Strife in Myanmar Curbs Traditional New Year Celebrations

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ASEAN Beat | Security | Southeast Asia

Strife in Myanmar Curbs Traditional New Year Celebrations

The coronavirus pandemic curbed celebrations for the past two years, and the military’s ouster of the elected government last year further smothered the holiday spirit.

Strife in Myanmar Curbs Traditional New Year Celebrations
Credit: Depositphotos

Celebrations of Thingyan, Myanmar’s holiday marking the traditional new year, were uncharacteristically quiet Wednesday, as the violent struggle for power between the military government and its opponents cast a shadow over the usual merrymaking involving the playful splashing of water.

Opponents of military rule, who have widespread support, urged a boycott of the celebrations organized by the government. The armed wing of the resistance reinforced that call by warning that it might carry out bombings targeting security forces in Yangon, the country’s biggest city. In 2010, at least 10 people were killed by bombs in an attack the military government then in charge blamed on a fringe opposition group.

But no major incidents had been reported by nightfall on Wednesday, the first day of the holiday.

Small nonviolent protests, some online, were carried out in several spots around the country against the army’s seizure of power last year.

People usually celebrate the hot season holiday by pouring, spraying, and splashing water in gatherings large and small. Many who have moved to cities for work return to their native villages to reunite with their family and relatives. The celebration is normally spread over several days and ends this year on Sunday, which is New Year’s Day.

The coronavirus pandemic curbed celebrations for the past two years, as it has in nearby Thailand and Cambodia, which observe similar holidays. In Myanmar, the army’s ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi last year further smothered the holiday spirit.

After peaceful mass protests against the takeover were put down with lethal force by the army and police, resistance turned into armed struggle, and U.N. experts now characterize Myanmar as being in a civil war. Urban guerrillas are active in the cities, and the military has carried out full-scale offensives against anti-government militias in the countryside to try to quash all opposition.

“We need to show that people are not quiet during Thingyan about their revolution, and that the military council is not allowed to rule at all. We encouraged people to carry out the Thingyan celebration with compassion for areas that are being raided by the military, rather than for fun or happiness,” said Nan Lin, a leader of the General Strike Coordination Body, a major underground opposition group.

In Yangon, the city government built three main pavilions in different neighborhoods and state television broadcast the official ceremonies. But residents said few people attended beyond those affiliated with government bodies.

It was evident from postings on social media, where complaints are frequent about repression, power blackouts, and an economic crunch, that many people were not inclined to celebrate the usually light-hearted holiday.

“I’m not in a mood to participate in this year’s Thingyan. My family doesn’t have plans to join the festival at a time when the whole country is in turmoil. And this festival is arranged by the military council. It is not fun and safe. I want to stay away from them,” said Ma Pwint, a Yangon resident.

In Yangon, an urban guerrilla coalition called United Alliances announced that bombings would be carried out across Yangon during Thingyan and urged people to stay away from events guarded by the security forces. Such groups have carried out targeted killings of people associated with the military and bombings of establishments with official ties.

Scattered pro-democracy rallies were held Wednesday, including in the north-central region of Sagaing and the southern region of Tanintharyi. Protesters including Buddhist monks carried banners with slogans such as “Revolution is not a festival,” “We do not accept a fun Thingyan,” and “Revolutionary Thingyan is the true voice of civilians.”

Resistance guerrilla forces claimed to have carried out attacks on the security forces in Sagaing, including in the city of Monywa, where the group “Monywa The Boys” said they had fatally shot a policeman.