It is dawn on Tuesday, the eve of Thingyan, Myanmar ’s water festival that marks the new year. An anti-junta militant of the Karen National Union is starting his day, deep in the jungles of the Bago Yoma mountain range in central Myanmar, by gathering firewood and water for his battalion. As he goes about his daily chores, the graphic designer-turned-soldier, who goes by the nom de guerre Dat Khell, wistfully recalls his past celebrations of the important festival – before Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s junta seized power in February 2021. Myanmar junta threatens to ‘annihilate’ coup opponents “I miss Thingyan and my family at home,” Dat Khell, 23, said in a phone interview with This Week in Asia . “In normal times, we would ride around town with a truck we called the ‘Thingyan Vehicle’, splash water on festival goers on the road, dance with music in front of big stages and get soaked in the sun. “It does not seem obvious that I miss the good times, when I am with my comrades,” he said. “But I feel it deeply when I am manning the sentry post alone at night.” The four-day New Year festival is Myanmar’s longest and most significant cultural event, and is marked by prayers and the cleaning of Buddha’s image in temples and homes. A sprinkling of water on others – or outright dousing, depending on the company you keep – is also a must as a form of symbolic cleansing in the high-spirited festival. For the second year in a row, the event will take place under the spectre of civil strife, with various anti-junta groups across the country battling the Tatmadaw, as the military is known. Independent monitors have said fighting remains fierce, with both sides taking casualties. This state of affairs is expected to last until May, when the country’s dry season ends. ‘Revolution is not a festival’ Like last year, opponents of military rule like Dat Khell say they have to refrain from joyful festivities. They believe Min Aung Hlaing’s regime will use celebratory scenes on the streets to show the outside world that normalcy is returning to the country. “I will not blame those who want to play with water during the new year. But I must implore everyone to stay alert, and avoid letting their guard down when outdoors. Listen to warnings from the relevant groups,” Dat Khell said, noting that there had been instances where attacks on the junta had to be halted to protect civilians who had not taken heed of early warnings given by his group, the KNU. Elsewhere, students, activists and the parallel National Unity Government – which is challenging the junta’s legitimacy – have released messages calling on citizens to seriously reconsider plans to openly celebrate Thingyan. Among the slogans being shared was one that said “blood that splatters on the road cannot be washed with Thingyan water”. Others included, “We do not accept a Fascist Thinyan” and “Revolution is not a festival”. The General Strike Coordination Body – a group of students, civil workers and activists that have combined to lead mass protests – meanwhile urged citizens to go on strike without participating in any festive activities organised by the military, citing that everyone should participate in the strike for those who had given up their lives in the anti-coup movement. “We do not accept the ‘fun Thingyan’ that the coup junta is forcibly plotting. The current Burmese New Year is considered to be the ‘revolutionary Thingyan’ of the revolution which is the true voice of the people,” the GSCB said in a statement. Dr Tay Za San, an activist who led several major anti-coup protests just days after the power seizure, strongly urged people to go on strike during the New Year festival. The junta has indicted him for defaming the state and while he is in hiding, he remains active on social media. He paid tribute to the fallen “martyrs”, anti-junta forces, civil servants who resigned in protest of the military regime, and the tens of thousands of refugees displaced from fighting. How do Myanmar’s flash mob protesters evade arrests? By acting ‘like an octopus’ Inside Myanmar’s notorious Insein Prison, which has for decades housed political prisoners, inmates have also indicated they will not be partaking in any form of revelry. Aung Kaung Set, president of the Yangon University Students’ Union, told This Week in Asia that his organisation had last week received a letter from political prisoners in the facility stating their non-participation in events their jailors had planned for the festival. “The military junta is trying to revive the Thingyan festival, but on the other hand, commodity prices are soaring and we are also suffering from the effects of the war. There are now more than 900,000 refugees in Myanmar. Thus, these kinds of celebrations force people in distress to enjoy fake festivities,” he said. In normal times, more than 100 large and medium-sized private pandals were allowed to be built in Yangon to hold the Thingyan festival which has been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic since 2020. However the junta is trying to bring back the festival and has ordered the construction of stages across the city despite the current political instability and the outbreak of Omicron variant. “I don’t really have a Thingyan mood now and I will not celebrate,” said a 27-year-old office manager from Yangon’s Sanchaung township. “Some of my friends are in the jungle, training to fight back the junta forces. Everyday, I pray for their safety”, he added. “I want them to come back home as soon as possible so that we can enjoy Thingyan together after this”. For more than a year now, Myanmar’s Spring Revolution has been marked by popular unrest against the military’s coup. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) says more than 1,700 people have been killed and 13,201 arrested in connection since February 2021.