Relentless Whirlwinds of Revolt in Burma

In the midst of political and social tumult during the transforming periods marked by civil rights movement in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. predicted the condition of the country that “the whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” Fresh and somehow unexpected arm conflict for many civilians in Burma recently broke out in Kokang region in northern Shan state, displacing many refugees in both Chinese and Burmese territories.

Due to high level of casualties suffered from the attack by Kokang’s MNDAA troops and its allied Ta-ang’s (Palaung) TNLA and Rakhine’s AA forces on February 11th, 2015, Burmese military has mobilized heavy offensive campaigns not only in Kokang region but also in Kachin and other ethnic resistance groups’ controlled areas. The military spoke-person recently stated that the ethnic resistance groups involved “must take responsibility.” Burmese military recently fired several rounds of artillery on KIA position near the headquarters Laiza as a punitive act for adding and abetting MNDAA and its allied forces.

Historically, ethnic resistance groups have engaged in a form of defensive attack against marching Burmese military in their territories. The MNDAA, the Kokang ethnic resistance group, however, initiated a bold move attacking Laukai, the city occupied by the Burmese military.  They have openly signaled their desire to regain their fallen city in the hands of the military regime in 2009. They have symbolically shown that an effective defense equally requires an effective offense in matters protecting and defending their own territory.

These new escalations of arm-conflicts occurred at the backdrops of recent political situations. The hoaxed hope to achieve nationwide cease-fire which is supposedly to take place on February 12th, the Union Day, dwindles, and the country approaches its important upcoming election.  Such fighting or unrest has historically provided the military to reassert and strengthen its iron grip as a protector or savior of nation in danger. The resistance of ethnic groups has almost always served as a necessary evil to justify the military’s use and abuse of force.

Thus, such planned escalation of fighting between Burmese military and ethnic resistance groups is not unusual in the country’s politics. However, a well-publicized casualty details, a president’s visit to the wounded soldiers in the military hospital, and galvanization of public sympathy for the military (Tatmadaw), can be seen as a new move that has not been done recently in Burma politics.

In light of these renewed and intensified offensive against ethnic resistance groups, it seems that the Burmese military has re-embraced the counsel of Theodore Roosevelt who said “diplomacy without a credible threat of force is empty talk.” Now, the Burmese government would prefer a philosophy of “speak softly and carry a big stick” as it negotiates with the ethnic groups for cease-fires deals. In doing so, the peace process in Burma, again, transpires as a “one step forward and two steps back” move, failing to achieve any desirable outcome.

Burma is infested with pockets of resistance since its founding after the British colonial rule. The discontent of the people over the existing conditions, to name a few, such as military domination, racism, and inequality, continually breeds disparate and diverse forms of revolution in successive generations. This past week news headlines featuring the university students’ protest over the education system and the garment workers’ demand for fair wage in addition to intensifying war in Kokang region are displays of people’s discontent in every area of life in Burma

In February 5th, the Kachins commemorated the 54th anniversary of the Revolutionary Day. The revolution that started with ordinary civilians such as a school teacher, a civil servant, and a Baptist minister 50 years ago seems still a stony road ahead. The Algerian anti-colonial intellectual and activist Frantz Fanon once lamented over prolonged independence movement saying “above all I don’t want to become a professional revolutionary.”  Becoming professional revolutionaries which Fanon dreaded has also come true for many who have involved in over a half century long struggle in Burma.  The new generation has now inherited its mission whether to fulfill it or destroy at their own discretion.

Sadly, the political condition of Burma does not seem to escape from intractable and inextricable militarization in both reigning governmental power and its oppositional revolutionary movements. Thus, a strong political will is required in order to forge an alternative paradigm of engagement. Trudging on this seemingly unending revolutionary road, it is fitting to be reminded that the first generation of revolutionaries, in the words of Malcolm X, “picked the gun up in order to put the Gun down.” It is admirable that the leaders of ethnic coalition hold on to this integral principle through the continued and concerted effort of NCCT (Nationwide Cease-Fire Coordination Team (NCCT), hoping to achieve meaningful political dialogue while the arm conflict and its dire consequences are escalating in Kokang region. We must hope that next NCCT meeting at the end of this month would bring irreversible step-forward not only for the Kokang region but also for the whole nation.