“It’s not easy as a woman here in Myanmar,” said Hnin. “They have a lot of limitations and they shouldn’t [be a singer in a punk band]. ”

The tattooed 23-year-old stars in “One Day,” a new film clip from Myanmar’s leading punk band Rebel Riot, which delivers boiling vocals over a flood of heavy guitars.

In the background, punks in mohawks and leather jackets wave red and black flags and raise three fingers, a symbol of resistance that stems from the popular film series The Hunger Games and was adopted by Myanmar’s anti-coup protesters.

“We just wanted to create something that could inspire people,” Hnin told Al Jazeera about the clip. “This song is meant for this moment.”

Hnin met other Rebel Riot members during student strikes in Yangon in 2015. They started hanging out “and somehow I got a punk I guess.”

Describing itself as a community rather than a band, the collective is known not only for its music, but also for street-level social initiatives such as distributing food to the homeless in Yangon.

Hnin says that as part of Rebel Riot, she can share her voice, which she believes goes against what is expected of young women in Myanmar.

“One of the things is that you can’t get angry. You have to be calm, you have to be patient, you have to be polite, ”she said.

“But women are in trouble. They have things that they don’t agree on. That’s why we do this, why I do this – to show that it’s okay to be angry, explode, and be aggressive. “

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets since the military arrested civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and took power on February 1, the day the country’s new parliament was due to meet. The generals have declared a one-year state of emergency and promised new elections, but have not given a time frame.

Not only mohawk punks took part in the protests, but also young people dressed up as ghosts, superheroes, and anime characters. Marginalized groups, including the LGBTI community, have also played a prominent role.

“We’re trying to get the attention of the global masses,” Hnin told Al Jazeera. “We’re trying to do things differently. We try to be creative, we try to bring some flavor. “

Generational Democracy

Hnin said young people in Myanmar connect with the rest of the world through social media apps like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok and were inspired by similar protests led by young people in Thailand and Hong Kong.

“We have to look up to something. [What] The young people in different places around the world are doing it. And we can do the same. We can change things. I think they are really inspired young people [in Myanmar].

“Right now you see a lot of really young people in the protests. I can even say it’s pretty historical. Right now there is something special about everyone getting together and coming together and asking for one thing. “

Myanmar’s young people, who grew up with more freedom than their parents, have turned en masse against the military [Ye Aung Thu/AFP]Hnin said that in addition to democracy, Myanmar needs young people to get involved in politics. “So you have fresher ideas and creative ways. [Young people] have a more open view of the world. “

It’s a sentiment shared by Rebel Riot founder Kyaw Kyaw.

“Our generation is very different. [The government] I don’t understand what young people want, what the new generation needs. You don’t understand at all. “

Kyaw Kyaw discovered punk music when he was 17 after buying a DVD from the Yangon market. He said seeing the bands, the clothes and the attitude inspired him to create Rebel Riot.

He told Al Jazeera that punk music and the movement “are very important in Myanmar these days because punk is a rebellion against the system. We don’t want the suppressed system either. Punk is very important to the situation right now. “

It’s not the first time punk has intersected Myanmar’s politics.

In 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi called on the Russian government to release members of the all-girl punk group Pussy Riot, whose members had been detained for two years for holding an anti-government protest in Moscow’s outstanding Orthodox Cathedral.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was only released from long-term house arrest in 2010, said at an Amnesty International conference: “I don’t understand why people shouldn’t sing whatever they want to sing.”

But it may be that even the once-hip Aung San Suu Kyi has passed its expiration date.

The median age of the leadership of the National League for Democracy is more than 70 years old, although it remains very popular in Myanmar – as evidenced by the landslide election victory claimed by the military in November, which was rigged and used as a pretext for the coup.

Protesters are calling for the generals to release civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but analysts say the coup and massive protests show the need for a generational change in Myanmar’s politics [File: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]Army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup, is also on the verge of reaching retirement age of 65.

“For many young people, supporting the NLD was a compromise, but now they are making their voices heard,” said Ronan Lee, a scholar on Myanmar politics and author of the new book, Myanmar’s Rohingya Genocide.

“Before the coup, the leadership of the NLD was aging, so that young people can now expect a rapid generation change within the party.”

Time is up

The role of social media in organizing the protests was also noted by the military, which shut down the internet to suppress social media.

“Through the massive protests against the coup, the young people of Myanmar have shown the strength of their political engagement and their excellent ability to organize and mobilize large numbers of people,” said Lee.

“The NLD must embrace the young people in Myanmar and give them a meaningful voice in a future civil government.”

Whether punk rock will influence the outcome of the current political situation remains to be seen, especially in light of the threat of mass arrests.

Grammy-winning punk rock singer Henry Rollins told Al Jazeera, “I think Rebel Riot uses the vehicle of music to convey a message: punk rock in its purest form and optimally applied.”

After visiting Myanmar after cyclone Nargis in 2008, Rollins said, “It doesn’t surprise me at all that punk music would resonate all over the world,” including Myanmar, which has existed largely under military dictatorship since 1962.

He said punks have always been harassed by authorities, including himself, as the singer in the punk band Black Flag.

But he said the harassment of punks in the UK and the United States “has nothing to do with what fortune tellers and those who question established systems of authority such as Myanmar and Russia experience. Not nearly.

“The situation wasn’t so extreme that you risked arrest, and worse, because you only had one opinion. Rebel Riot or Pussy Riot brought a lot more to the line, at far greater risk than ever before, ”he said.

In 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi called on Russia to release Pussy Riot after two of its members were taken to prison. Myanmar’s punk groups are now demanding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the resignation of the generals [File: Sergey Ponomarev/AP Photo]”I think it’s great that these young people are making outdated and otherwise cruel and authoritarian power structures aware that their time is running out.”

Rebel Riot’s new clip comes to a crucial point in Myanmar’s history, but Hnin remains humble.

She said the band made the new video, “so people can see what’s going on and what we’re doing here and inspire people in some way.

“At the moment all young people are participating in the protests. You really want to change. I think everyone is hoping for that, ”she said.


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