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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2423

8888: A Grisly Episode of an Epic Struggle

By: Ahmedur Rahman Farooq

8888-The massacre of August 8, 1988 is a "turning point in the history" of Burma and it has laid the groundworks for the "second struggle for the independence" of Burma as the daughter of Burma's independence hero Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said. The bloods of the 8888 martyrs and tears of their mothers have laid the foundation of the protests, which has drawn thousands of ordinary people onto the streets around the country over the last two decades.Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addressing the pro-democracy mass gathering in 1988Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addressing the pro-democracy mass gathering in 1988

It was an unprecedented uprising of the common people from all walks of life against the tyrannical rule of General Ne Win who seized power in 1962 overthrowing a democratic government and then unleashed a reign of terror all over the country. Millions of democracy seeking people of Burma including students, monks, teachers, government employees, farmers and even house wives marched throughout the country calling for an end to the military rule.

The warning of Gen Ne Win came, "I want all the people of the country to know…..if you gather as crowds and kick up a fuss, the military will shoot so as to hit the target. It doesn't shoot into the air to scare people." But the protest movement did not stop. The fire of protest flared all over the country. The army moved to crush the uprising with merciless violence. They shot hundreds of protesters on this day of August 8, 1988 and indiscriminately massacred thousands in the following weeks. The streets ran with the bloods of the democracy seeking people where some 3,000 people are believed to have been killed even though the top military sources admitted later that at least 10,000 people perished. A military intelligence officer close to the former intelligence chief, General Kin Nyunt who is now under house arrest, told a few years ago that General Kin Nyunt's own assessment was that more than 10,000 people were killed. "Many bodies were quietly cremated so that there was no evidence of the massacre," he said.

In fact, this massacre has shaped a continuous movement of the pro-democracy activists against the military regime which has been going on since then both inside and outside Burma. The military regime crushed the rebellion of the peace loving people of Burma .

They have put the icon of democracy, peace and liberty Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in detention years after years even in violation of the law which they have framed to suppress the political opponents, captivated more than 2,000 political prisoners in their hellish prisons and labor camps. But they could not crush the peace loving spirit of the millions of the common people of Burma. They are continuing their fight against the oppressive rule. And more importantly, the 8888 Uprising has paved the way for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to emerge as the undisputed leader of the people of Burma. Suffice to say that the 8888 has earned the pro-democracy people of Burma an indomitable courage and determination to snatch away the sun of liberty today, tomorrow of day after tomorrow.

Beyond its numerical value, the 8888 is not only a date, but a tragic phenomenon in the life of the people of Burma. It has tremendous symbolism. It saw the blood of innocent civilians spilled by the soldiers of their own country. The 8888 was both a dirge and a defiance, a funeral procession and a rebellion. It is the eternal fountain of inspiration for the people of Burma and at the same time a phenomenon of endless grief. The supreme sacrifice of the 8888 heroes have produced hundreds of thousands of strong voices who have been continuously causing stumbling blocs for the Burmese generals on their way to enjoy absolute control in the country.

It is true that the military regime successfully crushed the people's rebellion against their despotic rule, not due to the lack of courage and determination or due to the lack of popular support or due to the lack of a charismatic leader like Daw Suu Kyi, but it was simply because the army was prepared to do whatever it takes to protect their rule and to kill as many people as it takes to quash the rebellion.

The 8888 was the beginning of the epic struggle of the people of Burma for freedom. It was the big bang that defined the course of the protest of the people over the last two decades. It has extolled the courage immanent in the democracy seeking people of Burma and to take a determined stand to oust the autocracy out of the state machinery at any cost.

The 8888 shook the base of the military regime. It toppled the long-time dictator Ne Win, even though a new group of generals snatched power and crushed the protests. The grim episode of the 8888 has caused an incurable hemorrhage to the rank and file of the state machinery. The military regime knows very well the country is constantly seething with anger against their despotic rule and it can lead to an outburst at any moment and on any occasion. Therefore, as the anniversary of the 8888 Uprising drew near, the military regime deployed troops and security officials in major cities and increased security measures across the country, fearing a repetition of the demonstrations of 1988 or the Saffron Revolution of 2007. Thousands of heavily-armed security forces have been moved to the outskirts of Rangoon days before the twentieth anniversary of the uprising.

They detained many activists who marched in the streets to commemorate the anniversary. Police raided the monasteries in different parts of the country. In Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, the riot police besieged the Bura Gri temple which is the main temple in the city where monks gathered from different monasteries to stage a demonstration. The newly appointed western command commander, General Thaung Aye rushed to Sittwe to take control of the situation in the event that any protests take place in Arakan State .

However, since 1988, the common people of Burma stand in stiff salute to those who have sacrificed their life to rid the country from the military octopus. The peace loving people of Burma commemorate it every year within an adverse state risking their life. They paint graffiti in red on walls and buildings urging people to remember the 1988 uprising. They pray and offer foods to the monks to give merit to the martyrs.

On this day, the pro-democracy groups renew their pledge and resolve to fight with rock-solid unity for restoration of peace, stability and democracy in Burma. They swear by the martyrs to continue their struggle until the second phase of independence is achieved even though sometimes they rise and stumble and fall but determined to rise again. The bloods of so many martyrs can never go in vain. It gives rebirth to the optimism that the people of Burma will stand up again and again to rid the country from the despotic rule of the generals who have been drinking the bloods of the people of Burma decades after decades or asJoanna Fuchs said in her poem 'The Tyrants':

The tyrants are loose again;
They hate all but their own.
They give their lives to kill us,
To scatter our blood and bone.

They care not whom they murder,
Whether woman, man or child;
Their minds are full of fury;
Their sickness has gone wild.

- Asian Tribune

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