A Shared Vision? Reflections on the creation of unity in opposition in Myanmar’s civil disobedience movement since February 2021

Laiza, Headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation - Tom Sheahan

A Shared Vision? Reflections on the creation of unity in opposition in Myanmar’s civil disobedience movement since February 2021

Thursday, 17 June 2021 - 4:00pm
Teams Online
Tom Sheahan (BAFTA winning documentary producer)
Khin Ohmar (Burmese human rights activist and founder and chairperson of the Advisory Board of Progressive Voice)
David Moe (PhD candidate at Asbury Theological Seminary, USA, originally from Mindat, Chin State)
Martin Smith (Scholar, journalist, and adviser on Myanmar to media, non-governmental and academic organisations)
Mandy Sadan
Burma/Myanmar Events in Oxford

To join please pre-register by 8am on the day if you miss this deadline email asian@sant.ox.ac.uk -  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-shared-vision-maynmar-event-tickets-158549831815

Since the Myanmar army overturned the November 2020 election and asserted itself violently against the will of its own people in February 2021, the current political violence and social protests in the country are once again attracting international scrutiny. Attention has been focused on the way the civil disobedience movement (CDM) has unified people across the country, cutting across ethnic and religious boundaries. 

One of the recent features of the CDM has been the flow of young people from lower Myanmar to ethnic minority-controlled areas, where many of them are receiving military training from armed ethnic organisations, which have long been in conflict with the Myanmar army. In the process, these young people are learning about places, peoples, languages, and cultures of Myanmar’s border regions in person and often for the first time. For some young activists, the experience is providing connection and insight that enables them to feel more empathy with the experiences of oppression and violence that many minority communities have suffered for decades. Their understanding of what long-standing ‘ethnic conflicts’ have been 

about has changed, and with it their ideas of what the political future of the country could look like. Federalism has become a buzz word among a generation of young people who, until recently, were more likely to understand Federalism as a threat to the nation. 

Yet how deep is this unity? The political unity of the CDM has emerged in a very short space of time. Immediately before the military’s actions in February, those same armed ethnic organisations that are now being lauded as heroes of the new revolution were frequently distrusted as disruptive and backwards-looking forces; the country’s civilian as well as military leadership was being held accountable for genocidal actions against the Rohingya people by the International Court of Justice; populist sentiment often tipped into xenophobic outpourings in discussions of ethnic and religious equalities and rights. How deep, therefore, is the understanding of ethnic and religious minority concerns among a newly politically awakened urban youth population that now wants Federalism? If these understandings are still relatively superficial, what is required to make them deeper and more substantive? These important questions will be critical to the future of Myanmar but none of these issues is new. While the current situation is undoubtedly distinctive and has unique characteristics, it did not emerge from a vacuum of experience, and there may still be important lessons that can be drawn from situating these events in a longer timeframe. In 1988, there was a similar flow of young Burmese political activists to the border regions, where they sought support and training from ethnic armed organisations, often with poor outcomes. This seminar, therefore, seeks to understand the opportunities and challenges that exist in relation to developing shared visions of the future. 

Our speakers will bring unique and compelling insights into these and related issues from a range of perspectives.

Tom Sheahan is a BAFTA winning documentary producer.  His work has also been nominated for numerous awards including the Foreign Press Association Award, Rory Peck Award and One World Media Award.  His films about the civil war in Syria and the migrant crisis in Libya were screened in the European Parliament, the Institute of Foreign Affairs (Chatham House) and the House of Commons, where they resulted in an early day motion on the treatment of Libyan refugees.  He spent two years living and working in Karen areas of eastern Burma between 1990 and 1993 before studying anthropology in London University's School of Oriental and African Studies.  He has been making films with the people of Burma for over twenty years for broadcasters including BBC ITV Channel 4 and Five.  His latest project is a collaboration with Burmese filmmakers for Al Jazeera about members of the civil disobedience movement arriving in Karen and Kachin States. 

Khin Ohmar is a Burmese human rights activist and founder and chairperson of the Advisory Board of Progressive Voice, a human rights research and advocacy organization in Myanmar. In 2008 she won the Ann Lindh Prize and was joint recipient with the Shan Activist Charm Tong of the Vital Voices Global Leadership Award for her work on human rights in Myanmar. 

David Moe is a PhD candidate at Asbury Theological Seminary, USA. He is originally from Myanmar, a Buddhist dominant country with an ethnic Chin Christian minority background in Southeast Asia. His research interests are the intersections between Buddhist nationalism and ethnic conflict and Asian public theology of religions, liberation, and reconciliation. He has published numerous scholarly articles. He serves on four editorial teams of International Journal of Public TheologyJournal of Religious Studies and Intercultural TheologyMissiology: An International Review, and Asian American Theological Forum. He has been actively participating in the protests against the military coup as a public speaker and as a panel speaker at some universities, including, recently, Harvard University's Religion and Public Life Program in the US and Yonsei University in South Korea

Martin Smith has researched and reported about Burma/Myanmar since the early 1980s for a variety of media, non-governmental and academic organisations. His publications include Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity, Ethnic Groups in Burma: Development, Democracy and Human Rights, Fatal Silence? Freedom of Expression and the Right to Health in Burma, State of Strife: The Dynamics of Ethnic Conflict in Burma and Arakan (Rakhine State): A Land in Conflict on Myanmar’s Western Frontier. His television work includes the documentaries Dying for Democracy (Channel Four, 1989) and Forty Million Hostages (BBC, 1991).

To join please pre-register -  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-shared-vision-maynmar-event-tickets-158549831815