Too busy with COVID to help

We may well live in a global village, but those villages are often worlds apart. On 1 February this year, when Ireland and her diaspora were celebrating St Brigid’s Day, people in Myanmar woke up to a coup. Myanmar’s democratically elected party, the National League for Democracy, was deposed by the military – the Tatmadaw. Two months later, the nightmare continues to unfold. The death toll is more than 500, many of those under the age of 18.

Although Myanmar officially transitioned from military rule to democracy in 2012, the Tatmadaw still laid claim to about 25% of the parliament. One could argue that it wasn’t a real democracy, but it was still better than what had been. In the November 2020 elections, the Tatmadaw aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) didn’t do nearly as well as it had hoped. Generations X, Y, and Z and those who had no desire to revisit yesterday had made their feelings known at the ballot box.

As one friend I spoke to described it:

It’s the most clear-cut conflict I’ve ever seen. The absolute majority hate the military presence and know that if they are successful this time, the country will be condemned to another 50 years of a military dictatorship.

I can’t quite get my head around the term ‘military dictatorship’ and what it might mean. Blessed though I am with quite a vivid imagination, I find it difficult to fully grasp what is happening in Myanmar. I can sympathise but I can’t empathise. I’ve never experienced anything close to what’s happening over there and sincerely hope that I never do. My world isn’t one where students are thinking more about imminent death than graduation.

It’s not that long ago that I wrote about a trip I was taking to Thailand.

We’re going to take the train northwards to the Golden Triangle of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. Perhaps a skip over the border might be on the cards but plans to visit Myanmar came to nowt when I couldn’t reconcile being in any way complicit with what’s going on with the Rohingya.

When I heard initially of what was happening in Myanmar, I didn’t pay much attention. I’m as guilty as the next when it comes to holding grudges. I was incredibly disappointed in Aung San Suu Kyi and her lack of action still rankles. This, of course, caveated by the fact that I only know what I read.

Part of me wondered at the power of karma. Perhaps too late Myanmar realised that had they been more supportive of the Rohingya, the international community might be more amenable to helping out now. Perhaps the people have realised that a lot of the information they were fed was fundamentally untrue and that humans have failings, no matter how iconic they are. But that surely is no reason for the world to forsake them now? Are we that judgemental? Am I that judgemental?

Living where I do, I’ve lost some amount of trust in the media, preferring to get my news from people on the ground, people who know what’s happening, people who know people. I made a phone call. I had to know.

Myanmar has had nearly ten years of access to the Internet and social media, ten years of being able to travel, of welcoming tourists and visitors. That’s enough time for the citizens to know that what they have now is light years removed from what they had under military rule. They’re not going to give it all up in a hurry.

But how does a predominately Buddhist society overcome the military’s might? They don’t have the guns and the tanks and the training. They sadly don’t have much by way of international support, given the major blot on their human rights copybook. Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement at the ICJ hearing in the Hague regarding the military’s treatment of the Rohingya didn’t do a lot for her international reputation.

They’re striking. The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) is protesting. Bringing the country to a standstill ensures that the Military’s purse strings are cut but that also means that workers go without, too. They’re peacefully protesting and continuing to do so despite seeing their friends and family and colleagues killed by snipers, imprisoned, and tortured. And they’re fundraising to help with strike pay and to buy protective gear for protestors like gas masks, hard hats, and shields.

But time is taking its toll. The optimism they had at the start that the world might help is slowly dying. My friend, someone I trust implicitly, spoke with their friend in Yangon who said that they’re preparing to die, too. If that’s what it takes to ensure that their children don’t have to grow up under military rule, they’re prepared to fight to the end, to win. They’ve realised that

[…] the world is too busy with COVID to help; we’re in this on our own.

My friend also noticed a sliver of silver in the cloud of horror.

People across all walks of life, regions, and ethnicities seem fundamentally united against the military. Rohingyas, Karen, Chin, Shan and so on alike are showing the three-finger salute for CDM against the junta.

If you want to help, you can. MiMi Aye, British born to Burmese parents and a cookery book writer, has collated ways you can do just that. Sign petitions. Write to your politicians. Donate to the Burma Campaign.

The banks are closed. International transactions are being closely monitored. Do your due diligence. Spread out your donations. If you’d like your money to go directly to someone who will put it to good use, talk to me. Given the years I spent working in the oil industry, my money is going to support the strikers at a major oil field.

Being too busy with COVID isn’t a good enough excuse. Not for me. And believe me, I’ve been busy with it these past few weeks. Think on it. Read up on it. Consider donating or signing a petition. Don’t let the hope die for Myanmar. They were only beginning to enjoy the freedom we take for granted.

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