By Robin Gomes
Myanmar’s anti-coup protesters on Sunday marked the anniversary of the bloody suppression of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising against a previous junta that had held the impoverished nation hostage for almost 6 decades under brutal military rule. The uprising, which began as a student movement, was violently put down with the military firing openly against the protesters and jailing thousands. The revolt has become known as the 8888 Uprising in reference to its date, August 8, 1988. Opponents of the military say an estimated 3,000 people were killed during that crackdown.
The uprising, 33 years ago, had brought to prominence Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the current military junta deposed along with her elected government on February 1. The coup has unleashed a nationwide protest and civil disobedience movement, with a brutal crackdown by security forces on demonstrators and dissidents.
The crisis has roiled the nation with disastrous consequences on the nation’s 54 million, who are hit by an acute food crisis, lack of essential commodities and services and displacement.
Meanwhile, the current surge in Covid-19 cases is wreaking havoc on the people with healthcare services by the military practically non-existent. The Ministry of Health, which is under the control of the government, said on Monday the total number of deaths has now risen to
12,014, while infections surged to 333,127. Experts say the official figures are an undercount.
1988 uprising remembered
To avoid being arrested, protesters held flash mobs and marches on Sunday in various parts of the country, including in the two biggest cities of Yangon and Mandalay. Following the calls of an online campaign, red-clad protesters flashed an eight-finger salute and carried banners that read: "Let's return the old blood debt of 1988 in 2021”. Reuters cited at least 6 separate protests documented on Facebook. "The old debt from 88, we must get it all in this 21," chanted protesters in Wundwin township in Mandalay region, recorded on Facebook videos. Another anti-protest in Myaing township featured placards reading: "Let's struggle together toward the unfinished 8.8.88 people's liberation."
Nearly 50 years of oppression
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has suffered long under the rule of an oppressive military junta from 1962 to 2011. During the nearly 5 decades, almost all dissent was suppressed with gross human rights abuse, which drew international condemnation and sanctions. A gradual liberalization began in 2010, leading to free elections in 2015 and the installation of a government led by Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party the following year.
However, the military coup, 6 months ago, by the current junta leader general Min Aung Hlaing, ended Myanmar’s brief, decade-long experiment with democracy, after decades of isolation and poverty.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a non-governmental organization that documents and compiles a list of persons killed by the junta, on Saturday reported 960 deaths.
On August 1, Hlaing marked 6 months of the coup by declaring himself the prime minister of a newly formed caretaker government. The military-backed State Administration Council (SAC) that was formed after the Feb. 1 coup, has now been reformed as a caretaker government. The junta leader promised fresh multi-party elections in 2 years.
The United Nations denounced the measure as a move in the wrong direction from international calls for the restoration of democracy. “It’s moving us further away from what we have been calling for, member states have been calling for, which is a return to democratic rule, a release of all … political prisoners, a halt on the violence and the crackdown,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on August 2.
The military junta has proved itself intransigent and uncompromising, paying no heed to international calls for a return to democracy.
In recent months, Pope Francis has made several appeals for peace through dialogue and a return to democracy and civilian rule, in respect for the will of the people. He has also prayed and appealed for prayers for the troubled nation.
When he visited the southeast Asian nation in November 2015, he held meetings with the country’s political and religious leaders to help foster a more tolerant, inclusive and peaceful society.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church of Myanmar has made several appeals for peace and an end to the bloodshed. At the same time, the Church has made available many of its facilities and places of worship as shelters for the displaced and for treatment of Covid-19 cases. Cardinal Charles Bo, the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (CBCM), on August 2 called for a national prayer campaign for at least 2 weeks, appealing to followers of all religions to pray in order to “melt the hearts of all people and bring healing, peace and reconciliation”.
Some 88 percent of Myanmar’s 53 million population is Buddhist. Christians form 6.2 percent (including 750,000 Catholics), with Muslims making up 4.3 percent and the rest are Hindu and animist.