Updated: July 22, 2013 05:02 AM GMT
Aung San's daughter Aung San Suu Kyi is now a national hero (picture: Shutterstock)
The large crowd which gathered near the northern entrance of Yangon’s hallmark Shwedagon Pagoda swelled to 2,000 people by noon on Friday, July 19.
“Heroes are immortal,” read placards held by young men in a long line, dressed in white T-shirts with the logo of the country’s late independence hero, General Aung San.
The father of Aung San Suu Kyi, who now symbolizes the country's progress to democracy, Aung San was assassinated by a political rival, together with other members of the cabinet on July 19, 1947. Just 32 years old when he was killed, he now lies in a tomb at the foot of the pagoda.
Among Myanmar people, Aung San is widely credited for engineering the end of colonial British rule. But successive military dictators downplayed his history. After 1988, when the junta cracked down on a pro-democracy uprising, photos of Aung San were removed from banknotes and government offices. The state-owned radio stations ended their practice of airing a siren at 10.37 a.m. on the anniversary of his death.
Until recently, any attempt to publicly express admiration for Aung San or mark the day faced harsh punishment by the same military rulers who kept his daughter detained in prison and at home for a total of 15 years.
“The soldiers even tried to run over with their lorries students who marched to the mausoleum to mark the anniversary day in 1989,” said Tin Oo, the former defense minister who is now the patron of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
But as part of the recent political changes from army rule to civilian administration, the authorities have become more relaxed about the public expressing their admiration for Aung San and celebrating the anniversary. The mausoleum at the foot of Shwedagon Pagoda, where the remains of Aung San and eight colleagues were laid to rest, was re-opened to the public just a few months ago.
“I have never been to this mausoleum until today. To be frank, I don’t understand much about what he did too. I know him only as the father of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Yan Naing, a 24-year old university student who came to pay his respects.
Like many of the people who came to the mausoleum, he complained that the current civilian government, mainly formed of ex-army generals including President Thein Sein, still fails to pay sufficient respect to the biggest of the country’s national heroes.
“The former dictator Than Shwe never came here to honor Aung San. Thein Sein never came here since he became president in 2010 and now he is touring in Paris instead,” said Kyaw Tun, a school teacher.
The government was represented by Vice President Dr Sai Mauk Kham, who has no military background and is regarded as a nominal leader. He was joined by Suu Kyi.
People were also upset when the government snubbed an opposition proposal to resume the tradition of airing a siren on state radio. But those who wanted to remember Aung San made their own tribute on Friday.
Near the mausoleum, people played speeches of Aung San on their phones and computers. On the stroke of 10:37 am, when the assassinations occurred, people honked their car horns, played a mournful siren and observed a minute of silence. There was no harassment by the police security forces standing nearby.
“Aung San never abused his power or enriched himself and his family," said Ba Koe, a 78-year old army veteran. "We still mourn his loss.”
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