Protesters in Myanmar ‘troll’ police with creative forms of civil disobedience

·5-min read

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 alongside other members of her party. As protests escalate, dissenters have been captured mocking, scolding, or “trolling” authorities to express their disapproval of the coup.

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

>> Read on the Observers: Myanmar's citizens oppose military coup with pots, pans, and car horns

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

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

In one video published on Twitter on February 19, protesters at Bagaya Street in Yangon circle around an intersection, blocking police from passing and stopping traffic. Many of them stop to tie their shoes at the same time, effectively creating a blockade. “This is too hilarious,” the video’s author is heard saying. “We are all tying shoelaces in accordance with the law.”

At the same intersection, protesters tossed papers into the air and then struggled to gather them, thereby blocking the street.

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

It’s very creative. I don’t know who started it but it’s funny and it made me proud. I feel like I have hope. This is not the only way to block the police, we have several ways: we pretend our car engines stopped and we just park it on the main road. When the police come to ask us to move we say ‘Oh no, it’s broken’ or ‘There’s no fuel left.' We give a lame excuse just to block the road. People also cross the road again and again, circling around the road. Police can’t do anything because they’re crossing the road peacefully.

My favourite thing is when people pretend to drop vegetables, like a big packet of onions or sometimes rice. It scatters all over the road and a lot of people try to collect it and help but actually they’re just making a mess. They even put it back in the plastic bag with a hole in the bottom, so it just drops again. We can think of ideas to help each other and protect us from the police.

In a Tweet published February 17, photos show ‘broken down’ vehicles protesters used to block major roadways.

Protesters also drive slowly on highways to impede traffic, as seen in this video posted on Twitter February 18.

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

'We think about new ideas, how to be safe, how to protect ourselves'

Kan says these elements of humour keep protesters' morale up:

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

Mocking and scolding soldiers

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

“I don’t think they brought the manual,” the man says as the soldiers attempt to fix the vehicle. “Maybe they are just learning to drive.”

Another protester also caught the eye of many internet users. A woman was filmed scolding young military men and expressing her dissatisfaction with the coup. Many online affectionately nicknamed her “Aunty.”

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

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

It’s good to be brave, it’s good to not be getting scared by the soldiers, the weapons and the tank, but still we have to protect ourselves and be safe. We can’t just aggressively talk and mock the soldiers. If they don’t get any commands, they’re not going to shoot or attack you, but if they get a command to shoot you, they will do it right away even if you are still peacefully smiling at them.

Also, some people pretend they are on your side, but actually they are on the military’s side. They will make you aggressive and you mock them to cause a problem. It can create excuses.

>> Read on the Observers: Video shows a protester being fatally shot in Myanmar

Indeed, protesting peacefully and using civil disobedience tactics does not guarantee protection from police and military crackdowns. On February 20, police shot live ammunition into a protesting crowd in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, killing at least two.

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

People are trying every possible way to get democracy, to fight against the military coup. Even if there is just one tiny chance, we will try. We will stay fighting and not giving up and we will make sure we get it.

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article stated that a protester in Myanmar was shot on February 9 and died seven days later in the hospital. In fact, she died 10 days later, on February 19.