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Activists reflect on 30th anniversary of 8888 Uprising

Marches to mark 8888 Uprising have kicked off across the country today. (Photo: DVB)

Commemorations of the 30th anniversary of the 8888 Uprising, which kicked off at the University of Yangon on Monday, are underway in cities and town throughout the country today. Marking the official anniversary of a pivotal movement in the country’s struggle for democracy, former activists, politicians and civil society are discussing how many of the demands made thirty years have been met.

Prior to the widespread protests in 1988, General Ne Win had ruled Burma for more than twenty years. Anti-junta sentiment was rife causing millions to take to the streets calling for the swift end of military rule.

Prompted in part by the ruler’s shock decision in 1987 to withdraw the 25, 35, 75 and 100 kyat notes from circulation – effectively wiping out many families life savings, students began a mass march through Rangoon, sparking riots and larger demonstrations in other major cities including Mandalay, Bago, Taungoo and Sittwe. The regime’s response was brutal – thousands were arrested, tortured and many died by the guns of security forces.

Reflecting on that time, former 88 Generation student leader Min Ko Naing said although much has changed since 1988, there is still progress to be made, including the country’s faltering peace process – spearheaded by State Counsellor Aung San Kyi – and the adoption of federalism.

“We did not talk about the federal system in the beginning of the 1988 Uprising. But today, the topic is included in our discussion because our country is comprised of different races, indigenous peoples and regions. When we talk about democracy, it’s essential to talk not only about democracy but also about the ethnic people.”

“But one important point is that ethnic people also need to believe in [the] democratic system and be active in democratic activities which are concerned with all people, rather than focusing on their own interest. If so, we are balanced,” he told DVB on the sidelines of events at the university.

The National League for Democracy has faced heavy criticism almost since taking office, accused by ethnic parties of ignoring their concerns.

Naing Aung Ma Ngae, a representative of the New Mon State Party told DVB that merely holding political dialogues, referring to the 21st Century Panglong Conference, is “not enough.” He referenced a number of political crises the government had waded into, including building a controversial state of Bogyoke Aung San in Karenni State.

“Most of the ethnic people do not know about political changes. If we do not give consideration to the real conditions on the ground, the situations in war-affected areas, their feelings and experiences … we need to take notice [of these cases],” he said.

Monywa Aung Shin, secretary of the NLD Central Information Committee, acknowledged the party should learn from the Bogyoke Aung San state debacle.

“The opinion of the local people should be given consideration. So, I think, the dissent occurred due to the weakness of the party’s ability to be tactful,” he said.

A report assessing the success of the movement will be submitted to the Union government on Wednesday by former 88 Generation student members.

Mya Aye, who was arrested for his role in the uprisings of 1988 and for his activism in 2007, told attendees at the RC Hall in the University of Yangon campus that Burma “has yet to reach the goal of democratization.”

Despite adopting significant democratic reforms, such as a multi-party parliament, “It is still far [to go] to build a federal union that can give ethnic people self-determination.”

In closing comments at the RC Hall at the University of Yangon, Min Ko Naing urged students and activists to remain committed to the struggle for real democracy, and to “overcome” threats and denials to their cause.

“The 8888 generation movement is not sleeping in history. It is a living spirit flowing in the veins of all generations and can bring us the country we wanted to see, a country that make us proud, and a county the world can respect,” Min Ko Naing told the audience.