They poured out onto the streets in the millions. They have brought the country to a virtual standstill. This is Myanmar today – workers, youth, small business people, opposing the military coup that overthrew the elected government of the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
The international socialist left is rightly highlighting this movement. But it is also failing in its duties. Let’s remember that for years Kyi herself peacefully shared power with this very same military that has now seized complete power. And what did this power sharing arrangement mean in practice?
It meant the genocidal slaughter of the Rohingya minority, who live principally in the state of Rakhine. Not so long ago (2017), this same military instituted a genocidal slaughter of the Rohingya. Soldiers were given the order to “shoot all you see and hear” and “kill all you see, whether children or adults” as they entered Rohingya towns. The NY Times reports “The massacres of Rohingya that culminated in 2017 catalyzed one of the fastest flights of refugees anywhere in the world. Within weeks, three-quarters of a million stateless people were uprooted from their homes in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, as security forces attacked their villages with rifles, machetes and flamethrowers…. Old men were decapitated, and young girls were raped, their head scarves torn off to use as blindfolds, witnesses and survivors said. Doctors Without Borders estimated that at least 6,700 Rohingya, including 730 children, suffered violent deaths from late August to late September 2017. Roughly 200 Rohingya settlements were completely razed from 2017 to 2019, the United Nations said.”
At the very least, Aung Suu Kyi stood silently by while this slaughter was carried out. Later, when charges were brought against the military in the International Court of Justice in the Hague, she defended that military.
To this day, some 900,000 Rohingya are stateless, living in refugee camps in Bangladesh, while some 600,000 remain without rights in Myanmar. They have no right to vote and the repression continues.
“I will protect our democracy with my life”, said one protester against the military coup. Another explained: “I cannot live under a military dictatorship. Our leaders, whom we elected, trusted and respected, are arrested.” Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an awareness of the connection between this military repression of the majority of the people and its genocidal slaughter of the Rohingya. There does not seem to be a demand for equal rights for this minority.
But by at the very least covering up for the military’s repression and genocidal slaughter of the Rohingya, these same leaders are actually complicit with this very same military. They helped this military carry out its brutal methods in Rakhine State, thereby helping it build up its power in society as a whole. In other words, they fed the crocodile and now that very same crocodile is turning on them and the rest of society. Beyond this practical matter, how is it possible to fight for any sort of decent society, any sort of democracy, when the genocide against one sector is ignored?
A brief review of the coverage of the socialist left reveals that in general they are ignoring this crucial question. While we must, of course, support this movement, we also must point this issue out. We must encourage the workers and youth in Myanmar to consider this crucial issue. If we do not, we are failing in our responsibility.
Update (Feb. 25): Since this article was posted, we have found one group that does link the issue of the coup with the brutal treatment of the Rohingya. That is this article: “Myanmar: A Movement of Revolutionary Proportions. It gives an excellent rundown on the situation for various ethnic minorities in Myanmar and is well worth reading. Other groups had good articles written earlier but little or nothing linking the issue of ethnic cleansing to the struggle for democratic rights since the protests began. In the US, there will be no successful working class struggle that doesn’t link the issues of special oppression with the interests of the working class as a whole. The same is true for the workers’ movement around the world, including the rights of ethnic and national minorities.
Added note: This article has an important comment below which gives a little more detailed history of Myanmar, its military and the national minorities there. We urge readers to take a look.