Inadvertently and unexpectedly, Myanmar is having to embrace all this and more. I can see demure and restrained college students becoming more politicised with every passing day. Last month, student unions from 18 tertiary education institutions made a joint statement condemning China for blocking a United Nations resolution to condemn the coup. And perhaps the biggest bloc at the protests that took place last week were from technological universities all over the country – it was no mean logistical feat to gather them in Yangon. Unions in Myanmar have long been weak, but the military coup has ironically revived them.
Blessings and curses
Cataclysms bring a lot of anxiety in their wake, and a largely agrarian society like Myanmar’s responds, in part, by falling back on embedded beliefs and traditions. Buddhist monks made their advent on the streets of Mandalay, a city in northern Myanmar, but they are not the radicals and this is nothing out of the ordinary.
Rural people marched in the ancient heritage site of Bagan in central Myanmar, and it was very photogenic. Some middle-aged women even made offerings to the city’s 11th-century temple to put an ancient curse upon those responsible for the coup. I haven’t heard of the curse before, but it is long and terrible. (Theravada Buddhism would never countenance this sort of thing, but Bagan in its heyday was also a centre of Tantrism).
What is certain is that the changes afoot in Myanmar are radical. The term ‘political transition’ needs to be ditched. Even if Aung San Suu Kyi, the deposed state counsellor, were to return to power tomorrow, it’s questionable whether she would be able to manage the movement.
The Myanmar military, which has triggered all this, is now staring at a deep-seated convulsion. Road-maps, constitutions and elections are not going to help very much. An opportunity has opened up to the people of Myanmar, and they are taking it.
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