Just over a month ago, I discussed the coup in Myanmar and what it means for democratisation around the globe. Sadly, when I wrote it, the story of the coup was already disappearing from the news cycle; now, it has all but vanished from the mainstream.
The disappearance of such a story from our news cycle is almost frighteningly routine. Since the advent of the 24-hour news cycle especially, popular opposition, such as that in the current case of Myanmar, needs the coverage to garner international support. When stories disappear, so does the support, save for a few retweets here and there.
As has been seen in the last month in Myanmar, this has devastating consequences.
Consolidating a Coup
Last month, I wrote about reports of state violence against protestors in Myanmar, when the movement was beginning. In the intervening time, coercion and violence against protestors has only increased.
From the 8th of February, police and military in Myanmar have been routinely using rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas in order to disperse protestors. Two protestors were killed and many more injured in Mandalay on the 20th. The violence of the crackdown continues to escalate – according to Human Rights Groups in the country, at least 18 people were killed on the 28th of February, and 38 on the 3rd of March.
To speak only of the violence is to say nothing of the internet blackouts, the information war, the regional clampdowns and the institution of martial law. Despite the overtures to democracy, as well as to other political parties, the Burmese Military (or Tatmadaw) seems set in its resumption of power following the Democratic Experiment.
Myanmar is no stranger to authoritarian rule by the Military. But, make no mistake, this time is different – it is a deliberate backslide from democracy. A backslide which, unfortunately, is part of a wider trend.
A Worrying Wider Trend
Why is the world becoming more authoritarian?
It is a question that sits at the back of politics, an implicit truth which we would rather not acknowledge. Myanmar is not just a tragedy; it is part of a crisis which has come to the forefront of global attention. At least, it did before it disappeared from our news, from our discussions, from our newsfeeds.
Multiple reasons are to blame for this disinterest, ranging from unintentional ignorance to scoffing at the goings-on in an “unimportant” country. Whatever the reason, not paying attention to this dangerous trend only serves to exacerbate it.
Myanmar was being praised as a major victory for democratisation in recent years. In 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi became the first democratically elected leader of Myanmar since the Tatmadaw established their dictatorship in the Cold War.
Now, Myanmar is well on the road to reverting to this authoritarian state - not to a dictatorship as we would classically envisage it, but to an authoritarian state with much more brand awareness. Democracy isn’t just dying – it is being replaced with a shroud of faked politics and forged elections that mask a stranglehold on power.
Democracy is retreating; this is something that should concern us all. It is not something that we can put off till later, not something we don’t need to care about now that “politics is back to normal” in the post-Trump era. Unless we all keep our awareness up and put pressure on these regimes retreating from democracy, the freedoms of millions will, undoubtedly, vanish.
This is not a struggle over theory, it’s a struggle for our future, for our freedoms and - for those caught up in situations like those of Myanmar, a struggle for life.
Alex is a Masters student from Portsmouth, finishing an MRes in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Glasgow. His main areas of interest are the Former Soviet Union, the politics behind COVID-19 Restrictions, and Authoritarianism, among other things. He has also previously worked with the HET.