Coup, Conflict, and the Covid-19 Pandemic: Burmese Peoples Moving in Times of Isolation
Keywords:Conflict, COVID-19, Military Coup, Movement, Political Protest
This paper focuses on the political crises shaping Burmese1 peoples’ im-mobilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. As governments around the world urged people to stay at home to be protected from infection and transmission, throughout 2021 many Burmese people protested the military coup of 1 February and fled Myanmar for safety. I problematize these movements of the Burmese peoples through the complex interplay between the triple C of (ethnic) conflict, COVID-19, and coup. I contend that, in Myanmar, adhering to COVID-19 measures emphasizing (self-)isolation and immobility was impossible as they served the military to suppress peoples’ critique and protests regarding the government’s coup and its mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, Burmese peoples’ physical movements and political mobilisation were necessitated to fight against an ensuing political disempowerment of the people. In other words, the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic in correlation with long-standing ‘ethnic’ conflicts and a military coup required the Burmese peoples to carefully contest an internationally propagated so-called ‘new norm’ of self-isolation at home and other social distancing measures, which bore the risk of suppression and of renewing political isolation experienced since the country’s first military government.
A. A., & Gaborit, L. S. (2021). Dancing with the junta again: Mistreatment of women activists by the Tatmadaw following the military coup in Myanmar. Anthropology in Action, 28(2), 51–56. https://www.x-mol.net/paper/article/1534716903210946560
Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung, & Saw Eh Htoo. (2022). The fractured centre: “Two-headed government” and threats to the peace process in Myanmar. Modern Asian Studies, 56(2), 504–532.
Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung, & Noah, K. (2021). Myanmar’s military coup and the elevation of the minority agenda? Critical Asian Studies, 53(2), 297–309.
Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung, & Sarno, P. (2006). Myanmar impasses: Alternatives to isolation and engagement? Asian Journal of Political Science, 14(1), 40–63.
Aung San Suu Kyi defends Myanmar from accusations of genocide, at top UN court. (2019, December 11). UN News. https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/12/1053221
Aung Zaw. (2021a, April 8). 2nd #WhatsHappeninginMyanmar [online video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4iQrwWsgBY&list=PLqYHYoIK1xCWQYrtZk6ZbBEUz9hVYqScd&index=3
Aung Zaw. (2021b, June 3). 6th #WhatsHappeninginMyanmar [online video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31AOSbQ6QFU&t=2979s
Banik, R., Rahman, M., Hossain, M. M., Sikder, M. T., & Gozal, D. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh: What are the major concerns? Global Public Health, 15(10), 1578–1581.
Bociaga, R. (2021, June 21). Life in hiding: Myanmar’s civil disobedience movement. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2021/06/life-in-hiding-myanmars-civil-disobedience-movement/
Body of 'Everything will be OK' protester exhumed in Myanmar. (2021, March 6). Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-politics-victim-idUSKBN2AY08X
Brooten, L. (2021, March 29). Myanmar’s civil disobedience movement is built on decades of struggle. East Asia Forum. https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2021/03/29/myanmars-civil-disobedience-movement-isbuilt-on-decades-of-struggle/
Cheesman, N. (2017). How in Myanmar ‘national races’ came to surpass citizenship and exclude Rohingya. Journal of Contemporary Asia 47(3), 461–83.
COVID-19 vaccine was tested on Myanmar military personnel without their consent – sources. (2021, August 22). Myanmar Now. https://myanmar-now.org/en/news/covid-19-vaccine-was-tested-onmyanmar-military-personnel-without-their-consent-sources
David, R., Aung Kaung Myat, & Holliday, I. (2022). Can regime change improve ethnic relations? Perception of ethnic minorities after the 2021 coup in Myanmar. Japanese Journal of Political Science, 23, 89–104.
Davis, B. & Jolliffe, K. (2016). Achieving Health Equity in Contested Areas of Southeast Myanmar. The Asia Foundation. https://asiafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Achieving-health-equityin-contested-corner-of-southeast-myanmar_ENG.pdf
Drechsler, W. (2021). New development: Myanmar’s civil service—Responsible disobedience during the 2021 military coup. Public Money and Management, 41(7), 577–580.
Fumagalli, M. (2022). The next swing of the pendulum? Cross-border aid and shifting aid paradigms in postcoup Myanmar. Robert Schuman Centre Policy Paper 2022/8. Robert Schuman Centre, European University Institute. https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/74769/RSC_PP_2022_08_Fumagalli.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Grundy-Warr, C., & Lin, S. (2020). COVID-19 geopolitics: Silence and erasure in Cambodia and Myanmar in times of pandemic. Eurasian Geography and Economics, 61(4–5), 493–510.
Jolliffe, K., & E. Speers Mears. (2014). Strength in diversity: Towards universal education in Myanmar’s ethnic areas. The Asia Foundation. https://asiafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Strengthin-Diversity-Toward-Universal-Education-Myanmar-Ethnic-Area.pdf
Jones, L. (2014). Explaining Myanmar's regime transition: The periphery is central. Democratization, 21(5), 780-802.
Jordt, I., Tharaphi Than, & Sue Yu Lin. (2023). How Generation Z galvanized a revolutionary movement against Myanmar’s 2021 military coup. ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. https://www.iseas.edu.sg/wpcontent/uploads/2021/04/TRS7_21.pdf
Khanna, T. (2020). Addressing COVID-ified maritime migration in the Bay of Bengal: The case of stateless Rohingya boat people. Australian Journal of Maritime and Ocean Affairs, 12(3), 181–186.
Khin Ohmar. (2021a, October 21). 12th #WhatsHappeninginMyanmar [online video]. https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?ref=watch_permalink&v=601420454224502
Khin Ohmar. (2021b, September 3). 9th #WhatsHappeninginMyanmar [online video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlpO6jokZy0
Khin Ohmar. (2021c, August 3). 7th #WhatsHappeninginMyanmar [online video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0Scr4bC3Fc&list=PLqYHYoIK1xCWpRiwuT-btCBFbT8TDP2s4
Kobayashi, J., Aritaka, N., Nozaki, I., Aya Tabata, A., & Noda, S. (2021). COVID-19 control during a humanitarian crisis; the need for emergency response at the Thai-Myanmar border as an alternative channel. Tropical Medicine and Health, 49(33), 1-3.
Krishna, G., & Howard, S. (2021). Myanmar doctors are under fire from the military and COVID-19. The BMJ, 375, 2409. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n2409
Kyaw San Wai. (2020, May 1). Myanmar is having to weigh competing public health and socioeconomic concerns, all with an eye toward navigating the precarious civil-military balance. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2020/05/myanmar-and-covid-19/
Loong, S. (2023). Centre-periphery relations in Myanmar: Leverage and solidarity after the 1 February Coup. ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. https://www.iseas.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/TRS9_21.pdf
Moe Thuzar & Htet Myet Min Tun. (2022). Myanmar’s National Unity Government: A radical arrangement to counteract the coup. ISEAS Perspective, 8, 1–25. https://www.iseas.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/ISEAS_Perspective_2022_8.pdf
Myanmar fitness instructor accidentally captures coup unfolding [online video]. (2021, February 4). BBC News. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEHiTjViicE
Myo Minn Oo, Nilar Aye Tun, Xu Lin, & Lucero-Prisno III, D.E. (2020). COVID-19 in Myanmar: Spread, actions and opportunities for peace and stability. Journal of Global Health, 10(2), 1–4.
O’Brien, M., & Hoffstaedter, G. (2020). There we are nothing, here we are nothing! – The enduring effects of the Rohingya genocide. Social Sciences, 9(209), 1–16.
Passeri, A. (2022). Authoritarian rule and the weaponisation of natural disasters: The case of Myanmar from cyclone Nargis to the COVID-19 pandemic (2008–2021). Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs, 9(2), 280–300.
Peck, G. (2021, July 20). Imprisoned Myanmar politician dies from COVID-19. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/health-government-and-politics-prisons-coronavirus-pandemic-myanmar-3b753697317e898e3edd47b9edf6e7fc
Pedersen, M.J., & Favero, N. (2020). Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic: Who are the present and future noncompliers? Public Administration Review, 38(5), 805-814.
Prasse-Freeman, E., & Kabya, K. (2021). Revolutionary responses to the Myanmar coup. Anthropology News, 37(3), 1–2.
Shepherd, A. (2021). Myanmar medics resist military coup. The BMJ, 372, 368. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n368
Simpson, A. (2021). Coups, conflicts, and COVID-19 in Myanmar: Humanitarian intervention and responsibility to protect in intractable crises. Brown Journal of World Affairs, 28(1), 201-220.
Smith, Martin. 2007. Ethnic conflicts in Burma: From separatism to federalism. In A. T.H. Tan (Ed.), A handbook of terrorism and insurgency in Southeast Asia (pp. 293–321). Edward Elgar.
South, A. (2021). Towards ‘emergent federalism’ in post-coup Myanmar. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 43(3), 439–460.
Stothard, D. (2022, February 2). 20th #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar [online video]. https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?ref=watch_permalink&v=48696940280108
Tangseefa, D. (2006). Taking flight in condemned grounds: Forcibly displaced Karens and the Thai-Burmese in-between spaces. Alternatives, 31(4), 405–429.
Taylor, R. (2005). Do states make nations? The politics of identity in Myanmar revisited. Southeast Asia Research, 13(3), 261–286.
Thein-Lemelson, S. M. (2021). ‘Politicide’ and the Myanmar coup. Anthropology News, 37(2), 3–5.
Transnational Institute. (2021). No one left behind? COVID-19 and the struggle for peace and justice in Myanmar. Key points. Myanmar Policy Briefing 25. https://www.tni.org/files/publication-downloads/bpb25_web.pdf
UNHCR. (2021). Left adrift at sea: Dangerous journeys of refugees across the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. https://www.unhcr.org/asia/publications/operations/611e15284/left-adrift-at-sea-dangerousjourneys-of-refugees-across-the-bay-of-bengal.html.
Wood, D. (2021). (Social)mediascapes carved in blood: Digital performance and Myanmar’s spring revolution. Journal of Visual and Media Anthropology, 6(1), 31-38.
Copyright (c) 2023 Miriam Jaehn
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
For all articles published in ASEAS before December 2014 and after July 2022, copyright is retained by the authors. For articles published between January 2015 and June 2022, the Society for South-East Asian Studies (SEAS) is the copyright holder. Articles published in ASEAS before December 2019 are licensed under the following Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported. Articles published after that date are licensed under the following Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International. In both cases, this means that everybody is free to share (to copy, to distribute, and to transmit the work) under the following conditions:
Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
NoDerivatives — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.