Image: Sven Scheuermeier, Unsplash

Myanmar: The new generation of resistance

Anthropological expertise on the protest movements in response to the military coup in Myanmar

After the military coup on 1 February 2021, a broad protest movement has formed in Myanmar. Although the military has blocked the most common social media channels in the country, demonstrators have still found ways to share information and organize protests online. Which groups are currently forming in the protests?

Konstanz anthropologist, Professor Judith Beyer, highlights a special dynamic linking the generations within the protest movement: “The protests in Myanmar are an expression of the collective trauma experienced by the generations during fifty years of military dictatorship. This is what we see happening now in the special interaction between the generations”, explains Judith Beyer. The current protests link the experiences the older generation has had under decades of military rule with the digital know-how of the younger generation that grew up during a decade of partial democratic freedom.

“The younger people benefit from the older people’s knowledge of how to engage in civil protest under a military dictatorship. They share their digital skills with the elders, and enable them to take part in protests and even take on an organizational role to a certain extent”, says Professor Beyer: “Digital activism goes hand in hand with activism on the street”.

For years, Judith Beyer has studied the anthropology of the state, law and legal pluralism as well as practices of neo-traditionalization in Central and Southeast Asia. In Myanmar, she studies the role of ethno-religious minorities (Hindus and Muslims), statelessness and activism. At the moment, she is supervising two doctoral research projects funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) that study digital rights activism as well as the local punk movement in Myanmar.

“For many years, resistance to the military regime centred around the iconic figure of General Aung San and his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently under arrest. This is now changing. The form of resistance is no longer just a “family affair”, Judith Beyer explains: “The organization of protests is now decentralized, without clear leaders. It involves all generations and brings together very different groups. It all boils down to the rallying cry now resounding on Myanmar’s streets: ‘You messed with the wrong generation.’”

Key facts:

  • Professor Judith Beyer is full professor of social and political anthropology at the University of Konstanz.
  • Judith Beyer carries out ethnographic field research in Central and Southeast Asia and increasingly in Europe. Her main research areas are the anthropology of law and politics. Her current topics of interest are the state and statelessness, theories of social order and activism.