Streaks of blood-red paint, calls for char­ter change mark ’88 an­niver­sary

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - SHOON NAING LUN MIN MANG news­room@mm­times.com

Com­mem­o­ra­tions in Yan­gon and Man­dalay were held yes­ter­day to hon­our the thou­sands of ac­tivists killed for join­ing the na­tion­wide prodemoc­racy move­ment with origins in an Au­gust 8, 1988, gen­eral strike and stu­dent re­bel­lion.

STU­DENTS, civil ser­vants and or­di­nary mem­bers of the public were among those join­ing events in Yan­gon yes­ter­day to mark the 28th an­niver­sary of the na­tion­wide pro-democ­racy re­volt known as the “8888 Up­ris­ing”.

This year, as in years past, the com­mem­o­ra­tion evoked sombre re­flec­tion for many.

“I joined the cer­e­mony in re­mem­brance of fallen friends. I am re­ally sad to re­call all those scenes,” said U Nyunt Thaung, a 76-year-old Na­tional League for Democ­racy mem­ber from Thin­gangyun town­ship, who was among 500 peo­ple packed into a monastery in the com­mer­cial cap­i­tal for a com­mem­o­ra­tion cer­e­mony.

Yes­ter­day’s event at the Dhamma Piya Monastery was held to mark Au­gust 8, 1988, when stu­dent-led protests and a gen­eral strike spread that would, in the weeks that fol­lowed, bring hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple out into the streets, pos­ing ar­guably the great­est threat to decades of iron-fisted mil­i­tary rule in Myan­mar.

Septem­ber of that year saw a bru­tal junta crack­down on pro­test­ers, how­ever, with es­ti­mates putting the death toll at more than 3000. Many more were im­pris­oned in the months and years that fol­lowed.

A state­ment from or­gan­is­ers of yes­ter­day’s com­mem­o­ra­tion laid out three points, in­clud­ing calls to amend or scrap Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary-drafted con­sti­tu­tion and hold a con­fer­ence to ad­dress peace and na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

On the lat­ter point, the gov­ern­ment in­tends to do just that, with the Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice an­nounc­ing yes­ter­day that the so-called 21stcen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence would con­vene on Au­gust 31.

U Ko Ni, a lead­ing lawyer for the NLD, told The Myan­mar Times that com­mem­o­ra­tion cer­e­monies like yes­ter­day’s “will last as long as Myan­mar ex­ists, and I will at­tend this cer­e­mony ev­ery year for the rest of my life”.

The 88 Gen­er­a­tion Peace and Open Society, which helped or­gan­ise yes­ter­day’s com­mem­o­ra­tion, called for Au­gust 8 to be known as “Democ­racy Day” in Myan­mar.

The au­thor Maung Lwin Maung (Katha), who joined the protests in 1988, re­called how such open 8888 com­mem­o­ra­tions were not al­ways the norm.

“The sad thing is the 88 demon­stra­tions were hid­den [by the for­mer junta] for around 20 years, so that many young gen­er­a­tions have no idea about it. But the good thing is now we can legally hold the cer­e­mony and peo­ple are in­ter­ested to at­tend it,” he told The Myan­mar Times.

U Tin Oo, pa­tron of the NLD, and Shan Na­tion­al­i­ties League for Democ­racy leader U Khun Tun Oo were among those to de­liver speeches yes­ter­day.

“The 88 demon­stra­tions showed the world that peo­ple from Myan­mar didn’t want the junta gov­ern­ment and those demon­stra­tions were also proof that peo­ple can take down a gov­ern­ment they don’t de­sire,” U Khun Tun Oo said in his speech, re­fer­ring to Ne Win’s ouster as head of the mil­i­tary regime in 1988.

The Cana­dian and Bri­tish am­bas­sadors to Myan­mar were also spot­ted at yes­ter­day’s event at the monastery.

“The 88 demon­stra­tion is a very im­por­tant event in Burma’s strug­gle for democ­racy and it is im­por­tant that we re­mem­ber the sac­ri­fices that were made that day. That’s why I came to show my sup­port,” said An­drew Pa­trick, the Bri­tish am­bas­sador.

With the pas­sage of time, new gen­er­a­tions have come into po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness not hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced the events of 1988, but well aware of the up­ris­ing’s sig­nif­i­cance.

“Although I was not alive at that mo­ment, that is the his­tory of Myan­mar and I want to ob­serve it,” said Ma Ngu Wah Shwe Yee Oo, a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Nurs­ing, Yan­gon.

Mean­while, about 30 stu­dents from the Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Stu­dents Union, mostly in their teens, marched yes­ter­day from The­ingyi Mar­ket to the front of City Hall.

Ko Phyo Maung Maung, a grade 11 stu­dent in Hmawbi town­ship who joined the march, said de­spite the dra­matic po­lit­i­cal changes of re­cent years, he re­mained un­sat­is­fied.

“I think our coun­try should have its con­sti­tu­tion amended. With­out amend­ing this mil­i­tary-drafted 2008 con­sti­tu­tion, we can­not have a real democ­racy,” he said.

Jus­tice de­ferred Although it has been nearly 30 years since stu­dents and other pro-democ­racy ac­tivists sac­ri­ficed their lives for change, jus­tice for the fallen has re­mained elu­sive. Not a sin­gle case has been brought be­fore a court, and no soldier or mil­i­tary of­fi­cer has been held ac­count­able for the bru­tal crack­down.

The NLD – which for years in per­se­cuted op­po­si­tion had called for jus­tice over 8888 and its after­math – has, as the rul­ing gov­ern­ment, been silent. Party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made clear last year that she would not seek “re­venge” for past junta wrong­do­ing, and has been crit­i­cised by some hu­man rights ad­vo­cates for adopt­ing an ap­proach to the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment viewed as overly ap­peas­ing.

Saw Naing, a 60-year-old man who joined the 1988 protests and at­tended a sep­a­rate com­mem­o­ra­tion in morn­ing rain yes­ter­day, said he thinks that could change.

“Since the gov­ern­ment was elected by the cit­i­zens’ votes, I think there has been a birth of hope for jus­tice for what hap­pened 28 years ago today,” he said.

Ko Moe Aung, a for­mer po­lit­i­cal pris­oner who de­scribed the front of City Hall as be­ing “stained with in­no­cent blood” af­ter a night-time crack­down on pro­test­ers in 1988, said there were only two ways to deal with grievances from that year: through re­venge or for­give­ness.

Ko Moe Aung said he and some col­leagues are opt­ing for the lat­ter, but are work­ing on col­lect­ing data and a list of names of the mil­i­tary of­fi­cials who or­dered the bru­tal use of force against peace­ful pro­test­ers 28 years ago.

“It is not to get re­venge on them. Af­ter com­plet­ing the task, we will an­nounce the names of the mil­i­tary of­fi­cials who com­manded the shoot­ing in 1988,” he said.

“We will make all of them hear that their crimes are for­given.”

Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw

Photo: Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe

Stu­dents march to City Hall in down­town Yan­gon yes­ter­day to hon­our those killed in na­tion­wide pro-democ­racy protests in 1988.

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