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“We must win”: Call for help from our network in Myanmar

How are Humboldtians doing in Myanmar? “The situation is getting worse day by day”, writes the Humboldtian Chaw Pa Pa Oo from Yangon in an appeal for solidarity from Germany and the international community.

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Flagge von Myanmar, gehalten von Demonstrantinnen
Saturn-ähnliches Dekortationsbild

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Recorded by Mareike Ilsemann.

“We must win, we must win, we must win.” Humboldtian Chaw Pa Pa Oo closes each of her mails from the economic metropolis Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, with this sentence. It sounds as if she wanted to encourage and motivate herself and the people of Myanmar not to abandon their resistance against the military dictatorship.

My people are suffering greatly. People don’t dare to venture out of their houses. If they do, they risk being shot and killed by the military at any time. The military uses everything, rubber bullets, live ammunition and grenades. In addition, soldiers can enter our homes and arrest us at any time. Those who are unlucky might be found the next morning lying dead in the street. Brutally killed. Some families haven’t even gotten their relatives’ bodies back.

In the months since the military returned to power through a renewed coup d’état on 1 February 2021 and took the de facto head of government Aung San Suu Kyi and other politicians from the government party National League for Democracy (NLD) into custody, around 600 civilians have been killed according to information from aid organisations. The Humboldtian and mathematician Dr Chaw Pa Pa Oo was a Humboldt Research Fellow at the University of Heidelberg starting 2009. Her sister Dr Chaw Loon Thu is a physicist and began her Georg Forster Research Fellowship at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Konstanz in 2014. During the last weeks, both have been active in the Myanmar Civil Disobedience (MCD) movement and have engaged in non-violent resistance.

In front of my house there’s a police station that has been guarded by soldiers for three days now. We beat on pots and pans in admonition. They can’t stand it so they insult us and have shot at us. As a sign of protest, people in Myanmar are refusing to pay their taxes. So in retaliation, they rob us, steal motorcycles, cell phones, money and even food. My sister teaches at a university in Mandalay and engages in civil disobedience there. She had to go into hiding and didn’t have access to the internet. But she was able to call me. She is safe and is on the way to Yangon right now. Every time she comes to a check point, she will have to deny that she is a university lecturer because there is a black list for teachers. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, many teachers helped count votes and directly witnessed electoral fraud.  

Chaw Pa Pa Oo herself was the director of a preschool that had to be closed because of the pandemic. She wants to open it again once the situation has stabilised.  Once military rule has ended, she absolutely wants to return to the education field and work to advance democracy in her country. More than a decade ago, she applied for a Humboldt Fellowship on the advice of her doctoral adviser Professor Myo Thein Gyi, a DAAD alumnus. He was minister of education when the government was overthrown and was taken into custody for three days. Now he is back home but more or less under house arrest, Chaw Pa Pa Oo writes. She hasn’t been able to learn much about his condition during telephone conversations. The military taps phone conversations. Facebook posts are also monitored, but the internet is okay, believes Chaw Pa Pa Oo who expressly allowed us to use her name.

If we give up now, we have lost democracy forever. We have become so desperate that we dream of the UN, the USA, Great Britain, Germany and Korea sending troops to fight with us against the military junta. We believe in R2P - in the international community’s and international law’s “responsibility to protect” in such situations. When a state cannot ensure its citizens’ safety, responsibility for doing so passes to the international community. We will not cease to resist or go on strike. We will boycott the celebrations for Myanmar’s new year festival, the Water Festival. We will strike just like we held strikes over Easter and used Easter eggs to call people to protest. I appeal to everyone in Germany, my second homeland, to raise their voices for us. We must win, we must win, we must win!

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