Suu Kyi Praises 88 Generation Leaders

The audience listens to Aung Suu Kyi’s speech at the Myanmar Convention Center in Rangoon. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A thronged Myanmar Convention Center saw Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi praise the leaders of the 1988 student uprising against military rule, at the closing of an event on Thursday marking the 25th anniversary of the demonstrations.

“We have to be grateful to the people for their involvement in the uprising,” she told the packed auditorium in the north of Burma’s commercial capital, Rangoon. “We shouldn’t forget about it. We thank anyone involved, especially those who sacrificed their lives for our cause.”

Suu Kyi, now a parliamentarian with ambitions to be Burma’s next president, saw her political career launched in 1988 with a public speech in Rangoon two weeks after the Aug. 8 demonstrations against the Ne Win dictatorship, which had been ruling for a quarter-century.

Her speech this year on Thursday was the culmination of three days of debate and ceremony organized in part by the 88 Generation leaders—prominent former political prisoners who are now in their 40s, including Min Ko Naing, Mya Aye, Ko Ko Gyi, Pyone Cho and Min Zeya.

“Our cause will have success someday, given the number of people gathering here today,” Min Ko Naing told the crowd, an estimated 4,000 to 5000 people wedged into the convention center and an area outside, where some watched the proceedings on a video screen.

Among the delegates were Htay Oo from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the party set up by the same Burmese military that brutally crushed the 1988 student-led uprising, killing an estimated 3,000 people.

Others present included Shan leader Khun Htun Oo and US Ambassador Derek Mitchell.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy about the commemoration and its relevance to Burma today, Mitchell recalled a famous aphorism by philosopher Carlos Santayana. “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, so it is important to honor the sacrifice of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we hope are beginning here,” he said.

After crushing the 1988 uprising, Burma’s military ruled the country until early 2011, before transferring power to a civilian government—albeit one under President Thein Sein, a former general, and with a Constitution that reserves 25 percent of seats for the powerful military.

After those 1988 student protests, the Burmese military refused to acknowledge a landslide win for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in a 1990 election. The ruling generals kept her and other activists from the 88 Generation in jail for many of the subsequent years, and in 2007 they ordered the military to crush another uprising, this time led by Buddhist monks.

The post-2011 government has undertaken political and economic reforms, including the release of most 88 Generation leaders from jail early last year. The 88 Generation leaders, who have worked with the government on various peace processes between the military and ethnic militias, have formed a prominent group in Burmese civil society, prompting speculation that they might establish a political party ahead of the 2015 national elections.

Tin Oo, a senior member of the NLD and a former head of the Burma Army, told The Irrawaddy that the 88 Generation would make suitable political allies for the NLD, should the activists decide to enter formal politics.

“I don’t know whether they will go into politics or not,” Tin Oo said. “If they do, they will not join the NLD—they will have their own party, I think. But in Parliament we will be the same, on the one principle we will be united.”

Both the NLD and the 88 Generation are calling for a revision to Burma’s 2008 Constitution, which vests significant powers with the military and bars Suu Kyi from becoming president.

Refraining recent criticisms of the slowing pace of Burma’s reforms at the 1988 commemoration event on Thursday, Suu Kyi said, “There’s no rule of law in this country so far,” and reiterated her view that the Constitution must be amended.

Human rights groups have said that Burma’s reforms have stalled recently, as farmers and others protesting land-grabs are arrested and jailed. A range of old, repressive laws also remain in place, as Burma’s legislature works through a litany of new and proposed laws.

Nonetheless, Mitchell, the US ambassador, sees the Silver Jubilee commemorations as indicative of change in Burma, remarking that such an event would have been impossible prior to 2011.

“It’s the beginning of a process, but the fact that you can have such an event here, with such a large crowd and wide participation, is remarkable,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Former BBC correspondent Christopher Gunness, who reported on the 1988 demonstrations in Burma, echoed Mitchell’s comments, saying, “It is extremely significant that government ministers and military people came to an event like this, because in all societies that are transitioning from dictatorship to democracy, the first step along the way is truth, is discovering the truth, is telling the truth and acknowledging the truth.”


12 Responses to Suu Kyi Praises 88 Generation Leaders

  1. It is true that we shouldn’t forget the history and the people who made it.
    However, we shouldn’t live in the past history.

    This is the time for “All student groups” to work hard for the country to develop the standard of majority people instead of breathing with charity money.

    Doing politics doesn’t mean not to work and eat other money!
    Can work and do politics at the same time.
    Just talking and criticising about other works are very easy.
    You all should establish yourself to work hard (to earn own income and pay tax to the government) like normal people.
    I’m always impressed the people and students who sacrificed for the country and won’t forget their good hearts.

    But those charity funds for student groups nowadays should be spent for other needing areas such as health and education services for poor people or helping poor farmers.

  2. Suu Kyi “praises” the 88 generation LOL What a cop out? Does she think she is a goddess or a queen? Such arrogance. Did she condemn the actions of the army that she is now so fond of? Did she mention the names of the responsible army generals? Doesn’t she remember that without the 88 uprising, she would probably be still living in England or Bhutan? No revolutionary spirit or fire in her speeches? She’s too old (and self-serving) now and should stay out of the political limelight, especially if she wants to preserve her legacy as a freedom fighter for human rights and the champion of the oppressed.
    What Burma needs is a French Revolution of sorts. Down with the oligarchy!

    • I am very surprised that you do not know who were responsible for crushing 8888, people power revolution? Probably you were not in Burma at that time. You are right without 88 uprising, she would be still living in England or Butan. It make me sure that you were not in Burma at that time. Didin’t you see Daw Suu in Shwedagon Pagoda or in Rangoon general hospital. Where were you my friend? Without Daw Suu, 8888 uprising will be crushed long before September. Daw Suu’s role was as important as the role of the student leaders.

      • I know Suu Kyi was there, but I wasn’t there, so tell me publicly the names of all the generals and the officers who were responsible. Once the names are made public, they should be charged and put on trial (according to the rule of law as Suu Kyi would say) and sent to jail OR given official amnesty so that everything and everyone is forgiven. Of course, I know this won’t happen since everyone is supposed to shut up and work towards a common goal, but then why doesn’t Burma just have a one party system like in China (I do remember NeWin’s BSPP) No need for democracy with dozens of political parties. The problem is that even things that are known to everyone cannot be spoken openly and so nothing is properly archived and history is then twisted and rewritten according to political needs. The Burmese kings used to do that too. I bet very few people know exactly why U Nu asked Ne Win to form the caretaker government in 1958 which led to the 1962 coup d’etat and the despotic military dictatorship. Even people like me, someone born in Burma, before Burma became independent, have to read books by foreigners like Bertil Lintne,r to find out what’s going on. If that is what people in Burma want, so be it, but then we are not talking about an open transparent society where every fact is laid on the table and dealt with properly

      • 25 years on she is ageing, ineffective and out of touch.

    • If she is too vigorous, the current good changes in Myanmar won’t be smooth and her life will be in danger, and the changes will go back in opposite direction. What had done is done, nobody can change the past, but everybody can work together for a better future, a long road ahead.

  3. The people have been united by 8888. If Thein Sein and Shwe Mann want to see peace in their life, they must try to clear out the way for genuine democracy for which thousands sacrificed their lives. Thein Sein and Shwe Mann must not try to stick with Than Shwe’s constitution. It must be thrown away and rewrite a genuine constitution which will be fit to serve the Union of Burma. We are tired of seeing Hlutdaw members with green uniform who were never elected. We just want genuine democracy, not 10% democracy.

  4. Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.

  5. “THOSE WHO FORGET HISTORY, ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT, …”

    The popular uprising of 8.8.88 came at the end of Ne Wins’ 26 years of one party rule under the Burmese Way to Socialism, which made the country poor. The patience of the people was getting thin, but there was a rising expectation of change for the better, as “the old man” was about to retire.
    – That he was replaced by Sein Lwin (“the butcher of 1962”, and the best hated man in the country,) finally put an end to the long suffering patience of the people. It was just too much. In 1988 Myanmar had three different heads of state within a single month. This shows that neither the establishment, nor the army were prepared for the situation. But instead of allowing freedom and democracy to give the country a chance to recover its prosperity, it all ended in a sea of blood and thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of prisoners.
    A whole generation later, before the elections of 2010, almost no one in Myanmar expected any real change resulting from the elections.

    Surprisingly, however, change came.

    The reforms have recently slowed down. people say, … it cannot be expected that 50 years of wrong trend can be reversed within three years, but the efforts should continue in full force.
    It is good, that the people who suffered in the democratic opposition (either in prison, or as refugees) are willing to forgive and forget, and make a fresh start. Myanmar people are capable of such generosity because they are Buddhists.

    But change cannot come, if the tradition of impunity, lawlessness and corruption by people in authority is not stopped, is not reversed. So it is important to keep the spirit of 8.8.88 alive. Myanmar has become a country of many martyrs, who have sacrificed their life and prosperity resisting unfairness with their bare hands, in a peaceful way.
    THEY MUST KNOW THAT IT WAS NOT IN VAIN.

    People in authority, who still think the old ways can continue (behind the scenes), should understand that this is not possible. If the people remember what has happened, if they have learned the lessons of the past properly, they have become wise in soft ways to resist unfairness, and they will see through ruses to disunite them.
    BUT CONSTANT VIGILANCE IS REQUIRED.

  6. The above comment seemed that only Buddhist people can forget and forgive to those who have had committed crimes against humanity in the burmese history. What is the point of being a Buddhist or Christian or Muslim or Hindu? It is nothing if you do not represent people of Myanmar well being and equality such as social, politics, and religious freedom. Looks like Buddhist people have most kind hearted, forgiveness and religious but they are the most corrupted people in the world so far I know.

  7. We heard about closed door victorious anniversaries in the past held on the same days by ex-generals who crushed the 8888 uprising. We never thought that this silver jubilee anniversary was for the long loosing participating activists and the public involved in the uprising although we all know that it would come one day. It was a remarkable great event openly held for all. Thanks to organizers, contributors, supporters and participants.

    In order not to forget the uprising as well as its complementary Saffron uprising, with an intention to leave them as the country’s heritage for next generations, we should put up statutes and structures on the Pyithu Yin Pyin square in front of the Shwe Dagon pagoda.

    I personally wish majority of the 88G leaders not formed any political party in the future. Although they will always work for the betterment of the country, running a political party will narrow their current unlimited role in the politics.

    We don’t have a king or a trustworthy chief of justice to keep and guide the country in states of chaos which would occur from time to time. I wish the new constitution required forming a committee involving some of the 88G leaders, persons who remarkably sacrificed for the country in various forms and most reputable citizens to look after the country at the time of uncertainties and dead government administration.

    Thura Zaw Hein

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