In the midst of the 08-08-08 Olympics extravaganza, and the huddle of astrologers predicting the worst, there are a group of people celebrating something different. This date is the anniversary of the 8888 uprising, which sparked off the worldwide movement for the freedom of the Burmese people from the oppressive military junta. Like all other major world protests, this was also spearheaded by the youth.
The youth of Burma were perturbed with the state of affairs, and the economic imbalance in their country, since the start of the Burmese military rule. There was rising discontent, and the lack of democratic systems only angered the Burmese people. In November 1985, the students protested the withdrawal of local currency notes. In 1987, the general Ne Win announced the withdrawal of the newly replaced currency notes, only allowing currency notes of 90 and 45 kyats, as he considered the number 9 to be lucky.
Students at Rangoon University protested this move, and, in retaliation, the military killed a student activist, Phone Maw. This paved the way for the 8888 uprising, on August 8, 1988.
The students were joined by a cross section of society, which included monks, government workers, teachers, and hospital staff. They fought hard for the ideals of liberty and equality, and, with a youthful spirit, forged ahead, along with the support of the majority of the Burmese population. The protests were the largest mass movement since the 1948 independence struggle, and the people of Burma were standing up for democracy. They were fighting for what was rightfully theirs – FREEDOM.
According to an article published recently on the BBC website, Aung Din, a student activist who was present during the 8888 uprising said, “Columns of people came from all over, and where we met in downtown Rangoon, there were about 500,000 people. At the same time, in other townships, everywhere people were marching for the same things, for democracy and human rights.”
The protests lasted for around 6 weeks. It was felt that finally, Burma was going to win, and defeat the evil forces of the military.
The military however, had other plans in place. With their evil self-interest in mind, they massacred 3000 innocent civilians, systematically killing the spirit of the Burmese people, and turning a blind eye to their plight. They promised elections, but targeted opponents, in an attempt to legitimize their rule. There were many arrests, and certain prominent leaders were also victimized.
In the midst of these troubled times, Aung Sun Su Kyi, emerged as the leader of the student unions of the nation, and was the public face of the protests. Till today, she is compared to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, and is revered worldwide for her commitment to the cause of the freedom of Burma.
In 1990, the Military conducted its promised elections, and Aung Sun’s party won a landslide victory. The results of these elections were ignored, and the Military further clamped down on freedom. As of now, she is under house arrest, and the Burmese military has hinted that they would release her soon, but, such promises usually fall through, as they have on many previous occasions, when she has been rearrested.
The world saw a flicker of hope in September 2007, when the Saffron revolution took place, taking its name from Buddhist monks who spearheaded the movement. This garnered massive world-wide support, and sanctions from countries such as the United States. Through the internet, people all over the world were able to get first hand information of the struggle, as the military was unable to censor the channels. All major events, including the time when Aung Sun came out of her house for the first time were broadcast minutes after they took place.
Such world wide support was unprecedented, and gave the Burmese people the strength to continue. The Military crackdown was inevitable, and it came down with a lot more force than before. It, however, cannot prevent growing awareness about the ground realities in Burma, and the boycott by nations world over.
Some black sheep include countries such as France, who support the French Oil giant Total, who oppose sanctions against the Burmese junta. France is seen to be defending Total’s interests, who fund the military in a big way. In the neighbourhood, China supports the regime, and has heavy investments in the country. It also exploits the rich natural gas recourses of the region. India also acts on similar lines, and does not support sanctions for the junta. The situation can change, only if the international community can convince countries like China, India, and France to act responsibly, keeping people first, and strategy later.
Today, Burma is a troubled land. It faces crippling poverty, the wrath of a power-hungry and superstitious military ruler, gross human rights violations, and the muddled-up support of the international community. All hope however, is not lost. The world is aware of the crisis in Burma, and is taking action to end this crisis, albeit on a small scale. Already, in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, the international community has come together to rebuild the nation, and is facing serious problems. It is up to us to unite against the military junta, as only a truly united world can rid the country of the military dictatorship.