The morning of February 1, 2021 was a usual one for the citizens of Myanmar until they came across an announcement on state television that the government has changed, not by any democratic means but following a coup d’etat, now the country would be governed by the Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing and Army Junta. The democratically elected members of incumbent National League for Democracy party were deposed, including the party chief and, contemporary, state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. After this announcement televisions all over the country went out of signal and the stratocrat army of Myanmar were on roads to ensure that the citizens remain out of awareness.
Whenever news of any coup d’etat or administrator exceeding his authority comes in the mainstream news, some names from forgotten chapters of history flashe in our memory. Some of them are Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Nicolae Ceaușescu, General Zia ul-Haq, Kim il-sung. In this article we will discuss about two of the cruellest personalities that ever existed and the traits they share in common.
Starting with Romanian Dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. He was a leader in Romanian Communist Party and rose to power when Soviet influence increased on Romanian politics. He exercised what could be termed as absolute authoritarianism; the media was totally controlled. He wanted to control what people would think and what they would speak. Those who opposed his regime were punished so brutally that they became examples for others. People were afraid to talk against him even in their homes.
Despite owing unchecked international loans, Nicolae took another loan to reconstruct Parliament, his Official residence and office, and to repay the debt the taxes were doubled, even on essential items. Subsequently, the enraged public of Romania came out of their homes including those who were his supporters and a couple of days back believed that his actions were only for the betterment of the country.
People gathered outside Nicolae’s residence and protested against his authoritarian regime. The controlled media staged it as Ceaușescus’s publicity. Soon the army was ordered to fire at the crowd but the officers refused and joined the protest. The crowd tried to enter the residence and Nicolae and his wife made an unsuccessful attempt to escape.
On December 25, 1989, Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife were sentenced to death in a trial. And they were shot dead within a couple of hours in Targoviste.
Now it is time for Cambodian Communist Leader Saloth Sar or more often referred to as Pol Pot. On April 17, 1975, Khmer Rouge, the military wing of Cambodian Communist party, launched its attack against the government of Lon Nol, who was supported by the USA.
On a usual afternoon, thousands of militiamen of the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot, the General Secretary of Communist party entered the national capital Phnom Penh with red cloth around their neck. Red the colour of blood, red the colour of sacrifice, red the colour of revolution, red the colour of Communist flag and red colour which was now going to be the synonym of fear for the citizens of Cambodia.
Few hours past taking over the capital an announcement was made on radio that:
“This country will now be ruled by its own people.”by orders of Khmer Rouge
Soon after announcing their authority, Khmer Rouge made all the prominent officials of the past government stand in a row and opened fire at them. The public was spectating this killing and was happy that, perhaps, they are independent from foreign rule and are free to exercise their rights.
This happiness of the citizens vanished when they first came across an autocratic order of the Khmer Rouge that stated that the capital was to be attacked by American troops and all the residents should leave the city and move towards villages where they will be safe. This order was wrapped with a fake promise that everything will be normal within three days.
Those who opposed this evacuation were made to stand in a queue at the same place where government officials were killed and they were also opened fire at. Rest of them were sensible enough not to oppose them and made another queue and started moving towards villages.
After getting settled in villages they all became villagers, with no knowledge about what was going on in the world, villagers with no rights, villagers with duties which were disguised as rights. The citizens were given mainly two duties; first was to protect the Nation and second to work in rice fields. No matter if you were a doctor or an engineer, no matter what your skills were, if you wanted to live in Pol Pot’s Cambodia you had to work in rice fields. This was Pol Pot’s so called communism.
These fields were termed as Killing Fields. To know how life would have been then, following are some lines from Haing S. Ngor‘s book ‘Survival in the Killing Fields’. Ngor was a doctor before he was forcibly made to work in the Killing fields.
‘I used to be a doctor. I owned a black Mercedes. Then the Khmer Rouge made an experiment. They turned millions of common people into animals, that could do anything for just a handful of rice. And today the only recognition we have is we are Killing Fields Survivors.’
The Regime of Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot was no less than a nightmare for the citizens of Cambodia. And this nightmare ended when Vietnam attacked Cambodia in 1979 and Pol Pot fled the capital.
Dictators rule people on the foundation of fear, first fear of foreign powers, then fear of fellow citizens of different religions and origins, then fear of law and then fear of their power. But something that every authoritarian must remember is the end of power is predetermined. So, restrain from being arrogant when in power.
Despots understand the importance of propaganda, the very first action any dictator takes is to establish an effective control over the press. So that a common perception is made that every action they take is for the betterment of the nation. Rulers like Saloth Sar and used to answer questions of their choice to the journalists of their choice in interviews.
All the dictators have one infallible weapon that is known as hatred. Adolf Hitler made Germans hate every single Jew, Idi Amin tried to spread hatred against Asians, but this does not mean that their brutality will only be limited to that specific population. We have Iran as an example which is an Islamic Theocratic State. In 1979, subsequently after Islamic Revolution, people of State of Persia supported the creation of Islamic republic believing that the rights of Muslim population (specifically Twelver Shia) would be safeguarded in a government led by Ulema. In 2018, when people in Tehran protested against increased and still increasing inflation on edible and essential items, they were tortured and rather than focussing on the justifiable demands of the public, the government staged it as a US and Israel funded anarchy. The Islamic Republic’s department which calls itself the department of law convicted many protesters, majority of whom were Twelver shia, under the law of treason.
For a dictator you are not identified by your religion, neither by your origin or colour. You are either loyal to him and support his regime or a rebel who does not, and you are a criminal in the second case regardless of anything.
Coming back to Myanmar, the situation there is becoming worse despite international intervention. However, the women led movement is getting extensive. Women in Myanmar believe that, apart from a political matter, deposition of Suu Kyi is an assault on women empowerment as she has been an icon of women leadership in the country. Hopefully, democracy in Myanmar will be restored and the culprits who are responsible for abrogating people’s liberty will get what they deserve.
Syed Mohammad Ali is a student pursuing Economics from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Varda Ahmad
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.