The 25th Anniversary of The 8888 Uprising – How to Reflect on It?

Published: Sep 2, 2013 Reading time: 4 minutes
The 25th Anniversary of The 8888 Uprising – How to Reflect on It?

On the 8th August Myanmar commemorated the 25th anniversary of one of the most decisive moments in its modern history – The 8888 Uprising, a series of popular pro-democracy demonstrations against the ruling oppressive military regime. This year, there has been a special public commemoration ceremony held in Rangoon which was organized by human rights and political activists with thousands of people in attendance. Other events and processions have been organized in cities all over the country. Above all, the Burmese gathered in order to remember the victims of the protests – more than 3,000 people, especially students and monks, died a violent dead while having been brutally suppressed by the then military junta.

“In the past two days, we have held a series of workshops and debates with the representatives of ethnic groups, political parties, and the academic community and today we have agreed on a political framework for the future,” this is what the Irrawaddy news website was told by Ko Ko Gyi, one of the protest leaders in 1988 and a member of the present Generation 88 activist group as well as the organizer of this year’s ceremonies and conference. “The current events are aimed at securing peace and national reconciliation for the country”, he adds.

The 8888 Uprising was sparked off by university students in Rangoon, who disagreed with the monetary reform and the subsequent closure of universities. The demonstrations then provoked a nationwide uprising against the oppressive regime of the military junta as such, and in addition, it appealed for introduction of democratic reforms. Despite the resignation of the then junta leader Ne Win during the protests, his pledge of establishing democratic regime did not fulfil. Several weeks after the August protests, the army re-seized power in a coup. A greater part of the protesters was arrested while many of them walked free from jail only the last year.

In the last three years certain pro-democracy reforms have been enacted, moreover in 2011 the military junta officially transformed into a civilian government however the relationship to its recent past remains ambiguous. On one hand, the current government lifts draconian restrictions on political and civil rights, political prisoners are being released and President Thein Sein is trying to build up an image of a peacemaker, whose politics is to be dramatically different from the junta practices. On the other hand, any actions commemorating The 8888 Uprising had been banned and in his inaugural address Thein Sein declared that “in 1988 the Tatmadaw military government saved the country from deteriorating situation in various sectors and reconstructed the country.”

Even though the government has never dissociated itself from the acts of violence committed during the uprising, an official government delegation participated in the commemoration ceremony in Rangoon. It was the attendance of government officials that made a part of human rights activists decline their participation. However, Kyaw Thura, a member of the opposition party NDF (National Democratic Force) has expressed a conciliatory attitude: “We will never be able to achieve national reconciliation and become a developed country if the members of the former military government are still considered to be enemies. We want to forgive and receive them.”

Nonetheless, some human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) call for investigation of the crimes having been perpetrated while the demonstrations were suppressed. “Mass killings that took place in Myanmar 25 years ago is an old, open wound that makes the government’s reformist rhetoric dubious,” says Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia Director and he adds: “Instead of making an explicit denial of the military abuse of power in the past 50 years, the government should show that it is promoting its peoples’ interests.”

In addition to this, organization Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) reminds that the President himself should be subject to investigation since he served as a high-ranking army officer under the former regime. According to the sources of the American Embassy in Rangoon publicized on WikiLeaks, Thein Sein served as Lieutenant General and Commander of the 55th Light Infantry Division (LID 55), i.e. one of the elite army corps loyal to the junta and the ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party. The server states that Sein burned with a zeal for the military service. “Unless President has something to hide, there is no reason not to speak openly about his role in The 8888 Uprising suppression. He should explain in detail where he and his division were deployed and specify the commands given to his soldiers,” says Mark Farmaner as the BCUK Director.


Author: Anna Kunová, Myanmar projects coordinator