From Hong Kong to Myanmar and Belarus, the tactics and ethos of activists are transmitted at lightning speed
There is something uncannily familiar about the courageous protests against the army’s coup in Myanmar. They echo the country’s previous expressions of anti-military defiance. But they also evoke other scenes that played out more than 1,000 miles away. The helmets worn by those on the frontline, the walls bedecked with scrawled slogans on colourful sticky notes, and the flashmob-style demonstrations are all straight from the playbook of activists in Hong Kong in 2019 – literally. A manual of tactics, translated into Burmese, was shared thousands of times on social media.
In Thailand too – where pro-democracy protesters have demanded reforms to the monarchy and the removal of the prime minister, who originally took power in a coup – Hong Kong’s influence was evident, with the use of hand signals on the streets and votes on whether to take particular actions. It is not just an Asian phenomenon. Demonstrators in Belarus also held up umbrellas as security forces fired teargas. In Lebanon, they too used tennis rackets to hit back teargas canisters. The crackdown has silenced the streets of Hong Kong, with last year’s imposition of a draconian national security law followed by sweeping arrests. Yet the movement that swept through the city almost two years ago has found a strange afterlife, with activists around the world drawing not only upon specific tactics but above all upon its “be water” ethos of fluid, fast-shifting methods of protest and informal organisation.