A Happy Day, and a Grim Anniversary

Today, on her first full day on foreign soil since becoming Burma’s democratic icon 24 years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi was greeted by crowds of ecstatic supporters in the Burmese enclave of Mahachai, near Thailand’s capital. But nine years ago on this day, it was a very different crowd that surrounded her.

On May 30, 2003, Suu Kyi and her entourage were traveling in Upper Burma during a rare period of relative freedom that was soon to come to an abrupt end. That night, on the outskirts of Depayin, Sagaing Division, her vehicle was stopped by a mob that soon set upon her followers with bloodthirsty, calculated brutality.

That incident, known as the Depayin Massacre, ended in the death of as many as 70 National League for Democracy (NLD) supporters. Even Suu Kyi and other senior members of the party barely escaped with their lives.

Instead of punishing the culprits—thugs organized by the Union Solidarity and Development Association (now reconstituted as the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party)—the former junta arrested and imprisoned Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders. Most remained in detention until the regime had safely handed power over to itself (in civilian guise) following sham elections in November 2010.

Looking back on this episode, particularly from the vantage point of Suu Kyi’s triumphant return to the public eye and now the world stage, we can see just how far Burma has come since last year, when the new government of President Thein Sein signaled that it was ready to create some space for the NLD. But it also serves as a sobering reminder of the complex challenges that Burma still faces as it strives to emerge from the legacy of half a century of military rule.

While the positive strides of the past year must be acknowledged, they cannot erase the memories of suffering that almost all Burmese have of this long, dark period in their country’s history. Real reconciliation cannot be achieved without justice, and that means facing the past as well as creating the basis for a better future.

Not surprisingly, many in the current government would prefer not to remember Depayin or the countless other atrocities inflicted upon Burma’s people by its rulers. “We must not be speaking about the past. We should be looking forward,” Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said in a recent interview with the BBC in Bangkok.

For now, many in the opposition seem to agree. Suu Kyi has made no mention of today’s anniversary, even though the attack was clearly directed at her, and her followers have contented themselves with quietly commemorating the deaths of their comrades in private ceremonies. (NLD sources told The Irrawaddy that Kyaw Soe Lin, Suu Kyi’s driver on that fateful night, made offerings for the repose of the Depayin dead at a ceremony in Mandalay this morning.)

Eventually, however, the ghosts of the past will need to be pacified publicly. This does not mean that retribution will have to be meted out, but that the truth must be told. Until that day comes, Burma’s future will remain as mired in misery as its past.


2 Responses to A Happy Day, and a Grim Anniversary

  1. “…we can see just how far Burma has come since last year, when the new government of President Thein Sein signaled that it was ready to create some space for the NLD. ”

    Good spin and popular concept even though the statement is in direct contradiction with the sentence above whihc The Irrawaddy might want to change now.”…regime had safely handed power over to itself (in civilian guise) following sham elections in November 2010.”

    How can it hand over to itself and New as well. Still let’s say it is NEW.

    As every one seems to have pathological need to be NEW! But what is new is definately not Thein Sein. It is Aung San Suu KYi who is now unconditionally and avidly supporting Thein Sein and the military rather than the military changing at all. In fact they are more entrenched and stronger than ever in the history of Burma, even killing people openly with no retribution and evicting people of the land like swatting flys which they dare not do only last year!

    Have all the fun you want, but please do not say people benefit in any shape or form from this Free Aung San Suu Kyi circus and opening business which is Than Shwe selling the country out to everyone rather than just Chinese and Thai like in the past to the roaring chorus of approval from who else ?, the WEST.

  2. Past is historical records and lessons, the present is our progress and actions and the future is our utmost better planing for coming generation. But the past cannot be forgotten because we had given our blood for the sake of nation. So opportunist idea is just forget the past which is nonsense.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available. Comments with external links in the body text will be deleted by moderators.