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Commemorations marking the 26th anniversary of Burma’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising were held across the country on Friday.
An event organised by activist group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society began on Friday morning at the Kyaikkasan Meditation Centre in Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township. Political activists from several parts of the country gathered to recall the historic events of what is now commonly known as the “8888 uprising”.
In a separate event, Buddhist monks and civilians gathered in front of Rangoon’s City Hall to hold a prayer ceremony for those who died during a brutal crackdown by the Burmese military.
In central Burma’s Mandalay, around 500 people attended a Buddhist ceremony at the Phayagyi Monastery. Tin Aye Kyu, one of the event’s organisers and keynote speakers, urged participants to keep pushing for the changes that many people died for in 1988. Last year, commemorators at the 25thanniversary of the uprising – referred to as the “Silver Jubilee” — established three fundamental goals for a continued path to a democratic future.
“I urged the audience to work for realisation of the three objectives of the 8888 Silver Jubilee Resolution: to facilitate a union congress; bring about a new Constitution and establish a federal union,” said Tin Aye Kyu.
Activists got creative in Pegu Division. In Prome [Pyay], performance artists were joined by peaceful marchers, where crowds watched four characters carry out an allegorical performance about Burma’s media.
“The performance involved four characters trying to dig out a pot buried in the ground, representing the media in Burma,” said Bashee, a former student activist who participated in the 8888 demonstrations. “One of the characters, representing the government, smashed it up to prevent it from falling into the hands of the people.”
Police in the town attempted to stop the march, but whether authorities plan to take legal action against the organisers remains unknown, he said.
Central Burma’s Monywa, Sagaing and Myingyan also held commemoration events today.
The 1988 demonstrations began as protests against Burma’s deteriorating economic situation and the abrupt currency devaluation initiated by then-dictator Ne Win. But public anger grew quickly as awareness of wider abuses surfaced. On 8 August 1988, massive crowds marched through the streets of every major city and Burma to call for change, and authorities struggled to contain the protests.
Eventually, they were ordered to fire directly at the protesters.
Neil Hongsa, a representative of the New Mon State Party, said that Burma is due for another mass demonstration if the government does not address widespread issues such as the need for constitutional reform.
“The 8888 uprising was a product of public dissatisfaction. There are indications that there will be another outburst like that if the 2008 Constitution is not amended,” Neil Hongsa said. “I would like to urge that both the government and political forces in the country promote unity among ethnic nationalities and the general public, looking towards peace and development.
Shwe Myo Thant of the Karenni National Progressive Party said that the 8888 uprising was unique in the sense that people from all walks of life in Burma – regardless of social strata or ethnic differences – had came together to campaign for a true democracy.
“And as of today, we have yet to win this democracy,” Shwe Myo Thant said. “Commemorating the day, in my opinion, will likely contribute to a genuine democratic transition in Burma.”
Some have estimated that thousands were killed by Burmese authorities in the 8888 uprising, but the true number of casualties remains a mystery.