Sebastian Taylor: A story from Myanmar

In Jeroen’s Breakfast Brief, Solidaridad Executive Director Jeroen Douglas listens to people who bring an interesting perspective forward in relation to the topic of sustainable supply chains. In this episode, he speaks with Sebastian Taylor, Country Manager for Solidaridad Thailand.

Security reasons impeded publishing our podcast with Sebastian Taylor on the situation in Myanmar recorded in early March. Today Sebastian looks back on what happened and where to go from here. Does a boycott make sense, and is there something like an Asian version of human rights? Listen and find out how a major shift in life happens in the blink of an eye. 

On 9 March, 2021, I had an enthralling discussion with Sebastian Taylor—Solidaridad Country Manager for Myanmar. From his apartment balcony in Yangon, he was giving me a live impression of the people’s protests against the militaries of the new Myanmar regime.

Sebastian: “Around 8:00 PM, we have the start of a curfew here. And that is accompanied usually by half an hour of banging of pots and pans, which is a sort of traditional show of defiance. It’s also a symbolic gesture to drive out evil.

And then within, under an hour or so we had the arrival of the army. So they then come down the street, essentially dismantling the barricades and they fire off shots …. it’s almost comical the level of sort of thuggish imagery or bullying tactics they use. So they then occupy the street for a while, shining their flashlights and occasionally firing off shots.

When people hear and shout at them, then they move on and within two minutes, People were outbuilding the barricades within five minutes, the streets were full of people against thinking songs in defiance and, shouting and sharing and then all over again, of course, an hour later or half an hour later, the military rolls back in again.

That’s what it’s like. And when they fire a shot, everyone cheers sarcastically. So it’s a mix. Really have this sort of them, as I say, like thuggish and immature or display of bullying, from the military and the police here, but then also this, quite amazing display of defiance and dissent from the population, which has just been swelling now for four weeks or over four weeks.”

The atmosphere was tense, even somewhat adventurous, as we felt to be part of a successful non-violent opposition. The Coup was only 5 weeks underway. 

In hindsight, I learnt today, the days from 8 till 12 March were actually the turning point days. Militaries became much more violent, threatening and actually executing increased violence. To date, more than 1,000 innocent civilians killed, and over 5,000 detained. The hardening of the militaries has shattered hope to a quick ending of this brutal violation. China remains silent, internal military opposition limited, and the arrested Aung San Suu Kyi is now in military trials trying to overcome conviction, but the odds look very poor. Soon, it looks like her political career will be forever history.  

I asked Sebastian: “Are we facing a different kind of human rights here? Is Asia developing its own paradigm for sustainability, non-democratic? “

My questions were too broad, obviously, and Sebastian pointed out the complexity the society is facing with its multidimensional—ethnic, historic, economic, social,  geographical—components; it is not so easy to make a comprehensive and simple analysis here.

Sebastian: “In fact, now in London, escaped from the scene some six weeks back, it only now is sort of sinking in what all happened. It’s quite saddening to see that there is no space for any broader dialogue with civil society. Mobile data was cut off, restored after a while with new mobile services bringing a brand new concept of ‘white listing’: the regime only allows you to a thousand-odd websites, nine of them allowing the population to be engaged with international news sites, social media or other potential threats to the regime. 

The good thing is that I will start working from Bangkok as of mid-August, if Covid allows me to, starting up our offices there. Like in the old military days, many development workers reached out to Myanmar from Bangkok. It also gives me the opportunity to support the remaining Solidaridad staff in Myanmar that do not have this luxury I have.”

Sebastian, gladly, has Solidaridad in his DNA.

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