To many historians, February 1, 2021, marked another dark day in Myanmar’s history. Throughout Myanmar’s tumultuous past, it has been characterized by three unified dynasties: the Bagan Dynasty (849–1297), the Toungoo Dynasty (1510–1752), and the Konbaung Dynasty (1752–1885), followed by a post-independence republic since 1948. The fourth era, which began with a civil war and culminated in a military dictatorship in 1962, has been marked by strife and division. On February 1, 2021, Commander-in-Chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and Sit-Tat made a grave error driven by their hunger for power and greed, sealing their own fates and halting the transition towards nascent democracy.
The February coup d’état launched against the elected civilian government has, in disguise, presented an opportunity for Myanmar’s people to uproot the military dictatorship, the root cause of long-standing crises and civil wars involving ethnic resistance organizations (EROs). This moment calls for the establishment of a fifth era in Myanmar, characterized by a genuine Federal Union, founded on equal participation by all ethnic groups.
The Spring Revolution emerged from peaceful demonstrations and the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) following the coup. The arbitrary arrest of elected members led to the formation of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) 1, an interim parliament on February 5, 2021. On March 8, 2021, the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC)2 was established as an alliance among CRPH, EROs, nationality-based consultative councils, allied political parties, civil society organizations, CDM, and demonstration groups. The Federal Democracy Charter (FDC) was drafted and ratified by the NUCC.2
On April 16, 2021, the National Unity Government (NUG)3 was formed as an interim government following FDC guidelines. On May 5, 2021, the People’s Defense Force (PDF)4 was formed by the NUG from youths and democracy activists, and on September 7, 2021, a “people’s defensive war” was declared by acting President Duwa Lashi La, officially launching a nationwide revolution against the military junta and the State Administration Council (SAC).5
Unlike previous uprisings since Myanmar’s independence in 1948 – which have included communist insurgencies, the Karen National Union (KNU) and other ethnic armed organizations, and the historic 8888 Uprising, the Spring Revolution is unique because it involves a genuine nationwide resistance by all ethnic groups, including the Bamar majority. It also has goals of ending the military dictatorship and establishing a system based on the principles of federal democracy, which recognize the rights of individuals to live as they choose.
With the support of Myanmar’s people, the NUG-ERO ethnic-democratic alliance has forged unprecedented unity and solidarity against their common enemy, the SAC. While uniting against the SAC is crucial, the ultimate solution for Myanmar requires a long march: a resistance against oppression, a revolt against dictatorship, a reconciliation of differences, a reunification of ethnicities, a reformulation of a new union with a new constitution, a rebuilding of this war-torn country, and a restoration of peace and prosperity.
The revolution has gained momentum, especially since the Brotherhood Alliance’s Operation 1027 and the coordinated military operations of democratic forces, which comprise battle-hardened EROs and nearly 500 PDFs and LDFs, in various regions, including Karenni, Kachin, Karen, Chin, Rakhine, Sagaing, Magwe, and SAC strongholds in challenging terrain.6,7
Many observers believe that 2024 could be a game-changing year in Myanmar’s political landscape, but this will only come to fruition if the revolutionaries carefully navigate the junta’s incompetence and weaknesses and avoid the political obstacles set by internal and external enemies that could divide their unity and derail their mission. It is crucial to remember that the military is a means to an end in a revolution that also requires political, diplomatic, and economic efforts.
During this acceleration phase, the revolutionaries must pay attention to the exit strategies of Min Aung Hlaing. Four possible scenarios exist: (1) bunkering in until Sit-Tat is defeated, (2) his removal by disgruntled subordinates, (3) an attempt to form an interim coalition with some self-serving EROs, USDP (a military proxy party), and opportunistic political parties, or (4) staging a sham election to claim false legitimacy with the help of like-minded dictatorships. Scenarios 2, 3, and 4 are more detrimental to the revolution, potentially leading to a negotiated settlement with the same culprits, halting progress towards uprooting the military dictatorship.
The corrupt generals and cronies are at the heart of divisive politics, the death of democracy, and the erosion of the economy. Returning to the old status quo is unthinkable given the immense sacrifices made by Myanmar’s people during the revolution.
The revolution faces staggering human costs, with 45 thousand killed, 25 thousand civilians arrested, 2.5 million of internally displaced people and refugees, and significant damage to residences and properties.8 The economy has suffered greatly, with GDP per capita 13% below 2019 level and public spending on health and education dropped from 3.6% to 1.8% of GDP between 2020 and 2023. Rebuilding and recovering from these losses will be a monumental task.9
As the junta continues to lose ground both militarily and diplomatically, they must resort to divisive tactics, including the spread of misinformation by Sit-Tat sympathizers and media lobbyists. It is essential for Myanmar’s people to stay focused on their common enemy and avoid turning against each other. While differences may be debated during negotiations, it is crucial to maintain unity in the pursuit of true democracy. Access to unbiased information is critical, and expectations should be tempered with pragmatism, patience, and perseverance.
The NUG has achieved historical unity and cooperation with the EROs through sincere dialogue. Leaders must embrace tolerance, flexibility, mobility, and adaptability to meet a plethora of demands with limited resources. The rigidity of old politics and doctrines must be transformed. While there may have been private diplomacy in negotiations with EROs, public statements about progress are crucial to demonstrate transparency and effective communication as well as to earn the trust of the people and the world. The NUG must convince sympathetic countries that they have a winning strategy and a clear endgame.
The United States should reconsider its current policy on Myanmar, and shifting initiatives to ASEAN to support democratic forces and provide humanitarian aid could be a wasted opportunity. China is also taking risks of continued regional instability due to its approach to the conflict in Myanmar. Providing substantial support to the resistance could shorten the duration and toll of the war. Both Washington and Beijing must acknowledge that the military is the primary source of instability and that failing to fulfill the aspirations of the Myanmar people will erode trust and mutual interests.10
Foreign observers should not oversimplify ethnic divisions or the fragility of previous uprisings. Constructive criticism is welcome, but it should be well-informed with understanding of the complexity of Myanmar’s history and the dynamics of the current movement. The people are determined to pursue a new political paradigm and nation, with empathy for the common adversity experienced by all ethnic groups. We have observed sincere political dialogue among resistance forces and the NUG, positive shifts in intercommunal relations, and unprecedented failures of Sit-Tat due to a corrupt and inexperienced military leadership.
While victory appears imminent, the challenges ahead remain daunting. The people initially resisted the junta’s brutal crackdown with resilience, and the revolution continues to defy and defeat a well-armed Sit-Tat with unwavering spirit and innovative tactics and fund raising. Simultaneously, Myanmar needs reconciliation among ethnic groups, political factions, and various sectors of society. The fractured union must reunite to establish a new democratic federal union with a new constitution based on the historic Pang Long Agreement of 1947. The new nation must reform the corrupt armed forces and central and local administrations. The war-torn country must be rebuilt to restore law and order, economic stability, education, healthcare, and infrastructure.
In the words of the Father of Independence, Gen. Aung San, “Every thought, every word, and every action that adds to the positive and the wholesome is a contribution to peace. Each and every one of us is capable of making such a contribution. Let us join hands to try to create a peaceful world where we can sleep in security and wake up in happiness.”. That “everyone” calls for anyone born in Myanmar and decent of all Myanmar ethnic groups. While Myanmar’s future must be shaped by Myanmar’s people, citizens of the free world are welcome to support Spring Revolution. The people of Myanmar must regain freedom, democracy, harmony, peace, and prosperity.