The letter received by the Norwegian Nobel Institute this week observed that ‘Millions of people identify themselves as a part of the Civil Disobedience Movement, and this nomination is an acknowledgement of all the people of the country of Myanmar who are fighting for their right to live peacefully in a democratic country’. Photo: Phoe Lone

Non-violent methods to fight the military, and now Nobel Peace Prize nomination

With their non-violent protests, they are following in the footsteps of the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King Jr. The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) has now been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. ‘The movement is extremely important for Myanmar’s political development, but the nomination and potential awarding of the Peace Prize is also an acknowledgement of popular movements at a time when democracy in a number of countries is under threat from authoritarian forces,’ says Professor Kristian Stokke.

‘The nomination is an acknowledgement of the Civil Disobedience Movement’s (CDM) struggle for peace and democracy,’ says Kristian Stokke, spokesman for six professors at Oslo University who have now nominated the CDM for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Professor Stokke tells Bistandsaktuelt that those who support the movement risk arrest, torture and death, but that they have nevertheless chosen to fight the military regime through strikes, peaceful protests and non-violent resistance in daily life.

‘Democracy in Myanmar was fragile, and was more like a semi-dictatorship. But there was nevertheless a political dynamic between the elected government and the parliament, the military and the minorities. This dynamic came to a brutal end when the military seized power on 1 February,’ says Professor Stokke.

He goes on to explain that the nomination is linked to the movement’s creative non-violent resistance, in which a wide and alternating range of means have been employed: boycotts and strikes, carnival-like mass demonstrations, music and art, elderly ladies banging on pans and young people taking to the streets.
‘Together they will take power from the military,’ says Professor Stokke.

For almost two months, people have been protesting against the coup by the Burmese army, Tatmadawr. A nationwide movement across ethnic and religious divides has seen daily protests that have been countered by extreme violence in recent weeks.

Workers and their trade unions launched a civil disobedience campaign and declared a general strike the day after the coup. Protests were organised by Myanmar’s Generation Z, and the CDM is now made up of a wide range of groups, including ethnic nationalities, women’s groups, workers, LGBT groups, artists, Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns.

‘The nomination of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) for the Nobel Peace Prize is a fantastic opportunity. It will give new hope to the people of Myanmar and bring their suffering to light as they continue to fight for justice, freedom and peace, despite the oppressive and brutal actions of the military,’ says Dr Sasa of CRPH (Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw - a national legislative body representing the ousted members of the Burmese Assembly of the Union; ed.).

The nomination states that ‘Alongside the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) and ethnic minority organisations (political parties, civil society organisations and armed groups), the Civil Disobedience Movement strives to create a united stand against the military’s divide and rule tactics’.
Professor Stokke believes that the military leaders have had a troubled relationship with the Nobel Peace Prize since it was awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991.

‘But, unfortunately, I am under no illusion that the army chief will change course due to this nomination.’

The six professors write in their letter to the Norwegian Nobel Institute that ‘There is a longstanding history of civil disobedience being used to oppose authoritarian regimes,’ and that several such initiatives have previously been recognised by the Institute. They point in particular to the Dalai Lama’s non-violent struggle for Tibetan rights and world peace, and Martin Luther King Jr’s non-violent civil rights struggle in the United States.

‘The CDM is of critical importance to Myanmar’s political future,’ says Professor Stokke.

‘But who is really behind it; who will show up at Oslo City Hall if the movement is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?’

‘The CDM is a far-reaching movement that is well organised, but it is not headed by a single leader, group or organising committee,’ says the professor.
She explains, however, that there are some key organisational players who can represent the movement.

‘The most prominent are trade unions and their leaders, Generation Z and prominent youth leaders, and ethnic civil society organisations that have played an important role since the coup.

Professor Stokke goes on to explain that the movement started in the textile industry, but that the idea quickly gained widespread support in the health sector, among public sector employees, and in the banking, mining, energy and transport sectors.

‘A seed was sown which grew into large mass demonstrations throughout the country,’ says Professor Stokke.

‘And it is this broad popular participation that is the strength of the CDM. Workers have refused to go to work, public sector employees have stayed at home, and young people have joined the ranks of the street demonstrators. In addition, ethnic nationalities have expanded their cause to include a true federal democracy. As such, the CDM has become an expression of the people’s struggle for democracy, and the military has become an enemy that has united the people across many different divides.

‘In recent weeks, we have witnessed war-like scenes, with burning car tyres, barricades and slingshot catapults in the streets of Yangon. Is the aim of the nomination to motivate protesters to continue the non-violent protests?’

‘It’s not up to me or other academics to tell the Burmese people what to do. We have a long tradition in Norway of responding with weapons when we ourselves are attacked. But this nomination is for the non-violent opposition to a violent coup.’

The nomination was announced the day before Armed Forces Day in Myanmar. Professor Stokke says ‘nothing would be better than the recognition of peaceful protests overshadowing the Burmese military’s macabre celebration’.

‘The power imbalance between the teenager from Generation Z who demonstrates by peaceful means and the soldier who shoots her is brutal, but shows the whole world who is right and who is committing an injustice,’ says Professor Stokke:

‘It’s time for an award for a popular movement, for ordinary people protesting against injustice, against a brutal military junta. The CDM reflects the importance of pro-democratic mobilisation at a time when democracy is under threat from authoritarian forces in many corners of the world, so this nomination is actually for the entire population of Myanmar,’ concludes Professor Stokke.

  • Translated by Carole Hognestad, for Akasie språktjenester AS
  • Original text available here.
Publisert: 26.03.2021 13.06.59 Sist oppdatert: 26.03.2021 13.06.59