Protesters in Myanmar “enchant” the police with creative forms of civil disobedience

Myanmar has seen weeks of popular demonstrations following a military coup on February 1, when armed forces arrested Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s newly elected leader, along with other members of her party. As the protests escalate, dissenters have been caught by scornful, scolding or “enchanting” authorities to express their dissatisfaction with the coup.

Protesters in Myanmar have been creative in their resistance strategies by using car horns or pots and pans to make a racket in the streets as a form of civil disobedience.

>> Read The Observers: Myanmar citizens oppose military coup with pots, pans and car horns

Creative ways of blocking the police allow Burmese to demonstrate while avoiding direct confrontation with law enforcement, which can have serious consequences, from arrest to injury to death. A protester was shot dead during a police operation in a protest on February 9 and died seven days later at the hospital.

‘We give a lame excuse just to block the road’

In a video posted on Twitter on February 19, protesters on Bagaya Street in Yangon circle an intersection, preventing police from passing and stopping traffic. Many of them stop tying their shoes at the same time, which effectively creates a blockage. “This is too funny,” the video writer is heard saying. “We tie all shoelaces in accordance with the law.”

At the same intersection, protesters threw papers in the air and then fought to collect them, thus blocking the street.

According to Kan (not his real name), a protester in Yangon, these forms of protest allow Myanmar citizens to resist the coup in a safe and effective way:

It’s very creative. I do not know who started it but it’s fun and it made me proud. I feel I have hope. This is not the only way to block the police, we have several ways: we pretend that our car engines have stopped and we only park on the main road. When the police will ask us to move, we say “Oh no, it’s broken” or “There is no fuel left.” We give a lame excuse just to block the road. People also cross the road again and again and circle around the road. The police can not do anything because they cross the road calmly.

My favorite thing is when people pretend to drop vegetables, like a big onion packet or sometimes rice. It spreads all the way and many people try to collect it and help but in fact they just make a mess. They even put it back in the plastic bag with a hole in the bottom so that it just drops again. We can come up with ideas to help each other and protect ourselves from the police.

In a Tweet published on February 17, pictures show “divided” vehicles that demonstrators used to block major roads.

Protesters are also driving slowly on highways to block traffic, as seen in this video posted on Twitter on February 18.

A video posted on Twitter on February 17 shows how people block traffic by crossing back and forth on a street in front of a market.

‘We think of new ideas, how to be safe, how to protect ourselves’

Kan says that these elements of humor keep the protesters’ morale up:

We believe that this is the only way that is safe and effective to go against the military coup and fight for democracy because it can stop the whole military government process. It is not easy to walk in a temperature of 35 degrees every day from seven in the morning to four in the evening. We walk, we shout, we sit, we sing a song, it’s not easy. But we still feel energetic, we still have hope. We think of new ideas, how we can be safe, how we can protect ourselves from military attacks such as tear gas, water trucks and how not to get beaten up, not to be arrested.

Scornful and barking soldiers

Unique, often humorous, protest tactics have also caught the world’s attention on social media. A video with more than 40,000 views on Twitter shows a man mocking soldiers in an armored vehicle that broke down on the street.

“I do not think they brought the manual,” the man says as the soldiers try to fix the vehicle. “Maybe they’re just learning to drive.”

Another protester also caught the eye of many Internet users. A film was filmed scolding young military men and expressing their dissatisfaction with the coup. Many online nicknames called her “Aunty.”

“I feel sorry for you,” the woman told the soldiers. “You are the age of my children.”

But for Kan, these types of confrontations with the military and police can be dangerous:

It’s good to be brave, it’s good not to be afraid of the soldiers, the weapons and the tank, but still we have to protect ourselves and be safe. We can not just aggressively talk and mock the soldiers. If they do not get any commands, they will not shoot or attack you, but if they do get a command to shoot you, they will do so immediately even if you still smile calmly at them.

Also, some people pretend to be on your side, but in fact they are on the military side. They will make you aggressive and you will mock them for causing a problem. It can create excuses.

>> Read more observers: Video shows a protester shot dead in Myanmar

Protecting peacefully and using civil disobedience tactics does not, in fact, guarantee protection against police and military intrusion. On February 20, police fired live ammunition at a protesting crowd in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, killing at least two.

Myanmar remains under a curfew from 8pm to 4am, and internet shutdowns have occurred since 15 February. According to our Observer Kan, these measures will not stop the civil disobedience movement.

People are trying all sorts of ways to get democracy, to fight the military coup. Even if there is only a small chance, we will try. We will continue to fight and not give up and we will make sure we get it.