Teerachai Sanjaroenkijthaworn

Inviting you to capture the lessons learned from the over-365-day of the Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement through an exchange forum amongst the Thai young activists who continuously drive democracy and equality issues.

This forum was held at the Documentary Club & Pub as part of the “365 Days after…” exhibition co-organized by the Spirit in Education Movement (Myanmar) and the Documentary Club Thailand in which various branches of art were combined, including photography; painting; installation art; live performance and music telling the stories of people in all sectors and all ethnicities that happened throughout over a year after the coup on February 1, 2021 in Myanmar.      

Some photos from “365 Days After”
Some photos from “365 Days After”

This tough and impressive fight of the people both inside and outside Myanmar is an important inspiration for the pro-democracy movement across Asia, especially its neighbor country like Thailand. Over the past few years, the movement in Thailand has grown in terms of thinking more straightforward on dismantling what is behind the Thai political power structure than it has before. The suppression was heavy, even not as much as the case of Myanmar, but it can also be regarded as the fight against dictatorship as well…the lessons of the Myanmar people’s fight are therefore worth sharing; discussing; extracting; decoding as well as applying and developing on the Thai people’s movements and possibly also in other countries. 

How does the pro-democracy movement in Thailand feel, monitor and look at this revolt of the Myanmar people?

“Toto” Piyarat Chongthep, from We Volunteer (WeVo)

Toto, Piyarat Chongthep, from We Volunteer (WeVo) group who is one of the leaders of the Thai pro-democracy movement during the past 2 years told us that he has consistently monitored the situation in Myanmar since the coup d’état, he anticipated that this coup would surely happen as there were many signs. An obvious example was an attempt of the Myanmar’s military to claim that the last election in November 2020 in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) had a landslide victory was unfair, it depended just on when this coup will take place.

Toto also said that after the coup in Myanmar, he and the WeVo group have joined a rally in front of the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok along with Myanmar workers living in Thailand and were further charged adding to those they already had from their pro-democracy movements to oust the dictatorship and to reform the monarchy.

“I am a Thai who protested the Myanmar’s coup (but) got charged in Thailand by joining the rally with our Myanmar friends…I think that no matter where the dictatorship exists, we have to stand up against it”, he said.

Toto also added that many said that Myanmar people would be exhausted after a year, but he differently thought that, instead, they become stronger. It was just because this battle will take time, moreover, the fighting strategies have now shifted from symbolic protest in the streets to weapon using.     

“Pup” Kornkanok Khumta from the Milk Tea Alliance

Kornkanok Khumta or Pup from the Milk Tea Alliance, a loose political network formed to oppose China’s influence expansion, said that ASEAN activists including in Asia itself have already been contacting and discussing on different platforms and areas. They regularly exchange contacts and information regarding pro-democracy movement in each country, particularly in Asia.       

Pup added more detail about what the Milk Tea Alliance did after the coup which was to weekly update the situation in Myanmar and to also search for assistance and support as much as possible, for example, campaigning to ban several foreign firms investing in Myanmar in order to prevent them from generating income to the junta as well as issuing statements when major events happened such as the killing of protest leaders. After that, when the situation became more severe, there was a daily update.      

“We feel that Myanmar people are very strong and impressive, everyone was ready to take action and come out fighting. However, after the ruthlessly armed suppression, many of our Myanmar friends fled the country and that made us depressed”, Pup expressed her impression and sadness at the same time.    

What are the differences between the movements in Myanmar and Thailand?

“Nook” Watcharapol Nakkasem from the Society of Young Social Innovators (SYSI)

Watcharapol Nakkasem or Nook from the Society of Young Social Innovators (SYSI) stated that an obvious visible similarity of these political movements was the solidarity of the people in each country. Myanmar people started to care about ethnic peoples’ problems and feelings compared to themselves (original Myanmar) who are now being repressed and oppressed the same way that various ethnic groups have always experienced. More than ever, all groups of people have connected the problems and sufferings they faced together. While in Thailand, people are more welcome and open to each other on small issues such as the Bangkloi Karen indigenous group who fight for their rights to live in the forest, the opposition of Chana people to the industrial estate that would affect their fishery-related livelihood and the environment, etc. The root of these problems is an unfair and unequal power structure as well as a lack of decentralization.        

“I find that the recent fights for democracy have some symbolic connections such as the three-finger salute which was used as a symbol of the pro-democracy movements in Thailand, Myanmar and possibly including other places. Moreover, both countries have quite close connection in relation to culture and art, another similar thing of both Thai and Myanmar pro-democracy movements is their same goal in rejecting the oppressive power of the authoritarian dictatorships”, said Nook.

The representative of the WeVo group added on this issue that Thai people have to struggle with the more complex ‘state within a state’ condition than Myanmar which is complicated in terms of the central state – ethnic states, but not in terms of the governance. Myanmar people have to only choose between dictatorship and democracy, unlike Thailand which is under “deep state” condition with the people who are pro-democracy and those who support authoritarian dictatorship backed by the elite network. In addition, it is very difficult to make small issues go viral through activities in order to draw most people’s attention. Myanmar and Thai people, however, have the same purpose, but Thai process may be more difficult since the national structural issues must be raised through a united strong movement. Whereas in Myanmar, the people protest a lot on all issues and in all areas, it becomes then a matter that all parties jointly drive because they see the same problem.   

Furthermore, Toto also pointed out an important observation on the political movements in Thailand that having diverse opinions is a good thing, but it is on the other hand a weakness of Thai activists causing problems and discouraging each other, many of them finally chose to get back to their normal lives. But in Myanmar, people are much more unified, it can be seen that a lot of labors, government officials as well as all professional groups came out to protest and join the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) feeling that they could not give up.

“Thai people if quit, they just go back to eat at home and live a normal life, a home can be a place to lean back. This is not a case for Myanmar people, giving up means they could not return to see their families and a bright future anymore. Most of them therefore chose to take up weapons fighting against the military junta which is better than letting it rule the country as before”, Toto pointed out the difference.

He again added that one thing that has made Myanmar people join the big picture of the fight is their explicit enemy which is the Myanmar Army, they want the democratic side to be the government and many parties want a federal form of government. But for Thai people, they want democracy and monarchy reform at the same time, the goal may be different in this aspect. It was obvious that Myanmar people have tried to uphold the National Unity Government (NUG) because the majority of it came from the latest election. Although they did not have many resources, they were yet able to drive the works of this people’s government. But Thailand does not have a government in exile or a shadow government like Myanmar.          

After the coup in 2014, the Thai government has been very similar to Myanmar, especially in terms of its legislative and administrative structures since the Myanmar Constitution stipulated 25% of the parliament seats for the Tatmadaw. While in Thailand, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) occupied 250 seats in the parliament as senators, all appointed by the NCPO and most of them were members of the army.   

What are the reasons for the young middle-class Myanmar people got into the jungle taking up arms and became the People’s Defense Force (PDF)?

Toto commented that holding weapons was to protect themselves from the persecution of the soldiers, it was not mainly to kill the opponents. The situation will not be like this if the Myanmar Army did not use arms to suppress civilians and seize power in the first place. And when all other countries could not help protecting them, they must defend themselves. If not taking up arms, they will be killed anyway.    

Their fight was therefore not something to be requested, but the dictatorship made them rise up and fight.

What are the lessons that need to be considered and applied to Thailand?

Nook concluded that one thing he saw from Myanmar friends after the coup is that most of the Myanmar people are ready to die because they do not want to live under the dictatorship anymore…but for Thailand, it may have to be thought out and properly applied to the context. 

Toto, as a representative of one of the groups most likely to clash with the government use of force, thoughtfully concluded that “when the government uses force against us, peaceful means may be the solution, but sometimes it is not…ultimately, I believe that death cannot fight with dictatorship and want to secure our breath for future battles.”   

Pup pointed out that Thai and Myanmar manner of fighting differ in terms of physical; power and space, that is to say, Myanmar still has forests; resources; ethnic groups with their armies; weapons and they know about the fight throughout history. There is nothing like that anymore in Thailand, bureaucratic polity is able to control all areas, our movement therefore cannot do like that.  

“But the thing we learned from the movement in Myanmar and can be applied is asking what each sector can do (in the movement process). In Thailand, we still rarely look at each other, if we do not underestimate each other’s movement pattern and have a collaborative strategy, then each group follows such strategy to overthrow the dictatorship. One day, it might be successful to break down each power pillar of the dictatorship”, Pup interestingly wrapped up.    

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