The atmosphere in Burma has shifted over the last few days, with an eerie silence falling on the main cities and towns today. Silent protests are taking place across the country, with people staying at home behind closed doors, in a new form of defiance against the military coup. The results are very spooky, and some say that this is the calm before the storm.
This silence follows continued chaos over the past few days. Towards the end of last week, huge unrest continued with mass-shooting in the factory district of Hlaing Tharyar, and continued aggression against protestors across the country.
Artists have been targeted, their paintings destroyed, and art spaces have been forced to close for the safety for their artists. This isn’t a new approach; under the previous military rule, strict censorship of art was in place. Even the use of red in paintings was illegal at one point. So it isn’t unimaginable for similar restrictions to return.
Prominent journalists continue to be arrested, including a BBC journalist, Aung Thura. He was released on Monday, but others still remain in prison.
Hospitals continue to be targeted, including a specialist maternity and newborn care hospital, again with the intention of terrifying people into submission.
Videos abound on Tiktok of soldiers threatening and making fun of civilians, forcing them to remove barricades and people-less protest materials on their hands and knees at gunpoint.
There are fewer reported deaths than last week, but the most shocking are making it into the media; a 15 year old boy and 7 year old girl were killed in their homes in the last few days.
Protests in major cities have become smaller and more sporadic due to repeated brutal crackdowns; partly due to the fact that just being in the street is too dangerous, and partly due to military forces being redeployed out of cities into rural areas where fighting with ethnic armed organisations has intensified. However due to continued internet blackouts, reports from these areas have diminished.
There has been an exodus from Yangon with residents seeking safety in the villages, and many embassies (including British) have advised foreign nationals to get out.
Rumours are circulating about impending civil war. Isolated violence against the military has begun; police housing was attacked in Shan State and soldiers have been found dead in Kayah State. Members of the ousted elected government have formed a proxy government (the CRPH) and are aligning themselves with ethnic armed organisations. This has been welcomed by people hoping for the creation of a federal state and federal army.
Today's silent protests have been criticised by some for the risk that they are translated as submission to the junta. Either way, images of the usually-bustling main intersections and markets of cities and towns totally empty are very strange to see.
The Civil Disobedience Movement continues, with the large majority of workers refusing to go back to work despite demands from the military for them to do so. Many have lost their jobs and homes as a result. The military has grown more aggressive in their demands for private banks to reopen, but so far with little effect. Only the state-run bank, Myanma Economic Bank, and military-owned Innwa Bank have opened. The rest are weighing up the prospect of nationalisation if they don’t open soon, a notion which critics dismiss as an empty threat, as in practice the military wouldn’t have capacity to run them.
Unless the banks open soon, a severe banking crisis is looming, which was the primary aim of the CDM. A lack of physical cash is causing major headaches, as most people are holding onto cash, taking it out of circulation. Therefore when the banks do open, they may not have the physical cash to deliver to customers when needed, as so much of it is hiding under mattresses all over the country. However, whether this serves to dismantle the military as was the aim, remains to be seen.
The military continue to support their reasons for the coup and to prepare to charge Aung San Suu Kyi and her party for alleged crimes of corruption. However her court hearing has been delayed until April 1st, again citing “technical complications”.
In the meantime, a video has been released by the military purporting to show the Yangon Chief Minister confessing to gifting $600,000 and 10 kilograms of gold bars to Aung San Suu Kyi. If true, this would amount to illegal payments and confirmed corruption, but it is widely believed to be fake.
Internationally, the EU have imposed sanctions on 11 individuals, and the US have sanctioned the police force, two Burmese army divisions and a senior army commander. However critics say this is ineffective as travel bans and asset freezing will have a negligible impact on these people who likely have minimal foreign assets and no intention to travel anyway. Many are calling for targeted sanctions against military owned conglomerates, which would have a far greater impact.
In more positive news, 700 students were released this morning having been detained since 3rd March. Over 2000 still remain in prison.
And in an odd development, COVID vaccines are suddenly available at centres across the country. Anybody can turn up and receive the jab by presenting their ID. People were initially nervous, fearing forced allegiance to the military or similar, but this appears to have been conjecture.
Finally, although purportedly unrelated, a devastating fire in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar has gutted 900 shanty houses, and homes to about 7400 refugees. This is the third devastating fire in recent weeks. Some say that the frequency of these fires is too coincidental given the wider situation in Myanmar, but reporting is thin, as has been the case across Rakhine State since the coup on February 1st.
We will continue to update you weekly by email with what is happening.
Meanwhile, our fourth in a recent series of blog posts focussing on the country beneath the barricades, is a reminder of what we're doing as an organisation. The most pragmatic way that we can help our makers and colleagues navigate the current situation, and whatever future it brings, is to continue to order from our makers and to provide stability and meaningful livelihoods despite the chaos. We will continue to do so for as long as we can. Here is an insight into what happens behind the scenes to get the products from our makers to your homes. Click on the photos to find out more.
If you are looking to make a donation, Doh Eain's I Donation goes directly to families struggling to feed themselves at the moment and is being run and managed by our friend Emilie, so we can personally vouch for where the money is going.
And for more information, visit Frontier Myanmar, a brilliant independent local news organisation, and consider signing up for membership. They need all the support they can get.
As ever, buying from our makers is a totally direct way to help. We are continuing to place orders with them to replace our daily sales, which will be providing some stability amongst the chaos.