On the 20th Anniversary of the Burma Uprising
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Burma's uprising on August 8th, 1988. Over 3,000 Burmese citizens were killed while peacefully protesting the socialist regime. Yet, not many news organizations seem to be giving it much coverage. Here's a rundown of the uprising and repercussions that are still being felt there today.
When: August 8th- September 18th 1988
Where it happened: Burma aka Myanmar. At the time of the uprising, Burma was a socialist state.
University students in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the former capital of Burma, staged a peaceful protest in response to the death of Phone Maw who was a student at the Rangoon Technical University. He was shot by a soldier in front of the main building on campus during a demonstration.
At the time of the uprising, Ne Win was General and Head of State of Burma, and the Chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party. His policy of rapid nationalization of industries caused Burma to sink even deeper into poverty, a state it maintains today. Just how bad was it? In 1987, Ne Win declared that 80 percent of the money in circulation had no value. In essence, it instantly rendered the savings of thousands of Burmese worthless.
The shooting ignited an already agitated public, and hundreds of thousands of Burmese monks, schoolteachers, hospital staff, and customs officers eventually took to the streets in peaceful protests. The revolutionary spirit proved infectious and soon spread to neighboring cities in the following weeks. According to Win Min, a Burmese exile, "the whole country was marching in the streets."Â That is, until the marches were brutally quelled by the military.
During the August 8th uprising Ne Win told his soldiers "Guns were not to shoot upwards," meaning he was giving them permission to kill protestors. Monopolizing on the unrest, General Saw Muang staged a coup d'etat, declared martial law, and formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council.
The Death Toll:
During the mass uprising on August 8th a reported 1,000 protesters were shot. Until the military assumed power on September 18th, another 3,000 were estimated to have been shot and another 10,000 fled to the mountains or across the border to China or India. One exile, Ngun Cung Lian, participated in the protests, and even led one in his hometown. To escape persecution he walked for seven days in the jungles of India. Today, he resides in America.
Present Day Situation:
Not much has changed in Burma. There is a new leader but it is still a military junta and they still fail to recognize fair elections. The junta continuously violates human rights. Many exiles and democratic leaders in Burma have hope for the future, however. They say the time is right for the democratization of Burma. First, the poor handling of Cyclone Nargis last May has reignited the Burmese will to fight for democracy. Second, China wants stability in the country, which is quickly becoming more chaotic by the day. And finally, the internet is allowing exiles to communicate with people in Burma in ways never thought possible, helping to facilitate a transition to democracy. The next elections in Burma will be held in 2010, but seeing as the last elections were held in 1990 and not recognized by the military junta, the Burmese still have an uphill battle to fight.
"¢ The World Bank discontinued all lending to the country in 1987 and has no plans to reinstate lending policies to the country.
"¢ Many people debate the use of Burma vs. Myanmar. By not recognizing the name given by a military junta, people claim it delegitimizes their claim to political power. Others view the problem as a Catch-22: Great Britain gave Burma its name when it colonized the region.
"¢ Burma is slightly smaller than Texas.
"¢ Nine months after the August 8th uprising, the famous Tiananmen Square Protests took place in Burma's neighboring country, China.
"¢ The uprising went unknown for many years as the new Junta quickly cut off all means off communication with the outside world and the global eye quickly shifted to the incident in Tiananmen Square.