Few days ago my friends in Myanmar woke up to terrible and shocking, though sadly not surprising, news. The military, called the Tatmadaw, and its commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing have staged a coup. They have arrested the country’s elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party and put them under house arrest. It looks like the generals and former military regime cronies have become so afraid of not losing control, so anxious about the future and so humiliated by a landslide election defeat that the only option is to trample the will and the dreams of the people of Myanmar. AGAIN.
One metaphor keeps coming to my mind as I try to formulate a cognitive response to this horrible turn of events. I look at very first Peaceroads post, titled “Burma road…” and the banner photo of my website. The photo was taken in Yangon in 2015 on the famous Yangon Circular Railway which is the local commuter rail network, serving the Yangon metropolitan area. It is 46 km long loop with 39 stations, connecting satellite towns and suburban areas to the city. It took about three hours to complete the journey – passing by green fields with hard working farmers, people selling the produce at every station, small factories and makeshift settlements, low-income commuters filling our car and many of them falling asleep…
I think of Burma road which now feels like a “circle”. As if the past 5 years of the experiment with small steps toward a more democratic and dignified way of life for the vast majority of people is turning out to be a circular track. When most people inside and outside of Maynmar thought that this train slowly and painfully left the military regime days ”behind”, the tracks were suddenly diverted by a railroad switch. Where is its destination now? Is it about to make a full loop, forcefully bringing everyone “back”?
My friends from Myanmar are posting daily on social media. The internet gets blocked from time to time and the military is certainly trying to stop the people from communicating freely and from using any platforms to organize acts of civil protests. I look at the photos from the growing peaceful demonstrations, I read about the nightly beating of pots and pans in protest and I pray. Asking God for the politics of hope and freedom to triumph in Myanmar over the politics of despair and totalitarianism.
Tonight I saw a post with the news everyone is dreading. Will the military turn its brutal force and weapons on the people its supposed to protect? One young life of a 19 year old girl shot is already one too many. One police officer, who has joined the protests, cries while addressing the crowd of protestors… Well, we all know that “men don’t cry” in general, but the Myanmar police officers are certainly not supposed to cry in public. It feels like a volcano of long suppressed emotions bursting out of this man’s eyes.
There is something else obviously and powerfully bursting in Myanmar. Something that witnesses to the “moral arch of universe” in the the famous words of M.L. King. It is the rising of hope. People protest in the streets with hope, raise awareness around the world with hope, ask for prayers with hope. Hope is the existential dimension for flourishing life.
Hope is not just optimism or positive thinking. There is nothing optimistic in the very real intentions of the military junta to have their way. There is nothing optimistic in China using its veto in the Security Council to block any resolution which would condemn this coup. There is nothing optimistic in ASEAN countries turning their eyes away and calling it an ” internal matter”.
As theologian Wlater Brueggemann defines, “Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality [..] and one does that only at great political and existential risk. On the other hand, hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present.” Even as I write these lines, I remind myself how important is the solidarity in subversive hope. My dear friends in Myanmar, brothers and sisters in Christ, you have taught me so much about the power of hope through these years. The journey continues and you are certainly not alone.