to the demands of the military. Instead, this Spring Revolution showed a commitment to eradicating nationalism and religious extremism, and also pushed to end gender discrimination, patriarchy, and military dictatorship once and for all.
One of the objectives of the Bamar People’s Liberation Army is to end the domination of the Bamar Buddhists over other ethnic groups and to strengthen the unity of the various ethnic groups of Myanmar within the framework of a federal democratic union. .
We also seek to ensure that, if Aung San Suu Kyi is released from house arrest, no political compromises are made in the name of state stability.
If this spring revolution, in which people from all social strata participated with unity and solidarity, cannot lead to the establishment of a new federal democratic union that can guarantee peace and democracy, then justice and equality will still be a long way off in Myanmar.
Maung Saungkha is a poet, activist for human rights and freedom of expression. In April, he co-founded the People’s Liberation Army of Bamar
Translated by Nu Nu Lusan; additional edition by Emily Fishbein
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