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Photo by Saw Wunna on Unsplash.

Pro-democracy protests in Myanmar 2021.

Aung San Suu Kyi also known as "The Lady" is the most revered and distinguished figure in Southeast Asia. Her journey from being a regular housewife in Oxford, England to being a pro-democracy political activist and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 has been arduous, perhaps perilous at times. The military junta of Myanmar, officially known as Tatmadaw has been ruling Myanmar ever since its independence in 1948 with an iron fist.

In 1989 during the heydays of the regime, speaking out against the junta could cost one their life. The previous year, Burma's generals had repealed the country's constitution, imposed martial law, and violently suppressed pro-democracy protests. The junta imposed a total information blockade. Newspapers and publishers were asked to register with the government and limit their publishing to the regime's propaganda.

Phone Thiri Kyaw, a well known young actress in Myanmar joined the pro-democracy protest in Yangoon, Myanmar.Photo by Saw Wunna on Unsplash.

It was during this nadir, that the pro-democracy activist cleverly devised a way to circumvent the junta information blockade and propagate the pro-democracy agenda. Initially, the information blockade seemed to work, but months later, rumours began to spread about the new one-Kyat banknote.

At first, its portrait of Aung San, the father of modern Burma, seemed perfectly normal. Holding the banknote up to the light, however, revealed a watermark that subtly altered the face, making the nose narrower, jaw rounder and eyes softer. Unseemly morphing the picture of Aung San into a picture of his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the Burmese democratic movement.

Soon citizens began finding other hidden messages from the anonymous designer. Four concentric rings around an eight-petalled flower form four sets of eight, a reference to the '8888' pro-democracy demonstrations named after the date they began, August 8th, 1988. Even the medium was slyly appropriate. The 8888 protests were triggered by bizarre currency reforms that rendered three-quarters of Burmese banknotes worthless overnight.

Pro-democracy protests in Yangoon, Myanmar. Photo by Saw Wunna on Unsplash.

Soon, this one-Kyat note was also worthless, as it was promptly withdrawn from circulation when the regime detected the subterfuge. Its designer and his fate both remain unknown till today.

With the novel coronavirus pandemic ravaging through Myanmar, the country is a hotbed for new deadlier mutations to arise. The belligerent act of military junta seizing power from Aung San Suu Kyi in a military coup has invoked harsh US sanctions on Myanmar. The future of Myanmar and the fate of its poor citizens seems bleaker as time passes.

Keywords: Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, Democracy


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