Myanmar's citizens oppose military coup with pots, pans, and car horns

Screengrab from a February 3 Twitter video showing health care professionals in Myanmar holding cell phone flashlights and singing a revolutionary song in protest against the February 1 military coup.
Screengrab from a February 3 Twitter video showing health care professionals in Myanmar holding cell phone flashlights and singing a revolutionary song in protest against the February 1 military coup. © Twitter
8 min

While there have been few public demonstrations since Myanmar’s military coup on February 1, the country’s citizens have found ways to take action from home, organising acts of civil disobedience and online resistance to protest the takeover. The army seized power in an unnervingly smooth coup. It has since detained head of government Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically elected leaders, declared a state of emergency and imposed a partial internet blackout.  

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The coup occurred the day that a new session of parliament was set to approve the National League for Democracy (NLD) government that won re-election in November, led by head of government Aung San Suu Kyi. She and other leaders of the NLD, including President Win Myint, were arrested in early morning raids and detained in undisclosed locations. The military announced that 24 ministers and deputies had been removed, with 11 replacements appointed in ministries including finance, health, foreign affairs, and defence.

This February 1 Twitter video shows exercise instructor Khing Hnin Wai dancing in front of Myanmar’s parliament in the capital Naypyidaw, apparently unaware that there was a military coup happening behind her. On Facebook, she explained that she often films videos in this location. She also said that she made the video before hearing the news about the coup that morning.

France 24’s English channel spoke with “Brenda” (not her real name), an activist in Myanmar, about her experience of the coup and the resistance movement developing on the ground.

“Not everyone realised that there was a coup happening”

Monday morning [February 1, 2021], everything seemed normal outside — not everyone realised that there was a coup happening. But the military cut off telecommunications at around 6am, so we could not communicate with anyone. I think they’re trying to make [the coup] as normalised as possible… but we’re all scared of what will happen next because we’ve already experienced it before [Editor’s note: The military seized power in 1962, leading to 26 years of military rule]  — they cut off electricity and arrest people at night. That night, I couldn’t even sleep.

The next day, Brenda, along with other Myanmar residents, began mobilising in resistance against the junta. She gave details in an interview with the France 24 Observers team.

We’re responding with a civil disobedience movement. Since yesterday (Tuesday, February 2), we’re running a campaign of banging on pots and pans every night at 8pm, and we play our national anthem. In our tradition, banging on pots and pans drives away evil spirits, and we consider [the military] to be evil. Some people have also lit candles in front of their houses. Cars have even joined in the protest by honking their horns at the same time. 

We plan on doing this until we regain power for the people. It will remind us not to normalise the military coup in our daily lives. 

 

A February 2 Twitter video shows residents in Yangon, Myanmar banging on metal pots from their windows in protest of the coup.

 

A February 3 Twitter video shows residents in Yangon, Myanmar holding candles and singing a revolution song called “Ka Bar Ma Kyay Buu (We will not forgive until the end of the world)”. You can also hear the banging of pots in the background.

 

The second video shows cars on the street honking in protest against the coup as residents bang pots and pans.

“The number of people in the civil disobedience movement is increasing”

Aside from this audible form of nightly protest, citizens are also mobilising online, as public servants walk out of their jobs in acts of civil disobedience and internet users form online groups to support them.

The number of people in the civil disobedience movement is also increasing. Public servants are refusing to go to work and participate with the military. Some doctors are participating in civil disobedience and have stopped working at government hospitals, working instead at private clinics/hospitals or online.

We are doing crowdfunding for these people in order to provide them a salary. Some private hospitals are also helping patients from government hospitals free of charge. Everyone is trying to participate as much as they can right now.

 

Screengrab of a February 3 Facebook post of a crowdfunding initiative on the behalf of civil engineers, supported by four Myanmar businesses who say they will provide for the engineers’ salaries for 3 months if they choose not to work in protest against the junta. The image reads: “We are here together with all the public servants in civil disobedience.” Our Observer “Brenda” says that similar crowdfunding initiatives also exist for other public servants.
Screengrab of a February 3 Facebook post of a crowdfunding initiative on the behalf of civil engineers, supported by four Myanmar businesses who say they will provide for the engineers’ salaries for 3 months if they choose not to work in protest against the junta. The image reads: “We are here together with all the public servants in civil disobedience.” Our Observer “Brenda” says that similar crowdfunding initiatives also exist for other public servants. © Facebook
Screengrab of another Facebook group, “We Support Heroes”, organized by the Burmese singer Lin Lin to help provide food and shelter to protesting public servants in need.
Screengrab of another Facebook group, “We Support Heroes”, organized by the Burmese singer Lin Lin to help provide food and shelter to protesting public servants in need. © Facebook

We are also using Facebook and social media to shame officers and ministers who have joined the new military cabinet.

A screenshot of a Facebook post shared in the beginning of February 2021 about Dr. Kan Zaw, a rector from Yangon University of Economics who was appointed as the Head of Union Auditor under the junta. The post says that Dr. Zaw is no longer welcome on the campus of the university.
A screenshot of a Facebook post shared in the beginning of February 2021 about Dr. Kan Zaw, a rector from Yangon University of Economics who was appointed as the Head of Union Auditor under the junta. The post says that Dr. Zaw is no longer welcome on the campus of the university. © Facebook
One of the photos featured in the Facebook post above. It shows the sign of a road named after Dr. Kan Zaw, with the word “maggot” (used to call someone a traitor) graffitied in Burmese.
One of the photos featured in the Facebook post above. It shows the sign of a road named after Dr. Kan Zaw, with the word “maggot” (used to call someone a traitor) graffitied in Burmese. © Facebook

On February 4, Myanmar’s ministry of communications said that access to Facebook would be blocked until Sunday, claiming that users were “troubling the country’s stability” and using the platform to spread fake news. Access to Instagram and WhatsApp has also been restricted.

'Waiting for a signal'

Public protests against the military coup have been scarce, but Brenda says that might change.

Other than the pots and pans campaign, there is not much on the street… yet. But I think we have plans to go to the street and protest. Since Aung San Suu Kyi and the president are detained, we are still waiting for the signal from a leader.

The campaign is purely led by the people. It’s only been three days, so we are still discussing the long-term strategy. If there is no signal or no leadership, [we the] people will lead by ourselves.

On February 4, the first anti-coup protest took place in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city. A group of around 20 protesters gathered in front of Mandalay Medical University with banners, chanting anti-coup slogans.

This February 4 Twitter video shows a group of protesters gathered in front of Mandalay Medical University in the first protest since the February 1 military coup. The protesters chant: “release our leaders, may the military regime fail, get democracy, fight for justice”.