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'This struggle must be won’: Burmese writer talks about her book ‘Spring Revolution’

March 4, 2022 - 21:09 By Sanjay Kumar

For Ei Pencilo, the bestselling author of “Spring Revolution,” bringing change to her home country of Myanmar is always on her mind.

“From Feb. 1, 2021, to this moment, I never lost contact with Myanmar except when I sleep, because I think it’s my responsibility, during this time I have to do my best and use all my abilities to fight. One day, when the Spring of Myanmar comes, I want to be proud of my efforts without feeling guilty,” the 31-year-old said. A Korean translation of “Spring Revolution” was recently published, and the English version is also underway.

After the military coup on Feb. 1, 2021, the junta issued arrest warrants for Pencilo, an aide to Aung San Suu Kyi, and six other high-profile figures for inciting unrest on social media. She has since been working in exile in order to help the restoration of democracy to her country.

Pencilo said she has consistently recorded everything after fleeing Myanmar and that those 100 days taking refuge was “a nightmare.” However, she made this record into a book to inform the world about what is happening in Myanmar.

While running away from military arrest, Pencilo led campaigns on social media to mobilize pro-democracy demonstrations, and the book “Spring Revolution” is a recount of her escape, the democratic uprising, and resistance of the people of Myanmar that she saw with her own eyes.

KH: Could you explain the background of the coup?
Pencilo: Chief Commander Min Aung Hlaing’s quest for power retention was the root cause of coup, leading to the bloodshed of thousands citizens’ lives, tens of thousands of arrests, and ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The military forcibly enacted a constitution without the consent of the people in 2008. According to the constitution, it was publicized as guaranteeing democracy to people on surface, but behind the scenes, the military was automatically assigned 25 percent of the seats in National Assembly and ruled the country. For the past 10 years, people were disappointed over incomplete activities of the civilian government (NLD government) according to the Constitution and bringing back under military rule. However, the military could not destroy people’s trust in Suu Kyi and people’s cooperation with the NLD government. The military, which committed continued inhuman acts, and people’s love for the civilian government and Suu Kyi kept growing, and people started hating the military even more. It’s clear from the 2020 general election results that things didn’t go as planned. It was also exposed that if a civilian government would rule again for another five years, public’s criticism of the military would grow and soldiers would have to completely withdraw from Myanmar’s politics. They hated it and took country out of the hands of the people by force.

Ei Pencilo, the author of “Spring Revolution” speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald. (Publication Morae-al)
KH: How is Myanmar now?
Pencilo: People of Myanmar truly, extremely hoped for help from international community, it was like a dream, not easy. In current situation, the military, which has been persistently insistent, is no longer intended to cooperate, and people also do not expect immediate action from international community. We have to wage a defense war to protect ourselves from the present, People’s Defense Force (PDF) has appeared. I have also been doing fundraising and support activities here for the PDF. In addition to PDF, a fundraising activity to support the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) officials and refugees is also held here online visiting Myanmar people living in the US, and in cooperation with other groups that are running democratization movement. Then, through my personal Facebook account, I am also involved in a psychological attack on people in the military (Psychological Warfare) through writings.

KH: Do you think the Myanmar issue is getting widespread attention in international media?
Pencilo: This revolution enabled our voices to spread in real time through social media and international media. However, the voice of people needs to be louder than it is now. Because to this day, people are still experiencing inhumane assaults and murders by military. The voice of people must not disappear. Military tried to intercept information. Internet data costs were increased by 10 times and internet was blocked in some areas. People held out well so far. However, there is no guarantee how long the nationwide internet will be available. Military may block at any time. So we need to come up with an alternative if internet and social media are blocked.

KH: What is the sole purpose of writing the book?
Pencilo: Currently, my writing has been translated into Korean and published -- the first book in my life to be translated and published in a foreign language. The purpose is to inform readers around the world Myanmar’s pain and difficulties that we Myanmar people are experiencing right now for democratization. All royalties received from writing the book have already been donated to democratic revolution needs. So this book impressed my life as a writer, and would be honorable and proud work if it can be of some help bringing spring revolution in Myanmar.

KH: Why was Korea chosen for the first translated publication of Spring Revolution?
Pencilo: I have been very grateful to Korea since beginning of the coup because, unlike other countries, Korea steadily is supporting Myanmar revolution up to now. I think it’s because of Korea’s sympathetic heart. Korea also put a lot of blood and sweat to make democracy bloom, and Myanmar’s current situation is similar to Korea’s past. Feelings of people of the two countries are very similar. Therefore, it sent cooperation and support to struggle for democracy in Myanmar. It is felt that Korea will be with Myanmar until end, no matter how complicated political situation would be.

Through this book, Korean readers would empathize with suffering of Myanmar one step further because current situation in Myanmar is past of Korea. People of Myanmar worked hard while seeing Korea develop. Korea is a country of Myanmar people’s dreams, it’s the dream of people in Myanmar to achieve true democratization like Korea.

KH: What is the general perception of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar? What message do you have for her?
Pencilo: Suu Kyi is not just people’s leader but mother to people of Myanmar. It’s difficult in Myanmar to call someone mom. In fact, Suu Kyi may not remember us well because she has to meet many people. However, Mom Suu remembers my face well and it has become a habit to see each other every year. Adviser Suu Kyi is now in custody. Even now, when she turns 80, there have been many days of arrest and detention. One of the reasons we have to fight now includes the wish that our leader, the Adviser Suu Kyi, will be released and live freely. If I could speak to Mom Suu directly, I would like to tell her to stay healthy. Everything that Suu Kyi did for Myanmar was enough. So, it is up to all the people, including myself, to take on rest of the responsibility. When these difficult times pass, I want to see Mom again in good health. Now, for example, someone protests outside on the street with those three fingers, and fists beat a drum. In many ways, everyone is testing their own protests.

KH: What contribution have you made to the democratization movement?
Pencilo: I’m struggling with my pen, running the most important fundraising activity in the revolution, psychologically attacking military supporters’ side and letting them know they are getting weaker. On the other hand, encouraging people about goal of democratization. Our democratic revolution will be successful. That’s why we need everyone’s support the most. Most important for the international community is to accept the National Unity Government of Myanmar or NUG, as official government. I would like to ask you to recognize NUG government through this meeting now.

Our revolution didn’t start because it was likely to win. This struggle must be won. That is why it is of the utmost importance to participate until the very end. If you participate for a while and then stop because you are bored or tired, this will be nonresponsibility. I don’t know when this process will end, and in fact no one can predict. But in the end it has to be. Only then will I be able to become a responsible Burmese.

There are many brave, strong and persistent Myanmar people who can fight until that day comes. Although we are going through a lot of difficulties right now, we must fight to the end with idea that the process of a coup should be the last in our generation. When the day of success comes, we would like to meet together, share our hardships and pains with each other.