RANGOON — A ceremony in the former capital on Friday commemorated Burma’s 8-8-88 uprising and those killed the bloody crackdown that followed exactly 26 years ago.
Burmese came out onto the streets of towns and cities across the country on the auspicious date of Aug. 8, 1988, to protest against the one-party rule of the late Gen. Ne Win. Many were killed when soldiers opened fire on civilians in the streets of Rangoon and elsewhere, and many more were later locked up as dissent was crushed.
About 200 people—including politicians, pro-democracy activists and students—gathered on Friday morning in the area by Sule Pagoda and Rangoon’s City Hall, the epicenter of the 1988 protests.
Participants marched around Maha Bandoola Gardens, observed a minute of silence and said prayers. They painted an 8-feet-by-8-feet square in red on the street at the corner of the park, and flowers were laid there—the spot where a number of people were gunned down.
“Today is the 26th anniversary, but the desires of those who died in ’88 are still not
fulfilled. We want to honor our comrades who sacrificed their lives on this day,” said organizer Bo Bo. “The Burmese people are still living under a sense of fear and injustice.”
The student-led demonstrations in 1988 successfully unseated Ne Win, but a military junta later seized power. Any public ceremony marking the anniversary of Aug. 8 was banned in the country until 2012, after a nominally civilian government had begun a program of political and economic reforms.
The current government is still dominated by former military officials, however, and no one has ever been held to account for the suppression of the 1988 uprising.
“There is no change. We still have dictatorship and no democracy. The dictators are still oppressing us by using their power,” said Phyu Ei Thein, a participant in Friday’s event in Rangoon.
“We can commemorate the ‘88 uprising on the streets, which was not allowed in past. But we can’t say that we now have freedom. It is just a start.”
The US Ambassador to Burma issued a statement on the anniversary calling Aug. 8, 1988, “a day of bloodshed and sacrifice for those who marched for change.”
“Last year, members of the current government joined those who marched, and families who lost their loved ones that day, in a remarkable ceremony dedicated to healing, to honoring, and to remembering,” Ambassador Derek Mitchell said in the statement.
“Even as the tragedy of this day should never be forgotten, so should it also serve as a reminder of the dangers of division, and the important work that remains here to realize the goal of building a peaceful democracy dedicated to human rights, equal justice and dignity for all.”