Graffiti like these flourish on Burma’s walls. It reads "Free Burma" and "No to the 2010 elections". Photo published in 2009 by Generation Wave.
The Burmese opposition is gearing up ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in November. A Young Burmese man told us how he and other activists are expressing their dissatisfaction with the ruling junta through rap music and street art.
The Burmese people will head to the polls on November 7th, more than 21 years after Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition LND party won a legislative election ignored by the ruling junta. Although the vote has not yet taken place, international observers have already emitted serious doubts on its credibility.
According to Burma’s electoral laws, a quarter of existing seats in regional and national parliaments are reserved for members of the military, and more than 70 high ranking officers have recently left the army to run for office. Meanwhile, most opposition candidates were threatened and pressured into opting out of the race, or deterred by the exorbitant participation fee demanded by the electoral commission.
Three years after the "Saffron Revolution" of 2007, during which hundreds of thousands of opponents, led by Bhuddist monks, took to the streets, the junta still has a tight grip on the country. Some opponents have joined clandestine movements like Generation Wave, despite the risk of being arrested. The movement is made up of around 50 Burmese youths, aged 15 to 25, that have been staging multiple symbolic actions across the country. Although they describe themselves as an apolitical movement, they firmly support Aung San Suu Kyi.
Anti-junta rap and hip hop
"One day, the police came to my parent’s house to try to arrest me"
Bo Bo is 22. He is a member of the clandestine group Generation Wave.
I was forced to flee my country two years ago, because my ideas didn’t go down so well with the military secret service. I was used to discussing my political views with friends and family, denouncing how the junta violates the human rights of its citizens. But in Burma, it’s dangerous to express one’s views too openly. One day, the police came to my parent’s house to try to arrest me. I was forced to flee the country with other militants of Generation Wave, and cross the border illegally to Thailand.
"Young Burmese opponents cross the border illegally by groups of 5 or 10 to attend our training sessions in Thailand"
Since then, we have tried to organise Burmese youths into opposition movements. We hold secret training sessions in a house right by the Burmese border. Most young Burmese don’t know what their rights are, what democracy and human rights are – we try to inform them. They will only feel the urge to fight for regime change once they are aware of what is going on in their country. The young Burmese who come to our training sessions cross the border illegally by groups of 5 or 10. They run the risk of being arrested at any time.
The Generation Wave logo.
"We write activist songs to inform people"
We also use music and poetry to raise awareness in the country. High-school students and college students are naturally attracted to rap and hip hop, so we compose rap songs that denounce the regime, to inform people of the situation. We have a studio in Thailand where we record our songs onto CDs that are sold on the Burmese black market. The money we make allows us to record more CDs.
Graffiti and stickers are another way of raising awareness. Most members of Generation Wave are in Burma – they paint on walls, by day or by night, depending on the level of security, so as not to get caught. Sometimes I cross the border to help them.
Graffiti on Burmese wall reading "Free Aung San Suu Kyi".
Graffiti reading No Fear, with the signature 'GW', for Generation Wave.
"22 members of our movement are in prison"
As an activist, I have no future. I have no passport, no legal papers. Things are made even harder by the fact that I have to remain in hiding and can’t move freely. Sometimes, I can talk to my family over the phone, but I have to be careful because we are closely watched. 22 members of our movement are in prison right now.
I think that one day, we will succeed in overthrowing the military regime, and our country will be rid of its dictatorship. As the 2010 elections approach, we hope there will be more protests like those of 2007. I don’t know if it will happen, but I hope so. We’re ready for new non-violent action. Our goal is to inform people that the upcoming elections are neither free nor fair, and to convince them not to go vote."
Small poster stuck on the walls of public staircases or toilets in Burma. It reads "I solemnly declare that Than Shwe [leading general since 1992] has committed crimes. He is criminally responsible for the economic, public health and education problems of our country. Than Shwe is wanted by Generation Wave.
Leaflet distributed in buses. Photo posted in 2009 by Generation Wave .
Another Generation wave slogan.
Sign hung on a bridge reading "Change, new government". All photos published in 2009 by Generation Wave.