Burmese subject of HBO documentary speaks at Trine

A Burmese icon and the subject of an HBO documentary film, Myo Myint, spoke about his experiences fighting for democracy, spending 15 years as a political prisoner and resettling in the United States as a refugee on Sept. 22 at Trine University.

Myint

Myint, now of Fort Wayne, is one of approximately 3,000 Burmese people who have resettled in the Fort Wayne, a refugee city, to escape a military dictatorship and the horrors of a civil war that dates back to 1948 (the longest civil war in the world). The HBO documentary “Burma Soldier” tells Myint’s story. He literally swapped sides from being a solider in Burma’s junta to a pro-democracy activist. Those who attend will have the opportunity to hear Myint’s story and learn about the resettlement process first-hand. He will help people to understand of the regime and the political and psychological power of the junta over the Burmese people.

Myint did not have money to go to college after graduating from high school, so in 1979 he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the junta army as a soldier training to become a military engineer. He thought it was the right thing to do, as he would gain both respect and an income to support his family.

“I saw the army as protecting our property and people, so I joined. After I was in, I saw that the army is totally different than what I imagined,” Myint said.

He witnessed the actions of a brutal dictatorship, watching people violate human rights in every facet –  from humans being used to test landmines to insurgents murdering civilians and pillaging villages. His job involved laying and discharging landmines, the very weapon that caused Myint to lose most of his right arm, his right leg and most of his left hand while on the front lines.

After his injury, he began “an awakening that led him to join the pro-democracy movement.” Myint, however, had signed a 10-year commitment to the army and was not allowed to leave. For three years, he thought about the army’s brutality and the need for democracy in his country. Due to his injury, he  was discharged in 1987, two years earlier than an anticipated. For the next several months, he met with underground political and ethnic groups to study ways to bring about change.

“I realized we had no freedom. We had no rights,” said Myint, who explained that he decided to take a non-violent stance to oppose the military dictatorship. His decision literally split his family. His older brother was a physician in the military. Myint has not seen or spoken to him in years.

In 1987, to further control the Burmese people, the government declared all currency useless and closed schools. In 1988, some engineering students were killed by riot police for discussing politics in a restaurant. Those events served as precursors to the Pro-Democratic Uprising that lasted from March 13 to Sept. 18, 1988. During this time, Myint delivered a speech to a crowd of thousands surrounded by the military, the very men he used to serve alongside.

“I made up my mind to sacrifice my life if I had to. I told them that to stop the civil war we must first change the political system,” said Myint, who added that he changed some of the soldier’s minds.

After continued pro-democratic rallying, Myint was arrested and tortured mentally and physically. He was released about a month later. The military thought if Myint was released that his younger brother who served in a democratic student army, would come to help him, and soldiers could arrest both of them. His brother, however, fled to the jungle and evaded capture. Myint was arrested again and sentenced to 10 years with hard labor for civil disobedience and illegal contact with insurgent groups. While in prison, he was tortured and deprived of food and medical treatment.

After his release, he received financial assistance from former political prisoners. He refused to spend money on himself and instead paid off guards and gave money to prisoners. He was caught, arrested and sentenced to seven years. After his release in 2005, he hid in the jungle and traveled to Thailand on foot. He lived there for three years, working to help former political prisoners. He acquired political refugee status in 2008 and came to the United States, where he got to see his younger brother for the first time in 19 years.

Catholic Charities worked with Myint during his resettlement process. There, he met his wife, Karen. Together, they continue to work with refugees in Fort Wayne. In addition to sharing his story, Myint and his wife also discussed the resettlement process during the program.

For more information about events sponsored by the Multicultural Student Organization or Alpha Sigma Tau fraternity or to get involved with Catholic Charities, contact Deborah McHenry at mchenryd@trine.edu or 260.665.4509.

Click to access HBO page about this documentary.