“Bobo” was only 16 years old when he became an activist. By the time he was 20, he had to flee his home country to avoid arrest.
Now living in exile on the border of Burma and Thailand, Bobo is an active member of underground youth movement Generation Wave, a group dedicated to overthrowing Burma’s repressive military regime.
Unable to reveal his real name or have his photograph taken for security reasons, “Bobo” visited Jakarta last week with another member of Generation Wave to attend a forum hosted by KBR68H Radio’s Asia Calling program, with the topic “Good Neighbors? The Role of Asian Countries in Bringing Positive Change to Burma”. While he hopes the international community will assist in the plight of his people, Bobo works through Generation Wave to convince the Burmese people themselves to stand up to repression.
“We believe that change must come from inside, from people. If people are doing nothing, we cannot change,” he told The Jakarta Post.
Working from the Thai-Burmese border, Generation Wave feeds CDs, flyers and instant text messages into Burma urging people to join their cause and stand up to the military junta that has ruled the country since 1962. The group uses graffiti, hip-hop and rock music to urge Burma’s youth to unite and rise up against the regime.
“First we target the students, so we deliver to the universities, then to the youth who cannot go to university. Actually, we would like to reach the whole nation, but because of security reasons we can’t,” says Bobo.
The group is also active online, with a website and a Facebook page to attract more followers to its cause. Bobo admits that its online activities are risky, and that potential online followers may be reluctant to join their cause for fear of attracting too much attention from the state intelligence agency.
Members of Generation Wave must be between the ages of 15 and 25, be based in Burma, and
willing to take risks. According to Bobo, 22 of Generation Wave’s 50 members are currently imprisoned in Burma.
Only a couple of the group’s members live at the safe house on the border of Thailand, while the rest work underground within Burma.
“Most of the youth in Burma, they don’t want to talk about politics,” says Bobo. “But some would really like to participate in our movement. There are so many underground activists.”
Generation Wave grew out of the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” in Burma, which saw the brutal crackdown of the military regime against public protests led by Buddhist monks. With their logo as a red stencil of a fist giving the thumbs up, Generation Wave symbolizes the eternal hope of the youth to bring democracy to Burma despite the regime’s violent repression.
Repeated calls for democracy from inside and outside of Burma has led the junta to announce national elections to be held in November this year. Bobo laughs at the prospect of a free and fair election next month.
“It won’t be free and fair, because that’s not in the constitution,” he says.
Burma’s new constitution was put to a referendum in 2008, during the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated large parts of the country. Bobo reports that the junta attributed false votes to many of the cyclone’s victims, including those who had passed away.
“All these dead people gave a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum,” he says. “The military had already fixed the results.”
Bobo expects that after this year’s sham elections, the Burmese people will be even more afraid to publicly express dissent against the military regime.
“After the election the regime will repress more and more,” he says. “After the elections they are going to see themselves as a legitimate government. So if someone protests they will quickly be arrested, and the international community cannot say anything. At the same time, people will be very angry, so from this anger people can demonstrate.”
Generation Wave plans to continue their activities until they have reached their ultimate goal of changing Burma’s government. They work through peaceful means, such as graffiti, posters and music protesting against the regime.
“Music can mobilize, it can bring motivation to the people,” Bobo says. “We cannot say that music can change a society. But when people listen to the music, they can feel inspired, and informed, and take action.”
Bobo hopes that he can one day return to his family in Burma, and help to rebuild the nation that he says has been destroyed by the repressive military junta.
“I believe that people power can defeat a united armed force, because the army are also human beings. And even though they’re under so much pressure, their families are also human beings.
So can they shoot their families? Can they shoot their friends? If we are really strong, and if we are united, people power can pose a threat to the military.”