Streaks of blood-red paint, calls for charter change mark ’88 anniversary
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.”
Students march to City Hall in downtown Yangon yesterday to honour those killed in nationwide pro-democracy protests in 1988.