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A call from Myanmar – a recall of Tunisia

On refinding your optimism as a revolutionary feminist

My name is Lola.
I am a feminist. 
I have never been to Myanmar.

A few days ago, I attended a panel organized by AWID with feminist, indigenous and queer activists from Myanmar. As I listened to the panelists speak, I felt emotions that were beyond my comprehension and I couldn’t define. The questions as well as the answers resurfaced long-escaped ghosts.

Myanmar lived under a military dictatorship from 1962 until 2011. In the country’s 2nd democratic elections, on November 8, 2020, the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi's party won 83% of the seats. The vote was contested by the military junta, and on the pretext of suspicion of fraud, on February 1st, the military chief ordered the arrest and imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi and numerous opponents. The military then declared a one year A state of emergency.

My name is Lola.
I am a feminist from the Global South.
I learned about the history of Myanmar in geopolitics classes at a French university which granted me "the privilege of remaking my education."
In France, Myanmar does not exist. In France, it is called Birmanie.

This coup brought back memories of decades of oppression among the Burmese. Traumas are still fresh, tangible. The Burmese went out to peacefully express their disagreement in the streets of the various towns and villages of the country. The railway workers went on strike. Two constitutional rights enacted since 2011.

Collage of street art that says "Revolucion FEMINISTA"

Repression. The international community is alarmed. Le Monde, the BBC and other media give numbers, 138 people killed.

Behind my screen, I was facing four activists. In this virtual space, they bore witness to everyday horror. The Internet is limited. They are cut off from the world and with no access to information about themselves.

They didn’t know the exact death toll. The numbers keep rising.

“There are some LGBT included in the list of fallen angels, fallen heros”. - Hla Myat Tun -

Local media are censored.

“They are very much targeted by the police and the military. So they are ordered not to do live broadcasting ”. - Tin Tin Nyo -  

The military reserve illegitimately the monopoly of legitimate violence. Leaving room for narratives from international media. Narratives and analytical prisms based on their visions, being the only sources of access, their exclusivity makes them indispensable.

“That's why we are requesting  international media to cover the situation in our country.” - Hla Myat Tun -

My name is Lola.
I am a feminist.
I was a journalist.
I have covered revolutions and wars.
The international media was me.

In 2011, the military regime dissolved and Myanmar began a democratic process.

On the other side of the globe, a young man has set himself on fire. Tunisia was on fire. After 55 years of police dictatorship, silence, gagged mouths and handcuffed handles. Tunisia was rising.

All air, land and sea borders have been closed.

Being local, I was contacted by an international television station to cover the events. I accepted, it was absolutely necessary to immortalize this historic moment.

I filmed the demonstrations, the police violence but also the glimmers of freedom in Eyes that appeared extinct long time ago, tears of joy when everyone came home safe, the rage and hopes of the rappers who finally  expressed themselves openly. Everything that moment meant to me, to us.

I was quickly made to understand that the international audience needs to see blood, bodies. It was explained to me that it will incite their solidarity, their empathy. They raised the concept of the kilometric dead:The greater the distance geographically, the less empathy there is,  affection had to be pushed, it had to be motivated.

Serve them the dead, endorse their voyeurism, their judgments, feed them with the bodies of our dead for the 8pm news.

But in a world where images of inanimate bodies are served daily at mealtime, it's hard to believe that our struggle can reach the unconcerned. Yet I believed in it. Isolated in these small apartments in these small neighbourhoods of this small capital city of this tiny country, it was the only window to the outside.

I learned to take close-ups of bodies riddled with bullets, of exploded faces. Without throwing up.

- “If you are a journalist, it is important for you to amplify voices that have not been amplified yet” -Nandar-
- It is important yes, but at what cost.
- “But despite that we choose to risk our lives, because we believe that this will keep us alive in some ways, you know.” -Nandar-
- Yes I know

My name is Lola.
I am a feminist.
I am a lesbian.
I am a criminal.
I am outraged.

I am a criminal. Since I was 11 year old. Since the day I first kissed a child assigned female at birth. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by up to 3 years in prison. I learned to fuck with adrenaline, I was playing 3 years of my life with every orgasm. And how it was worth it!!

Pleasure is an act of bravery.

I went out into the streets in Tunis in that famous year 2011 with that same adrenaline that I harvested,  had learned to live with and ended cultivating. Shortness of breath, and that knot in my stomach, which melted into thousands of knots in the stomachs of thousands of people who like me have finally decided not to survive. But to live.

“And when you go out you will see that women as well as LGBTQI people are in a different line of these protests. And they have been the voices of democracy and they have been standing up for democracy, risking their life. And it's amazing to witness, like this unity among all of us despite the fact that we are different.” -Nandar-

Yes, it was beautiful, magical, historic. After 55 years of dictatorship we have overthrown the system. Brought down a president. We have made a revolution! The international media go wild/ecstatic, "The Arab Spring", "The Jasmine Revolution" take over the headlines. The whole world applauds us, a little unknown country is finally recognized, a symbol of freedom, of hope. And the campaign around "modernity" and postcolonial hegemony begins.

I unconsciously incorporated this exoticization into my stories. "The Arab Spring", "The Jasmine Revolution". Yet I knew. I fought, was beaten, demonstrated for weeks and months suffocating under clouds of gas, leaped on lifeless bodies to escape sniper bullets, ran through the streets of this city that I know as I know myself. My city. It was winter. I am not Arab. There’s no jasmine, only cactus growing where the so-called revolution started. And it was not a revolution. It was an uprising.

But this speech of hope, I dared not to discredit it. I was denied this disillusion. I refused it to myself. And this self-censorship has been with me for a long time.

- They [some protestors] - victim blame other people when they are sharing their stories. -Nandar- - These voices still echo in my head: “Don't talk about sexual harassment during demonstrations. Neither homophobia nor patriarchy”, "dirty laundry is only washed within the family", “we will talk about it after we win. "

My name is Lola.
I am a feminist.
I have a knot in my stomach.

I grew up  , and always lived in southern countries. After 24 years of life under dictatorship and a costly revolt, I was granted the "privilege" to leave. Like any immigrant who had always been denied access to the Other World, I saw Europe as a promised land. When I arrived, I realized that this privilege came at a price. Assimilationism, silence, self-denial, of that ungrateful self that my brown skin and curly hair exhibited. I lost the sense of my bravery. I learned to fear.

- So my final words to all of you is hear our voice. We are really united, and we must win. - May Sabe Phyu - - I am out of breath and the well known knot in my stomach. Thank you Hla Myat Tun, thank you Tin Tin Nuo, thank you Nandar, thank you May Sabe Phyu.

Today, after hours of emotional labor, seeing fleeting images scrolling by, reliving those painful moments, I understood. I understood that as feminists, we owe ourselves to create our own narratives, tell our stories, share our experiences, recognize our fears, our hopes, our disillusions, the traumas and violence that we have suffered. We must create spaces without self-censorship in which we learn to be vulnerable at times. It is the strongest act of bravery.

My name is Lola.
I am a feminist.
I am optimistic.
I smile.