Families ruptured by junta observe Harvest Moon Festival with heavy hearts

Many loved ones in Myanmar are absent this year because they are detained, on the run, or were killed by the military.

Families ruptured by junta observe Harvest Moon Festival with heavy hearts

Families across Myanmar marked the October Harvest Moon Festival on Wednesday with heavier hearts this year amid the brutal crackdowns, arrests and detentions that have followed the military’s February coup.

In accordance with Buddhist tradition, the Thadingyut Festival is a time when people usually visit with parents and elderly relatives to pay their respects and offer financial assistance. This year, more than last, celebrants ventured out to the nation’s major pagodas to observe associated religious ceremonies, despite the continued threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

But for the first festival under military rule, gatherings were noticeably muted, with many families suffering from a sense of loss because a loved one is on the run, in detention, or even dead because of the junta. Few were the colorful lights and lanterns typically on display in homes, as were bustling local fairs where families would stroll together, eating treats and buying toys.

Nearly nine months after the military’s Feb. 1 coup, security forces have killed 1,181 civilians and arrested at least 7,086, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners—mostly during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.

The junta says it unseated the NLD government because, they claimed, the party had engineered a landslide victory in Myanmar’s November 2020 election through widespread voter fraud. It has yet to present evidence of its claims and public unrest is at an all-time high.

On Monday, the junta released 5,636 political prisoners in what observers said was a bid to ease pressure from ASEAN and the international community—claims it has denied. Hundreds remain behind bars and many of those who have been freed report enduring torture at the hands of their captors, often as part of a bid to extract false confessions during interrogation sessions.

On Wednesday, Htay Win from Kyonkhamon village, in Ayeyarwady region’s Zalun township told RFA’s Myanmar Service about his 33-year-old son, Raza Min, who was shot dead on March 3 by security forces during an anti-junta protest in Yangon’s North Okkalapa township.

Htay Win said that Raza Min returned home from Yangon every year for Thadingyut and that the festival would never be the same without him.

“I miss him every day,” he said, adding that he had been relying on his son’s offerings this time of year for financial support in his old age.

“Every night when I pray to God, I offer him an equal share of my merits. I think of him all the time.”

Htay Win’s sadness was echoed by Thin Thin, whose husband—30-year-old laborer Tin Htut Hein—was killed by a soldier’s bullet on Feb. 21 while guarding a security checkpoint in Yangon’s Shwepyithar township.

She told RFA about how difficult it was explaining to her five-year-old son why his father was absent on Thadingyut.

“We usually visit our parents on both sides for Thadingyut, but it’s different this year because he is not here,” Thin Thin said.

“We have a thousand lanterns and a thousand flowers celebrations in our neighborhood, and we would always go there to enjoy snacks and buy toys. Families would walk around freely as there was no coronavirus then. But now that he’s gone, we don’t feel like going anywhere,” she said.

“My son often asks about him. He thinks his father is coming back.”

Detained or in hiding

Others told RFA their traditions had been upended because their family members had been detained or sent to prison for anti-junta activities.

San San Aye’s four sons Shwe Ngar, Khaing Myeh, Soe Pyi Aung and Aung Myo Lin were arrested last April on charges of murder and sentenced to death in September before being transferred to prisons in Mandalay, Taungoo, Myingyan and Kyaikmaraw.

She told RFA that every Thadingyut her sons pay their respects to their grandmother, and this year they sent letters to her from prison, unaware that she had died three months ago.

“Every year at Thadingyut, my sons would pay homage to their grandmother and parents with their savings,” San San Aye said.

“In their letters, they said they wouldn’t be able to come in person to her this year and sent their respects from afar, but their grandmother already passed away,” she said, adding that she hadn’t informed them about her mother’s death because she didn’t want to upset them.

“Of course, I’d like to see all my children at Thadingyut. I had expected to see them, and now I am heartbroken.”

RFA also spoke with poet Maung Moe Pwint, who has been in hiding after authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of “defamation.”

He said that for Thadingyut he usually visits with his siblings but couldn’t this year because he is on the run and was even unable to attend the funeral of his sister who died recently.

“Every year, I would exchange gifts with my sister at Thadingyut and even if we couldn’t see each other, we would send the gifts to one another,” he said.

“Now that she is gone, I have nothing but sadness. I can’t even eat since I heard the news of her death.”

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 1,989 people have been separated from their families after being issued arrest warrants for their involvement in anti-junta protests.

‘My thoughts are on the revolution’

Some of the younger people RFA spoke with in cities including Yangon and Mandalay said that while they are sad to be separated from their families during Thadingyut, it is more important to show united opposition to the junta and work towards removing the military from power.

A high school student in Mandalay who has been in hiding told RFA on condition of anonymity that he hoped to be able to reunite with his family for the festival in 2022.

“I paid respects to my parents over the phone this year because I cannot go to see them in person,” he said.

“If the dictatorship is over this year, I will be with my family next year and we will enjoy each other’s company again. But right now, my thoughts are on the revolution. Wherever I am and whatever I’m doing, there is a revolution to be fought, even during Thadingyut.”

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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China’s claim to practice ‘democracy’ is bid to undermine concept: analysts

Commentators say the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping is pirating the term to boost its international image.

China’s claim to practice ‘democracy’ is bid to undermine concept: analysts
Recent claims by Chinese leader Xi Jinping that China has its own brand of "democracy" are a bid to water down the concept, and minimize its ideological power against the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party (CCP), analysts told RFA.

As the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden announced plans for a conference in December to "defend democratic values," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin hit out at the exclusion of authoritarian regimes, saying the U.S. shouldn't be allowed to claim ownership of the term.

"One should not try to turn democracy into Coca-Cola, which tastes the same across the world with the syrup produced by one country, and deprive countries of the right and freedom to explore their own democratic path, in total disregard of the diversity of history, culture, social system and development stage of countries," Wang told an Oct. 19 news conference in Beijing.

Wang also accused the U.S. of "inciting division and confrontation in the international arena and pushing the world back to the Cold War" in the name of democracy.

"It will only bring turbulence and chaos to the world and undermine the peace and development of mankind," he said.

Wang's diatribe comes after CCP general secretary Xi Jinping claimed democracy as "a key tenet" of his party's regime, and called for improvements to the nationwide system of People's Congresses, which run "elections" to choose representatives from a carefully controlled slate of CCP-backed candidates.

Analysts said Xi's used of the term to describe life under one-party rule by the CCP is deliberate.

"Xi Jinping and the CCP are attempting to essentially pirate the concepts of democracy and human rights in order to lessen their ideological power ... the threat that they pose ideologically to power of the CCP," Anders Corr, who publishes the Journal of Political Risk, told RFA. "China under the CCP is not a democracy. It does not have human rights. It does not have the rule of law."

"It attempts to portray itself as having all these things; it adopts the ideas and the concepts to try to promote itself and to try to conceal the ... genuine will of the Chinese people," Corr said.

Demonstrators holding yellow umbrellas and a placard with Chinese President Xi Jinping take part in a "Stand With Hong Kong" rally to mark the 2nd anniversary of democracy rallies in the Chinese-controlled city, in Pasadena, California, June 12, 2021. Credit: AFP
'Cold War thinking'
He said Wang Wenbin's reference to "Cold War thinking" is an attempt to undermine attempts by democracies to defend themselves against the CCP's efforts to export its model of totalitarian rule and infiltrate the political and intellectual life of other countries.

"We could not have defeated the Nazis without confronting them," he said. "Confrontation is absolutely necessary when dealing with totalitarians like the CCP. This is what the CCP calls 'Cold War thinking'."

Xi claimed at the conference on People's Congresses that China practices "whole-process" democracy, because its 1.4 billion population takes part in such elections, as well as political consultations and other forms of decision-making.

"Democracy, a shared value of humanity, is a key tenet unswervingly upheld by the CPC and the Chinese people," Xi told an Oct. 13-14 conference on People's Congresses in Beijing.

Whether a country is democratic or not should be judged by its own people, not by a handful of people from outside it, he said.

In a 2013 essay analyzing one of Xi's early speeches as general secretary, former top CCP aide Bao Tong hit out at late supreme leader Mao Zedong for promising democratic governance when the CCP took power, then failing to deliver.

"It's a shame that that consummate showman Mao Zedong sang his siren song of democracy, but walked the road of fascist dictatorship instead," Bao wrote. "We, the Chinese people, should watch closely to see whether Xi takes the road to democracy indicated by Mao's brain, or the path to tyranny he followed with his feet."

Corr, who welcomed Biden's democracy summit as a necessity for democracies to defend themselves, said Xi's plan to "improve" democratic participation via the People's Congresses was essentially an attempt to confuse people.

"The National People's Congress (NPC) is a rubber stamp photo op," he said. "The concept of democracy is clearly very powerful and very popular around the world, so if Xi Jinping and the CCP go directly against [it], they will lose popularity both at home and abroad."

"If they claim that they are a different form of democracy, a better form of democracy, then they can essentially confuse people," Corr said. "The CCP is grasping at anything it can, ideologically, to justify its own existence."

Undermining actual democracies
The U.S. State Department warned in its statement on the summit that while democracies face the loss of public trust and the rise of populist governments internally, "authoritarian leaders are reaching across borders to undermine democracies – from targeting journalists and human rights defenders to meddling in elections all while claiming their model is better at delivering for people."

"Hostile actors exacerbate these trends by increasingly manipulating digital information and spreading disinformation to weaken democratic cohesion," it said.

Li Xiaobing, director of the West Pacific Studies Center at University of Oklahoma, said Biden's summit, slated for Dec. 9-10, represents a change in attitude to China, and to the threat posed by the CCP's global political and military ambitions.

"Now Biden is saying that ... the most important thing is to reaffirm democracy, which is a huge sore point for China, because it's tantamount to saying that it should engage in political reforms, put an end to one-party rule and set up a multi-party system," Li said.

"That is anathema to Beijing."

He said the CCP will never willingly let go of its position in a top-down political structure in which everyone does as they are told.

"Only people who toe the party line are allowed to stand in elections or win promotion; those who don't are denounced and punished," Li said.

Bill Bishop, who runs the online news site Sinocism, agreed.

"They have this process [to elect People's Congress representatives], but again, you're choosing people who've already been picked for you," he said.

"It's all about redefining and undermining the existing norms and the existing definitions," Bishop said. "It's all about taking control of ... the narrative power."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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