Silver Jubilee Planned to Mark ’88 Uprising

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 20 June 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s political activists are making plans to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the historic popular uprising that nearly toppled the country’s dictatorship 25 years ago.

Widely known as the “88 Uprising,” the nationwide pro-democracy movement that broke out on Aug. 8, 1988, drew hundreds of thousands of Burmese from all walks of life to join a protest in the former capital Rangoon. The movement sought an end to dictator Ne Win’s oppressive 26-year single-party rule, but the government would ultimately crush the protests with a heavy hand, killing at least 3,000 peaceful demonstrators.

Twenty-five years later, the day still stands as an important milestone in modern Burmese history—a day that marked the emergence of a full-fledged democracy movement that managed to oust Ne Win from power, and laid the groundwork for the reforms toward more openness and democracy that the country is seeing today.

In early August this year, more than 1,000 people from all over Burma will gather in Rangoon to celebrate the event, and also to discuss peace and national reconciliation, said Ant Bwal Kyaw, the information officer for the event.

“The theme of the celebration is peace and reconciliation, and around 1,500 people will be invited,” he said, adding that the invitees will be members of political parties, ethnic armed groups, diplomats, exiled activists and international activist groups that have long supported Burma’s democracy movement.

He said the event is scheduled to be held from Aug. 6 to 8 and is being jointly organized by political and student activist groups that have long been involved in the Southeast Asian country’s democracy movement. There will also be an exhibition booth showcasing pictures, documents and other historical memorabilia related to the uprising.

The venue for the ceremony is still unclear, Ant Bwal Kyaw added. Organizers want to hold it at Rangoon University’s convocation hall, the original breeding ground for student activists involved in the uprising.

“If we don’t have permission to use the hall, we will change the venue to the Myanmar Convention Center,” he said.

Toe Kyaw Hlaing, the event’s international relations officer, declined to reveal the guest list, saying it was still being compiled, but hinted that nearly 300 people from overseas would be invited.

“The list will also include international scholars and observers of Burma,” he said.

According to the invitation committee for the event, the guest list will be drafted by the end of this month.

“The 88 movement demanded the changes that we are starting to see now,” said Ant Bwal Kyaw, who is also a member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society (formerly known as the 88 Generation Students group), an activist group made up of former students who were actively involved in the uprising.

For the last 24 years, making offerings to monks or falling silent in prayer to honor those killed in the historic uprising of 1988 has been considered taboo in Burma.

Toe Kyaw Hlaing, one of the students who topic took part in the 1988 protests, said it was difficult to hold ceremonies in the past because the had remained so politically sensitive for the government.

“If you applied for government permission, they never said ‘no,’ but they never issued permission on time,” he explained. “We were also summoned for questioning. Everyone who tried to celebrate felt very jittery.”

But since last year, the government has softened its stance, even giving cash donations to help fund an ’88 commemoration ceremony planned in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city.

“Now we have more openness so that we want this Silver Jubilee of the 88 Uprising to be more politically meaningful by discussing peace and national reconciliation,” he added.