The 4th of January is Myanmar’s Independence Day, but 74 years after the country cast off British rule, many people see little reason to celebrate.
In every year since 1948, Independence Day has been a major national holiday, with celebrations occurring all over the country, even during Myanmar’s long history of military control. But the coup last February that ousted a democratically elected government has overshadowed any warm feelings about the long-ago victory over colonialism.
“There are no celebrations here in Shwepyitha or Insein,” a resident of Shwepyitha township in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon told RFA’s Myanmar Service Tuesday. “No one in our community is celebrating at all. I didn’t even know it was Independence Day today.
“Besides, we’re not free.”
Since seizing power, the military junta has violently suppressed public dissent, killing 1,435 people and is currently holding 8,385 more in detention according to statistics from the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The junta, led by Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, took over the country on unproven claims of fraud in the 2020 elections, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy Party won in a landslide.
Now that Aung San Suu Kyi has been convicted of incitement and is serving a two-year prison sentence, the mood this year is very different from last.
“People are scared and are not daring to do anything at all because our political situation is bad,” Daw Shwe Moe of Yangon’s Tamwe township told RFA.
Last year, spirits were high across Myanmar on Independence Day, with widespread celebrations and optimism that the country was on a sturdier path to democracy.
“Independence Day is over. Though it is Independence Day, we are not free, so we will not celebrate,” said the Mandalay resident, who declined to be named. “Even under previous military dictatorships we have seen many Independence Days, but this year’s is the worst.”
The source said the streets of Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, were eerily quiet.
Celebratory events went on under previous dictatorships, but this year there has been nothing, a college professor who requested anonymity due to his association with the Civil Disobedience Movement told RFA.
“When we were young during the days of Burmese way to socialism, there were always events they held to make the people feel they were free even though they weren’t,” the professor said.
“There are two reasons why people are not celebrating this important day,” the professor said. “First, people have lost their independence and they are not happy at all. Secondly, the junta would not dare to go out and about in their military uniforms.”
Jubilant celebrations require happy people, and happy people are in short supply, Than Soe Naing, a political analyst, told RFA.
“Considering the various hardships, the people had to face throughout 2021, and how their brothers and sisters, friends and relatives and neighbors were killed or arrested and tortured, there is nothing for them to be happy about,” he said. “People are not doing anything today as they want to show their sadness in a country that is not peaceful and happy.”
The crisis in Myanmar has the country on the verge of collapse, analysts say. Widespread destruction from the armed conflict between the junta and anti-coup forces, combined with economic instability, paint a bleak future for the country, they said.
Junta spokesman Maj. Gen Zaw Min Tun did not accept the assessment that the country was on the verge of collapse.
“What is the definition of a failed state? I would like you to compare with other countries how they define it,” he told RFA.
“I just want to say that the SAC is carrying out in many places its own administration and judicial process in accordance with the rule of law,” he said, using the acronym for State Administration Council, the name the military government uses for itself.
But in areas that had been peaceful, people are now joining local militias that are part of the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) to fight against the military, and the destruction of the conflict is spreading.
“When we started our armed struggle, there was not enough money to buy weapons. We had to rely on locally made Tumee rifles,” said Boh Nagar, leader of the PDF in the Sagaing region’s Pale township.
“Now the enemy has had to change weapons from small arms to heavier ones and has started using tanks and planes to attack the people. We are responding to them with landmines and locally made long-range missiles and rockets.
“The battle is becoming more and more violent,” he said.
The Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security, a local research group, said about 61% of the country is embroiled in armed conflict. Before the coup, 65% of the country was peaceful.
“Insecurity is on the rise,” Min Zaw Oo, the group’s director, said. “As a result, security problems have exacerbated, but it hasn’t reached the level of violence like in Syria where cities were burnt down, and half of the country’s population had been displaced. We are a weak state but have not yet reached the level of a failed state.”
But an economist who declined to be named told RFA that Myanmar’s economy has never been worse.
“The World Bank has estimated that our economy will shrink by 18% following the coup. We think this could be very damaging. The economy declined by only 11% even during the 1988 uprising,” he said. “If you look at our country now, there’s no rule of law nor civilian rule here. Everything is going down.”
Investment from foreign countries is down. As many as 21 foreign companies have abandoned their operations the country, including those from the U.S., Germany, Japan, Norway, Britain, Australia, and several Asian countries.
“The country is headed for failure. Social services, businesses, education and health care are in total disarray,” political analyst Sai Kyi Zin Soe told RFA. “Cash flow is not in order. Social cohesion in society has been greatly impacted. There is very little opportunity for people to set goals and achieve success in life. All these issues are ruining the country. They are the hallmarks of a failed state.”
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.