Myanmar : youth and symbols

On March 15th, the United Nations (UN) recorded at least 138 dead since protests began against the coup in Burma. The Tatmadaw — the name of the Burmese armed forces — came to power on February 1st after the arrest of President Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and real possessor of power. Raised during the democratic transition that the country has been going through for the past ten years, the Burmese youth largely supports the protest movements, unprecedented since the independence in 1948.

The fight of Generation Z

Since the coup, several thousand people have been demonstrating every day, especially in Rangoon, the main city of the country. Different social classes, religious representatives and ethnic groups joined the movement over the days of protests. However, another battle is unfolding not far from the streets. Social media, which became essential since the Arab Spring of 2011, once again have an important weight in the protest. On Twitter, this can be seen in particular with the hashtags #HearthevoiceofMyanmar or #RespectOurVotes. Generation Z, people under 25 years old, controls social media better than the military who are “late, [and] cannot interfere in this sphere”, Burma specialist Sophie Boisseau du Rocher explains to the French media Franceinfo. In response, the armed forces have taken direct actions : as the martial law is established in major cities across the country, the internet is cut every night, which allows the arrest of protesters.

The “Milk tea alliance” 

Among the various hashtags, the #milkteaalliance, used in every denunciation of military abuse, goes beyond Burmese borders. The term has been used for several months during protests in countries of South and East Asia and refers to local customs. Associated with drawings of cups of tea, it reminds of the popular way of consuming this drink in some countries : with milk in Hong Kong, iced in Taïwan, sweet in Thailand. The demonstrators’ aim is to point out these characteristics in order to distinguish themselves from China — where tea is consumed plain. This nod to the Middle Kingdom is not trivial. With #milkteaalliance, demonstrators intend to show their main objective : to defend democracy against authoritarian powers inspired by China. In Burma, the country of President Xi Jinping is also denounced for its feeble positions against the military junta. Several Chinese factories were set on fire in reprisal.

A dystopian future

Another symbol from popular movements in neighboring countries is used by the young Burmese. At each demonstration, the population raises three fingers to the sky. This rallying symbol is directly inspired by the Sci-Fi trilogy The Hunger Games. In these movies, a dystopian regime sends young people to kill each other in a game show. Here, the youth itself chose to fight and defend its freedom against the military junta. The symbol has become a reference, even for the political and diplomatic sphere. Burma’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, raised three fingers during a speech at the UN on February 26th after calling for an immediate end to the coup.

Despite an almost unanimous international community denouncing the illegal seizure of power, the military junta still represses its population.The armed forces, which own the main foundation of the Burmese economy, are today accused by many specialists of not defending the unity of the country as they declare, but rather its economic interests, challenged by the democratic transition.


Couverture : Image from © The Hunger Games (based on Susanne Collins’s novel) – Gary Ross – Color Force – 2012

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