The Irrawaddy

Veteran Activists Call for August 8 to be Burma’s ‘Democracy Day’

A ceremony marking the 28th anniversary of the birth of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising was held on Monday at the Dhamma Piya Monastery in Rangoon. (Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy) 

RANGOON — 88 Generation Peace and Open Society—an activist group led by former student leaders of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising—have called on the government to formally recognize August 8 as Burma’s “Democracy Day.”

The call was made at a ceremony commemorating the 28th anniversary of the general strike that launched the uprising, held on Monday morning at the Dhamma Piya Monastery in Rangoon.

The 88 Generation statement said that the movement, known as “8-8-88” to mark the date on which it was launched—when hundreds of thousands of people, led by students, hit the streets to call for an end to the 26-year military dictatorship of Ne Win—was of great historic but also symbolic importance to Burmese society.

“The ‘four eights’ democracy movement occupies a noble place in Burma’s political history,” the statement said. “We urge the government to officially recognize August 8 as Burma’s ‘Democracy Day.’”

The events of that day in 1988 culminated in a bloody military crackdown, centered outside Rangoon’s City Hall, as protestors converged on Sule Pagoda in the heart of the city.

Estimates of the death toll from the crackdown, as protests extended across the country, go well beyond 3,000, although the figure remains contested—the government claimed only 350.

Min Ko Naing, a former student activist and leading member of 88 Generation, said the uprising should be commemorated on a far grander scale than it is now.

“We want to bow our heads and honor the sacrifices of our fallen colleagues, who died holding our revolutionary peacock flag,” he said.

“We want to grandly commemorate the day so that the public, including the generations born since the uprising, know its value,” he said.

Tin Oo, patron of the now-ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), attended the commemoration, saying that the 88 Uprising was “an unimaginable revolution.”

He said, “Students with no weapons, and only holding pens, took to the streets in a protest demanding an end to the oppressive military dictatorship. They proved that the country needed a multi-party democratic system.”

He also encouraged those attending the ceremony to continue fighting for a genuine democratic government.

Activists from 88 Generation and the NLD were joined at the ceremony by members of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), among others who also took part in the uprising.

The SNLD chairman Khun Htun Oo spoke at the ceremony, saying that the public had proved their hunger for democracy 28 years ago, but political leaders have not fulfilled their responsibility to the country.

“It was an act of the public condemning its ruler,” he said. “Our goal of democracy has not been fully accomplished even after 28 years.”

“An annual commemoration such as this would make us reflect on how much we have fulfilled our responsibilities towards our country,” he said.