As coup turns back the clock, many in Myanmar resist a return to ‘old normal’

Yangon resident Hlaing Htwe* takes out an old inverter to make sure that his family has light after the sun goes down. It has been 10 years or more since he last had to use it regularly. Now, however, it has once again become a part of his everyday life. For the 52-year-old film editor, the return of chronic blackouts in Myanmar’s largest city is not just an inconvenience. It is also a reminder of a time when powerlessness was the norm for most in the country. This came home to him recently when he heard his 10-year-old son shout out with joy when the power suddenly returned after an hours-long outage. The sound immediately brought back memories of his own childhood, when he had reacted in the same way whenever the lights came back on. “What has changed since that time?” he asked himself. “Maybe nothing.” More than a year after Myanmar’s latest military coup, many have begun to wonder if they, or their children, will ever see an end to their country’s political and economic misery. While resistance to the military takeover has been fierce, some worry that as the hardships of ordinary people deepen, most will revert to survival mode, adapting as best they can to a “new normal” that is also strikingly like life under previous regimes. This has prompted many, like Hlaing Htwe, to engage in a more subtle form of resistance—a refusal to accept the current situation as an inevitable return to the days of brutal repression and bare subsistence. “There is no reason my son should be overjoyed when the power comes back on. Instead, we should be outraged when it goes out, because it just isn’t normal,” he says.