Translation of Lintner’s ‘Outrage’ Sheds Light on ’88 for Burmese Readers

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 27 June 2013

RANGOON — Over the last two decades, any young Burmese who wanted to learn about the historic 1988 popular uprising that nearly toppled the country’s dictatorship was hard-pressed to do so.

One way would have been to Google it, but for most of the Internet age in Burma, there was nothing easy or convenient about accessing information via the search engine giant. The snail’s pace of the country’s Internet connection was one hurdle to overcome, and use of proxy servers—one of the only ways to access censored exile media and other content related to the 1988 democracy protests—required technical know-how.

For many from younger generations, oral accounts from those involved in the uprising were the most credible and accessible. The events of 1988 took on an almost ahistorical quality; the stuff of fables and favorite bedtime stories.

But now, with the release of a Burmese-language translation of “Outrage: Burma’s Struggle for Democracy” inside the country this month, another curtain has been pulled back.

Penned by Bertil Lintner, a veteran journalist who has written six books on Burma, the tome covers the period leading up to the nationwide pro-democracy movement, widely known as the ’88 Uprising, which broke out on Aug. 8, 1988, and in ensuing weeks saw the Burmese military brutally crack down on the protests, killing several thousand peaceful demonstrators.

“I’ve just made the most of the country’s ongoing democratic transition and the demise of literary censorship,” said Lwin Oo, the Burmese publisher of the book, adding that he didn’t dare publish a book like “Outrage” five years ago, when the oppressive military regime was in power and its draconian press scrutiny board was active.

Lwin Oo said he published the book in honor of the students and other pro-democracy activists who were involved in the uprising, many of whom sacrificed their lives or lost years to political imprisonment.

Coincidently, the book hits shelves as political activists in the country are gearing up to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the uprising in August of this year.

“I really appreciate the publisher’s effort to make the book see the light of day in advance of the ’88 Silver Jubilee,” said Jimmy, 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.

The author Lintner, for years banned from entering Burma due to his coverage of the country, told The Irrawaddy via e-mail that he was glad Burmese readers would have the chance to learn about the historic protests in their native tongue.

“It’s very important that the young generation gets to know what happened in their country 25 years ago,” he said.

“The 1988 uprising changed Burma forever, and is an important event in Burmese history that should not be forgotten,” the former Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent added.

In the wake of the ’88 Uprising and government crackdown that followed, thousands of students fled to border areas. Some sought shelter at the Swedish journalist’s home in Bangkok, giving him a chance to widely discuss the events with dissidents who would sleep in his living room, according to his new introduction to the Burmese printing of “Outrage.” Lintner also interviewed more than 100 Burmese refugees in Thai-Burmese border camps.

“The people who told me their stories were the major drivers to write ‘Outrage,’” the 60-year-old journalist recalled.

“I felt I had to give them a voice, to let them tell others what they had been through. The book is based entirely on first-hand accounts of the events of 1988,” he added.

In the acknowledgements of “Outrage,” Bertil writes that he was frequently told by Burmese people during his research for the book that he should “tell it as we saw it,” since the junta in Rangoon was actively working to re-write history in the wake of the uprising. Lintner said he had followed “this advice as much as possible.”

“I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide which account of the events of 1988 is the most accurate,” he said.

The publisher Lwin Oo said he chose “Outrage” for its vivid portrayal of the uprising and the credibility of its author.

“Every time I read the book, I can visualize the scenes, and I feel I am in 1988 again,” he said.

“Another thing is that Bertil knows Burma and its people very well. He is one of the people who made the ’88 Uprising internationally well known.”

The Burmese publisher said Lintner did much to help make the Burmese translation possible, granting publishing permission, providing pictures and asking for nothing in terms of royalty payments.

“Because I felt it was more important that the book was published in Burmese, for Burmese people, than for me to earn some royalties from it,” Lintner said.

Meanwhile, another book by the journalist, “The Rise and Fall of the Communist Party of Burma,” has also been translated into Burmese and is now being serialized in The Voice daily newspaper. Lintner told The Irrawaddy that it will be published as a full book later this year.

“One day I would also like to see a Burmese translation of ‘Land of Jade,’ which I think would help the Burmese people to get a better understanding of what is happening, and what has happened, in the country’s frontier areas,” he said.