Participants light candles at a monastery in Mandalay for protesters killed in the 1988 democracy uprising
As thousands gathered in cities across the country to mark the 24th anniversary of the 1988 democracy uprising, student leaders in Mandalay said the events of one of the country’s bloodiest periods must not be forgotten as Myanmar forges ahead with current reforms. Ko Ko Gyi, a leader of the 88 Generation Students group, told a crowd of about 1,500 at a monastery near the Mahamyatmuni pagoda that political reform and nation-building must involve the voices and interests of all people, and that the country’s troubled history must not be glossed over. “Forgiving is not forgetting, and the 1988 democracy movement is an important part of our history and we must acknowledge it,” he said. “If the [movement] is not acknowledged by the government, we could lose our patience,” he added. On August 8, 1988, massive protests against General Ne Win’s 26-year dictatorship sparked a bloody crackdown by the Myanmar military that saw the deaths of thousands and catapulted Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy to international prominence. Former political prisoner and another senior 88 Generation Students figure, Min Ko Naing, said the anniversary has in the past been characterized by the former military junta as the celebration of a violent and illegal uprising. Rather, the 8-8-88 anniversary was the birth of a movement whose legacy is a central part of current reforms in the country. “This day and the present situation were born from the sacrifices of many, so we march into the future with the victorious spirit of 1988 to become a democratic country,” he said. Min Ko Naing said that activists and new student leaders have built up new networks across the country that also include representatives of ethnic minority groups. “Due to the people’s unity, we were able to break the wall of the 'single-party system' of the military regime in 1988. Now all we need is a union spirit for nation-building,” he said. “Creating new leadership roles is a crucial part of this, and we want to encourage and welcome a new generation of youths to continue working for the country.” Activists also renewed calls for the government to release all remaining political prisoners in a statement released as part of anniversary celebrations. The Mae Sot-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) said last month it has confirmed that 444 political prisoners remain in prison. Railway Minister U Aung Min, who has been at the forefront of government efforts to reconcile with ethnic opposition leaders and political activists, met with 88 Generation Students leaders yesterday and donated money to the monastery where today’s celebration was held.