Four months have passed since the Myanmar coup broke out. Militaryoppression resulted in numerous casualties, and there is no progress so far. We know how meaningful the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar is because Koreans also share the same painful experience. Listening to their cries for freedom and equality, ST wants peace in Myanmar as soon as possible. ..........Ed
On February 1, 2021, a coup took place in Myanmar. Protesters condemning the military coup threw grenades at the bloody crackdown, and as soldiers died, conflicts between the two sides grew fiercer. According to local media reports, four rioters were killed when grenades thrown at military trucks by protesters in Sagaing, central Myanmar. As of April 8, more than 600 people were killed, while Myanmar’s human rights groups had put the number of people taken by the military at least 2,750. Forty-eight of them are children. On April 2, an employee of Shinhan Bank’s Yangon branch was shot and killed by military and police force. As a result, 411 Korean residents living in Myanmar returned home.
Voices supporting Myanmar are spreading throughout the country through SNS. A community site posted a photo of the local protest, along with a message saying, “Myanmar is fighting.” The author of the posting said that the picture was sent by a Myanmar friend, and that the village where the author volunteered was already burned down. Also, the author said, “As Koreans, we remember the history of winning democracy. There’s very little we can do, but remember the Myanmar people’s fight and support democracy.” In front of the South Korean Embassy, Myanmar people continued to protest. Shaya Minae, a Yangon citizen who has been studying Korean for four years at Sejong Institute, knelt down in front of the Korean Embassy and appealed for support.
From the Past to the Present Day of Coups in Myanmar
# Ethnic Minorities
In the course of the unification of the Bagan Kingdom, Myanmar’s first unified kingdom, there was a war of conquest, which absorbed minorities. So, whenever the country leaned and the government’s control weakened, minorities rose up and became independent. Then, again, it was unified by force, and this process has been repeated over and over again. In the process of suppressing repeated civil wars, the military became important and a society that valued force was established. This past history continues to the present. In modern times, the military still managed the conflicts of minorities, increasing its power.
# Independence Activist Aung San
Ethnic division intensifies in modern times. Just as Korea was a Japanese colony, Myanmar was a British colony. To prevent public resistance, British treated each ethnic group differently and drove a wedge between ethnic groups so that those groups could not unite.
Aung San saw Myanmar as divided and thought it shouldn’t be. So, he rose up against the British. Aung San was the leader of the people who led the independence movement. He was called the father of a country and is still revered by the entire nation. At first, Aung San founded the Independence Army and, with the help of Japan, drove out Britain. However, what Japan helped was to drive out Western countries and take over Asia as a whole. Eventually, British left and Japan occupied Myanmar. So, Aung San fought against Japan. Later, as Japan was defeated and independence approached, Aung San gathered representatives of ethnic minorities and promised:
“We will guarantee the freedom and autonomy of minorities. So, let’s stop the ethnic conflict and live a good life as the same people, not as other people.” -Panglong Agreement-
At this time, Aung San became the center of the whole nation and solved the deep-rooted problem of Myanmar’s ethnic division. But at the time when national unity was achieved, Aung San was sadly assassinated.
# Civilian Government That Has Reneged on Its Promises
Military dictatorship did not begin immediately after independence. Independent Myanmar started with a civilian government. Aung San promised the autonomy of minorities, but civil government discriminated against minorities. In particular, the civil government insisted that Buddhism was a state religion. This was a serious problem in Myanmar, where different ethnic groups have different religions. So, the minorities started an uprising. At this time, a civil war broke out and Ne Win built up his strength while the military suppressed this civil war.
# The First Coup
In 1962, Ne Win staged a coup and came to power. It was the first coup in Myanmar’s modern history. At this time, military forces and political power were added. He staged a coup under the pretext that “the society is unstable, and the civil war should be ended.” Since then, the military has continued to drive people apart, effectively continuing its long-term dictatorship for nearly 60 years. The inevitable division of a multiethnic state is becoming a spear and shield that protects the military.
# Aung San Suu Kyi
The reason why the people’s resistance movement first started properly was because the military ruined the country’s economy. Socialism made the military isolated from the global economy and monopolized wealth well off, but the country as a whole was becoming poor. In particular, the incident of a student being beaten to death by the police was a catalyst. Such a massive demonstration took place on 8 August 1988 and was called the “8888 Uprising.” Even then, the military suppressed the demonstration by force. The person who appeared at this time was Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi was not originally an independence activist but married a British in England and lived a normal life. But she joined the movement to continue the maintenance of her father, Aung San. Suu Kyi was warmly supported by the people and became the central figure to democratic forces.
# Get Closer to Democratization
Myanmar suffered during the British colonial era and had been under socialist and military regimes for the past 50 years before the transition to a civilian government through democratic reforms began around 2010. In the process, civil government cooperated with the military regime and pushed for changes little by little. Initially, a party backed by the military regime was in power. There is still a legal limit to allocating a certain number of seats (25%) to the military, but many democratic progresses have been achieved.
Since then, the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi has dominated the 2015 elections and led diplomacy. The military disagreed with the overwhelming victory of the NLD (National League for Democracy) party led by Aung San Suu Kyi in the general elections in November 2020, calling it a rigged election. But there was no evidence to prove it was a rigged election.
# Real Difficulties Caused by the Constitution
According to Myanmar’s constitution, 75% are elected by election, and the remaining 25% are nominated by the military. Because Myanmar’s constitutional amendment requirements are more than 25% consent, there are many difficulties in reform. In the case of presidential elections, it is not a direct but indirect election system. One of the three vice presidents is elected president, and the vice president candidate is a military recommendation.
# Check the Military’s Aung San Suu Kyi
The military killed the Rohingya people, extorted them, set their homes on fire and evicted them. Hundreds of thousands of refugees had been expelled to other countries. The international community criticized the move as a violation of human rights. However, most people in Myanmar did not support the Rohingya people. Under this situation, Suu Kyi had to choose to get support from the international community or from the Myanmar public. Suu Kyi defended the military and chose support from the Myanmar public.
Since then, the NLD had secured enough seats to establish its own government in the 2020 general elections in Myanmar. This had greatly reduced the military party’s right to speak, and the military were afraid of losing its power. The military insisted on re-election led by the military, and a coup broke out when Aung San Suu Kyi rejected it. As mentioned above, the current military staged a coup without any appropriate reason. So, it is not supported by the people and is criticized by the international community.
Korea’s Democratization and Myanmar’s Coup
#Korea's Democratic Movement
First, we need to know the democratic movement of Korea. The Korea Democracy Foundation defines democratic movements as activities that have restored and enhanced people’s freedom and rights against authoritarian rule that violated the basic rights of the people guaranteed by the Constitution since the establishment of the Korean government on August 15, 1948.
After the successful end of the April 19 Revolution in 1960, Koreans wanted new elections, punishment of election criminals, and democratic reform. In fact, after Rhee Syng-man’s administration, the Second Republic made efforts to democratize by holding local elections or abolishing and revising various laws considered quite bad. However, the investigation or punishment has still not been carried out properly. Therefore, the May 16 coup took place in 1961. Soldiers led by Park Chung-hee staged a coup, seized power and declared martial law. They controlled citizens by force and suppressed democratic and social movements. The military promised a transition to democratic government, but that promise was not kept.
After Park Chung-hee’s death, citizens expected a democratic regime, but another military coup took place, led by Chun Doo-hwan, taking control of the regime (December 12, 1979). In Gwangju City, Jollanamdo Province, students staged a democratic movement (the 5.18 Democratic Movement) in 1980, and many citizens were injured or killed. In 1987, Park Jong-chul, a student at Seoul National University, lost his life while being tortured by police, and his death prompted nationwide protests calling for a direct presidential election system. In June of that year, Korea succeeded in real democratization, and a democratic government was established.
Since democratization took place in 1987, Korea has continued to campaign for democracy. Shortly after the uprising in June, there was a labor struggle to guarantee workers’ rights, college student activists, and more recently candlelight vigils. Korea’s pro-democracy movement remains firmly in place.
# Korea and Myanmar
South Korea is almost the only country that has won by revolutionizing the regime until recently. This is why the current Myanmar situations appeal to a lot of Koreans for support of the country map of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement forces.
South Korea and Myanmar are a lot in common. South Korea and Myanmar were colonies of Japan and Britain respectively and, after their independence, both national military regime seized power in a coup. Syngman Rhee administration was overturned by the 4.19 Revolution, a lot of people were killed when police shot protesters entering the Gyeongmudae (Today’s office of Cheongwadae). Similarly, a coup in Myanmar military is pointing their guns at people. In Korea, another coup, and other pro-democracy protests since June 1987 and achieved democracy in the end. South Korea and Myanmar share the same history of democratization.
In the current protest towards a democratic state of the people of Myanmar, the number of casualties and deaths are increasing due to the army’s shooting people. Myanmar’s present circumstances have drawn internal interest and Myanmar's military rulers of bloodshed is under sanctions from the international community.
#IS UN Functioning Properly?
The incident revealed the lethargy of international organizations. The U.N. is criticizing Myanmar military only verbally and did not take immediate and practical action. However, this situation is likely to continue. This is because China and Russia, which have vetoes as permanent members of the Security Council, have lukewarm attitudes. This has led to repeated deletion of draft statements containing explicit criticism and possible economic and military sanctions against Myanmar’s military.
The ASEAN (Association of South East-Asian Nations) Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 24, 2021, agreed to stop violence immediately in Myanmar and mediate the ASEAN dialogue. Despite ASEAN’s “immediate stop to violence” agreement, Myanmar’s bloodshed circumstances are worsening.
#U.S.-ROK (Republic of Korea) Leaders’ Joint Statement
According to U.S.-ROK Leaders’ Joint Statement MAY 21, 2021, they resolutely condemn violence by the Myanmar military and police against civilians, and commit to continuing to press for the immediate cessation of violence, the release of those who are detained, and a swift return to democracy. Therefore, they call on all nations to join us in providing safe haven to Burmese nationals and in prohibiting arms sales to Myanmar.
Despite various international sanctions, deaths continue to occur in Myanmar. It seems that what Myanmar needs now is not only verbal criticism from the international community, but some direct and practical help. The article below is part of what Aung San Suu Kyi wrote in the past when she was placed under house arrest:
“In Myanmar, if you get one, you must return one.
I can give everyone to my country, Myanmar, and so can my family.”
[Additional Breaking News] 2021.05.24
Myanmar’s national adviser Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in public on Monday, 113 days after the coup. Due to COVID-19, Suu Kyi’s trial has not been made public because it has been proceeded by video. Reuters reported, “ Suu Kyi looked healthy and had a faceto-face meeting with the legal team for 30 minutes.” Aung San Suu Kyi attended a special court in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, where she tried various criminal charges. The following is what Suu Kyi reportedly told the lawyers during the trial.
“NLD was founded for the people and will exist as long as there are people.”
#SaveMyanmar #JusticeForeMyanmar #StandWithMyanmar
Kim A-yeong (ST Reporter)
Noh Yun-jung (ST Reporter)