Monday, August 8, 2011

Spirit of ‘8888’ pro-democracy uprising will survive

Monday, 08 August 2011 22:17 Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – For the former students who remember, the spirit of 8888 is their “heart and soul” and will survive.

This is the feeling of several former students including Bo Bo, who took part in the 1988 student uprising when he was in the 9th grade. “88 is our soul and our soul is 88,” he said.  “88 cherishes the truth. People sacrificed for the truth.”

Demonstrators are shown during the 88 Burmese
student uprising in this file photo.
On the 23rd anniversary of the uprising, Mizzima interviewed people who participated in the demonstrations that shook Burma. Under the one-party system of the time, ruled by the Burma Socialist Programme Party, the ‘8888’ uprising, that began in earnest on August 8, 1988, was staged as a result of a general national crisis confronting the people.

The uprising mirrored the “People’s Power” uprising in the Philippines in 1986 that brought down the Marcos regime. But in Rangoon, the outcome was different.

As a result, General Ne Win’s dictatorship killed more than 3,000 people who took part in the demonstrations including students and monks.

Since then, more than two decades of military regimes under various guises and names have oppressed the people in all sectors including education, social affairs and economics, preventing them from staging more uprisings against the power holders. Many of the 88 students were jailed and several remain in prison.  

Another 88 student, Zin Mar Aung, said: “They’ve done it to make students afraid of politics. After 1988, the authorities arrested students who were connected with politics. They want the students to be afraid of politicians. There are students in prisons. The lives of their families have been ruined. It’s psychological warfare.”

After the uprising, most of the colleges and universities were built on the outskirts of towns and cities and in remote areas to divide the students.

“It’s a crying shame that today’s students, for instance, my friend’s daughter, does not know the names of the nine martyrs. She is a first year civil engineering student. Our history has been distorted,” Bo Bo said sadly.

Observers said it is obvious that the junta led by former Senior-General Than Shwe wanted to efface the electoral results of the 1990 election that was a result of the ‘8888’ pro-democracy uprising. The people elected National League for Democracy (NLD) candidates in a landslide but the former junta discarded the results. To eliminate the electoral results of the 1990 election, the junta held another election in 2010 and formed a new government in accordance with its own “seven steps to democracy road map.”

“The junta totally and openly opposed the people’s desires demanding democracy,” Than Doke, another student demonstrator, said.

Moreover, the former junta carried over many of its tried and true anti-democracy tactics in the one-sided electoral laws passed before the 2010 election, and has since threatened the survival of the NLD. Since the election, the ruling government led by President Thein Sein has declared that the NLD was dissolved and placed the NLD under pressure not to carry out political activities.

Meanwhile, the ruling government wants to occupy the rotating chair of Asean in 2014, to show the world that positive changes have taken place in Burma. As a result, the ruling government recently arranged a meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and government’s liaison minister Aung Kyi, and it has invited Suu Kyi to attend a government forum on microeconomics in Naypyitaw.

Some observers wonder if the ruling government is trying to divide the NLD and Suu Kyi.

“If you want to see it from her point of view, you need to think like her. Honestly, we cannot think like her sometimes. But, she will do the best that she can,” Bo Bo said.

Than Doke said, “I think that the government led by Thein Sein may want to place Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest if possible. I think the government has not tried it in accordance with the current circumstances. They may put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, and completely dissolve the NLD and CRPP given half a chance.”

1988-generation students think that for Burma to occupy the Asean chair in 2014, the new government led by President Thein Sein still needs to make considerable changes. In addition to the international community’s demand of the release of all political prisoners in Burma, the pro-democracy activists including 1988-generation students also think that it is the most important thing the government must do.

Than Doke said, “As long as there is a policy that says the countries have no right to interfere with each other’s internal affairs and the policy is given priority, the government like Thein Sein’s government will have an equal place. We should continue to oppose Burma’s demand to occupy the Asean chair, I think.”

Despite the new government’s action of increasing pension payments and granting loans for people, 1988-generation students are skeptical of the trumpeted progress.

Zin Ma Aung said, “Censorship has been relaxed on some of the press. And open-door policies have been adopted to some extent in some cases. But, the policies have not been stable. There is an ebb and flow. We cannot hope that a country being ruined for many years will dramatically improve within one or two years.”

Earlier Suu Kyi said that young people must be welcomed for the change of the country and young people were very important force for the country’s future. But for many of these former students, their youth was taken away from them by the crackdown.

Khin Moe Aye, 43, has been helping arrange ceremonies in Rangoon to mark the anniversary of the “8888” protests. She recalls she was in her final year at Rangoon University studying chemistry when the protests broke out 23 years ago. She says she was not really interested in politics but when the former government of General Ne Win began killing protestors, she could not stand idly by.

“I participated in the protests because it was intolerable that the government killed the students. Then, I came to understand politics gradually. Initially, I took part in the demonstrations because I wanted to fight the system that killed many students.”

The demonstrations were a “touchstone for change” in Burma, she said.

Khin Moe Aye has not looked back. Despite threats from the authorities, she was active in the democracy movement. “I was interrogated because I worked as a member of the Students’ Union of lower Burma. I was detained for 21 days in Insein Prison for interrogation, and I was released in November, 1990.” Since 1988, she has been locked up in prison three times for a total of over eight years.

She said it was particularly hard being a woman in jail. “When I was imprisoned, I encountered many problems. I suffered my first imprisonment when I was young. When the interrogation was conducted, I had difficulty dealing with it because I am a woman. I had to become strong. We lost our human rights in the prisons.  We were treated like animals. In November 1999, the International Committee of the Red Cross visited the prisons and then the conditions in prisons were slowly changed.”

For Khin Moe Aye, the new government says that it is a government that supports democracy. “I wish the government was a genuine democratic government. I hope the government will hold dialogues with Aung San Suu Kyi and all ethnic people. As far as I know from newspapers, significant changes have not occurred. They are discussing taxation and the alleviation of poverty. The agenda regarding alleviation of poverty is good if it is focused on the grassroots level. If it’s not, the effort will be fruitless.”

1988-generation students hope that new young generation leaders will emerg to substitute the current leading pro-democracy leaders such as NLD leaders including Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders.

“[I’ve observed] the ethnic people I’ve met and young people. But, I cannot say their names. It’ll be clear that, we, Burmese people and ethnic people, are not stupid,” Bo Bo said.

Similarly, Than Doke said he was hopeful: “New generation leaders usually emerge in every aspect of every era. That’s why the political movements are transferred from old generations to new generations. New generation leaders must lead the era. On the other hand, it’ll be the best if old generations can train new generations as much as they can. It is sure that we have to transfer the country’s national duties to the young people both in politics and economics.”

However, 1988-generation students believe that the fighting spirit of the ‘8888’ pro-democracy uprising will never cease. “If you ask whether leaders like Min Ko Naing will emerge or not, please don’t doubt that new leaders will emerge. We will win victory via people’s power in Burma. It’s sure that the condition of Burma will improve. The military dictatorship will completely end. I believe that time is not too distant,” Than Doke said.

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