In 1988, Talkin' Bout a Revolution

By The Irrawaddy 8 August 2013

The student-led uprising of 1988—and the military crackdown that followed—left many questions unanswered, but that didn’t stop activists, generals and prognosticators in Burma and abroad from adding their two cents about the country’s future in the aftermath. Political jockeying and justifications for the brutal suppression were orders of the day, and a generation of student leaders, whether they knew it or not, were staring down the barrel of a 25-year struggle for democracy. Veteran journalist Dominic Faulder, who covered the events of 1988 as they were unfolding, has assembled a collection of quotes from 1988-89, when the fate of the Golden Land was anybody’s guess.

“The recent uprisings were good for the people, but we cannot yet say it will be directly beneficial to the revolutionaries.”




—Gen Bo Mya, then president of the Karen National Union in Manerplaw on Aug. 12, 1988 [Asiaweek, Sept. 2, 1988]

“The only question is whether the new era will emerge peacefully in accordance with the will and wishes of the Burmese people, or whether it will be the product of anarchy and violence.”




—US Congressman Stephen Solarz in early September 1988 [Asiaweek, Sept. 16, 1988]

“[Gen Ne Win] cannot oppose the consensus, what the whole country is demanding. I believe he is controlling the reins from the back, but that he has given in.”




—Leading opposition figure Gen Tin Oo, Sept. 11, 1988 [Asiaweek, Sept. 23, 1988]

“A lifetime in politics does not appeal to me, but how long is a lifetime? Obviously, once you start a movement like this, you don’t stop halfway and say, ‘That’s it, I’ve had enough.’ You just stay there until it reaches a logical conclusion of some kind.”



—Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Sept. 25, 1988 [Asiaweek, Oct. 7, 1988]

“If I want to do a certain thing I do it at once, sometimes without consulting my comrades. But I always give them this chance: if they don’t like what I do, I resign from the leadership. It they accept what I have done, they support me. In democracy that should be the way.”



—Former Premier U Nu in early October 1988 [Asiaweek, Oct. 14, 1988]

“Burma as a whole is very peculiar. You know, nobody outside Burma can believe how such a tolerant people all of a sudden burst like atomic bombs. Burma is such a place. Especially Gen Ne Win’s character. We don’t know actually what is in his mind.”



—Brig-Gen Aung Gyi in early October 1988 [Asiaweek, Oct. 21, 1988]

“Since the government announced a multiparty system [on Sept. 10], some 20 parties have popped up. Every leader has different ideas. This we regret very much.”




—Student leader Min Ko Naing in Yangon in early October 1988 [Asiaweek, Oct. 28, 1988]

“I’ll always be with the people. I’ll never die. Physically I might be dead, but many more Min Ko Naings would appear to take my place. As you know, Min Ko Naing can only conquer a bad king. If the ruler is good, we carry him on our shoulders.”

—Student leader Min Ko Naing in Yangon in early October 1988 [Asiaweek, Oct. 28, 1988]

“Our armed struggle cannot get going quickly. We haven’t enough money, food, medicine, and other requirements. Many students in the jungle have malaria.”

—Student leader Maung Maung Kyaw in Bangkok on Oct. 26, 1988 [Asiaweek, Nov. 11, 1989]

“I believe that I saved the country from an abyss. The country has come back from an abyss, and I saved the country, for the good of the people, according to the law.”

—Snr-Gen Saw Maung on Jan. 18, 1989 [Asiaweek, Jan. 27, 1989]

Following the Asiaweek interview with Snr-Gen Saw Maung:

Pakhanthar: “Once the Asiaweek wrote only what was not true and so it may be said that on the whole it has made considerable progress.”

Chipathar: “I agree with you. Once this magazine acted as a mouthpiece of the insurgents and destructive elements and wrote news and articles in their favor and some called it ‘Asia Weak’ instead of Asiaweek and some even named it ‘Asia Wicked’.”

—“Pakhanthar” and “Chipathar” engaging in a contrived “nation-building” dialogue in the main state organ, The Working People’s Daily, on Feb. 15, 1989.