He released my country’s first hip-hop album in 2000. In the Myanmar of that time, this was almost a revolution. His rap touched the lives of many.
In 2011, after a stint in prison for his political activism and just as our democratic transition began, Zeyar Thaw was released and elected to parliament.
I had already endured 11 hard years as a political prisoner under a previous military regime between 1998 and 2009. Most of those I spent in solitary confinement. This time, I could not just watch as another despotic general forced my country into chaos. I chose resistance.
So did Zeyar Thaw and Ko Jimmy and many thousands across Myanmar. Nurses, teachers, doctors, farmers, even children — they came out into the streets against the unwanted coup.
We chose to assert our legitimacy, as elected members of parliament. We formed the National Unity Government because our freedom will not be stolen by the military’s Russian guns.
We have first-hand experience that Russia’s military interference is not limited to Ukraine. Russia and Myanmar are strengthening their ties and we see it as part of a larger strategic engagement with Southeast Asia — a coordinated attempt to promote autocracy and erode democracy in the region.
We are living in a world where dictators support each other to retain their power. Therefore it must be clear that the struggle for democracy and freedom undertaken by the Myanmar people is a struggle that concerns everyone.
I am the Foreign Minister of the National Unity Government of Myanmar. It is my task to tell the world we will not be defeated. But what can I tell the people of Myanmar in return? What is the world saying to us?
It claims it is targeting what it calls and has designated “terrorists” and blames many of these incidents on resistance fighters, rather than its own military.
We have to overcome this junta, changing their calculus so that they realize that they cannot keep Myanmar forever in the chains of their fear and greed.
This is how we are going to do it.
We must deny the junta the income that funds its violence. The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have imposed some sanctions against the regime. But much more must be done to deny the junta the foreign currency it craves.
The military continues to rely on funds from foreign companies to fund its acts of war. That flow of money, especially oil dollars, must and can be stopped.
The example of Ukraine demonstrates how the world can use economic levers to put pressure on a regime.
The murderous acts of the Myanmar military will not stop until their income fails.
Domestically, we will overcome the junta by the power of inclusion. My country has been at war with itself for many decades. Now, in opposition to the military, a new alliance between the ethnic groups of Myanmar is building a new, shared future. We are addressing the root causes of violence through our new Federal Democratic Charter — a plan for a decentralized, inclusive Myanmar. We are learning together where we need to go.
This vision has been validated by our National Union Consultative Council, the most inclusive, substantive and people-oriented process we have ever had in Myanmar. This NUCC brings together representatives of different political parties, ethnic voices and civil society to create common solutions to the challenges we face. We are learning together where we need to go.
In these areas, we are working with ethnic political and civil society organizations to build local administrations led by the people’s representatives, and these new administrations are taking responsibility for health and human services.
This tactic is familiar, creating elections in which only they can stand, only they can win, and then parading the result as if it matters. This traps Myanmar in endless cycles of disempowerment and violence.
They made clear that they want full control on humanitarian aid as a way to gain legitimacy and leverage on their strategy.
We in the National Unity Government stand ready to enable humanitarian agencies to reach those most in need. Myanmar has a resilient civil society that is carrying out incredible work to serve their communities. Humanitarian aid can and should be delivered while being accountable to the Myanmar people.
We have seen the international reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That reaction gives me hope. We do not want to live in a world where such crimes can be committed with impunity. People believe that Ukraine can and should be free.
My country, its people and my friends — Zeyar Thaw and Ko Jimmy, about to be murdered — they are waiting for the world to believe that Myanmar can be free as well.