The Day A New Era Was Born

The Day A New Era Was Born

Exactly 26 years ago, on 8th August 1988 Burmese citizens woke up on a wet Monday morning with no idea what tragedy and destruction would lay ahead of them.

During my time in Myanmar as it is now called, I heard all about the 8888 uprising (08/08/1988) and how in the week leading up to the protest day every single Burmese citizen seemed to be filled with hope and that everyone was so sure the pro-democracy movement was going to succeed. At the time, the uprising movement seemed to have an unstoppable momentum that would only come crashing down in the weeks that followed.

Beginning with the withdrawal of the currency notes, 100, 75, 35 and 25 kyats, leaving only 45 and 90 kyat notes by Ne Win in 1987, months of student riots and protests followed that would lead to the 8888 uprising on the 8th August 1988. Following the resignation of Ne Win and the introduction of the largely disliked Sein Lwin known as the “Butcher of Rangoon” hundreds of thousands of Burmese from all walks of life took their own fates into their hands and joined one of the biggest protests in Burmese history.

It was a country crying out for democracy, but sadly their protests came to a brutal end with an army crackdown that killed more than 3,000 innocent lives. Twenty-six years later the 8th August still stands as the most important milestone in Burma’s history, a day that marks the beginning of a new Burma, a day that marked the emergence of a full-fledged democracy movement and a government that would spend the next decade suppressing democracy leaders including that of Burma’s democracy icon Aung San Sui Kyi. It was also a day of hope, bullets, blood and tears.

Our dear friends were kind enough to spend time explaining the history through their eyes. It shocked me how open they were and how honest they were about how they felt about the situation. In previous years it was almost impossible to discuss anything related to the uprising. Just muttering the word “88” would land you behind bars.

While driving around the city they began to explain that the Burmese people protested peacefully in the week leading up to 8th August. It was on this day that protests peaked and as more people joined the ever growing protests, army enforcements were brought in with an order “shoot to kill”. Even with a gun to their face protesters remained on the streets in the days that followed.

“Across Burma, people poured out in thousands to join the protests – not just students but also teachers, monks, children, professionals, and trade unionists of every shade. It was on this day, too, that the junta made its first determined attempt at repression. Soldiers opened fire on the demonstrators and hundreds of unarmed marchers were killed. The killings continued for a week, but still the demonstrators continued to flood the streets.” – Amitav Ghosy (2001)

On August 10th soldiers stormed Rangoon General Hospital and began shooting down the doctors and nurses attempting to treat wounded civilians. Two days after, the Sein Lwin resigned the presidency and the people were ecstatic. With hope in the air the people turned to Aung San Sui Kyi the daughter of the former general Aung San who led the independence movement, and she stood and addressed half a million people at Schwedagon Pagoda. It was from this day on that she became the symbol of democracy and for the struggle in Burma. Dispite her efforts 1,500 people in just the first week of the new Military rule were killed and within two weeks, the 8888 movement had collapsed.

The 8888 movement culminated in the 1990 elections, the first free elections in three decades that was swept by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi. However she was arrested and put under house arrest before she could take power. She would spend two decades detained under house arrest only to be released for brief periods only to be put under house arrest again.

Yangon Aung Suu Kyi House

During our visit to Yangon we visited her home where she spent over 20 years detained. Visitors are only able to see the metal gate at the entrance of the estate that was made famous by her speeches given during her arrest where thousands would gather to hear her.

Yangon University

We were also able to visit the University campus and the road leading up to Convocation Hall where hundreds of students were slaughtered in the uprising.

So while the 8th August started a revolt that would see so many people killed, it also a day of celebration, marking a day for the fallen heroes of the 1988 student-led uprising and a day that marks the beginning of the new Burma and the entry of Aung San Suu Kyi into the country’s politics. Still 26 years on the NLD continue their fight for democracy.

Myanmar law currently states anyone whose spouse or children owe allegiance to a foreign power cannot become president and Suu Kyi was previously married to Michael Aris a late British scholar and her two sons are foreign citizens.  It is hoped this law will be changed in time for the elections so that Aung  San Suu Kyi can finally take her place as the first democratic leader of Myanmar.

For a brief overview of Burma’s history during this period watch “The Lady” feature film.

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11 Comments

  1. August 8, 2014 / 7:04 PM

    Fascinating read, I love history and sometimes forget that even more ‘recent’ events deserve their place in the history books. And it’s good that not all travel and tourism is about the bright lights and sights, sometimes you need to delve deeper into a place to really learn about it. Great post!

    • August 9, 2014 / 2:49 PM

      Thanks Heather! I know this sort of post won’t interest many but I really found the whole history and brutality that went on astonishing…I spoke to my parents about it and they remember it happening and hearing about it on the news but they never really understood the reasons why or the extent how many people were killed. But hearing about it from people who actually went through it is pretty heart-breaking and brought the whole thing to life….and visiting the places…well it was a solemn eye opening afternoon.

  2. August 12, 2014 / 8:58 PM

    Hi i saw ur blog from Bigblog and i voted for u.
    Ps im from indonesia and i participate too

    Good luck for us

    • August 13, 2014 / 4:42 PM

      Hi Winny!
      Thank you so much for your vote! I will of course go to yours and vote for you too! 🙂 Good Luck you

  3. August 16, 2014 / 2:54 PM

    I love really well researched posts like this one – it was a really interesting read. I haven’t managed to visit Myanmar yet, but I sure hope I make it there one of these days. It would be fascinating to see how the country has developed so far and I hear everywhere that the people are incredibly nice and helpful and that it’s still quite unlike the rest of the very touristy Southeast Asia.

    • August 22, 2014 / 10:59 PM

      Hi Tiffany You must visit soon before it changes even more then it has already! It is developing so quickly which is good and bad as I fear it will lose its essence that we all love so much! I have been to some parts of SEA and its is completely unique 🙂 Definitely recommend it 🙂 We can’t wait to go back….!

  4. August 22, 2014 / 1:53 PM

    I love the style of your blog, from the bucket list features to the historical review like above. Have you seen Anthony Bourdain’s episode about Myanmar?

    I came across your blog through the 2014 big blog exchange (#bigblogx) contest. I voted for you, and I hope you can return the favor: http://www.bigblogexchange.org/profile/2014/5751399832879104

    Reach out to me and follow on Twitter @travelogueblog or check out my own travel blog for travel tips, stories, and adventure ideas: http://www.travelogueblog.net

    Thanks again and happy travels.

    — Mark NP

    • August 22, 2014 / 10:58 PM

      Hi Mark Thanks for the vote! I have voted for you too now! 🙂 I haven’t seen Anthony’s episode on Myanmar so I will have to have a look! Good Luck in the competition 🙂 All the best!

    • August 30, 2014 / 2:40 PM

      Hey Mark! Thanks for getting in touch and I am glad you like the blog! It took hours of hard work! Thanks for the vote! I’ll be sure to drop you one now too! 🙂
      Good Luck 🙂

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