Thirty years after the 1988 uprising, not much has changed
At least 3,000 were killed and many injured. Thousands were arrested, incarcerated and tortured in jail in an almost fruitless push for democracy
The 30th anniversary of a nationwide uprising for democracy in Myanmar is approaching, and in an article for The Irrawaddy, Bo Kyi, a political activist, raised the question of how much has actually been achieved.
Bo Kyi described the ruling military’s response to the uprising, which broke out on August 8, 1988, as “barbaric.” He wrote that “3,000 were estimated to have been killed and many more injured. Thousands were arrested, incarcerated and tortured in jail.”
But even now, almost 30 years later and after some democratic reforms have been implemented, many of the former activists who languished for years in jails are unemployed or unable to work.
Many exiles have been allowed to return, but are still waiting for their citizenship to be restored, while others are waiting for their names to be removed from the government’s blacklist. The 1988 uprising brought the “Burmese way to Socialism,” which the military introduced when it seized power in a 1962 coup, to an end.
But a more direct military dictatorship, rather than indirect rule through the now defunct Burma Socialist Program Party, was introduced leading to years of brutal repression.
Even after political parties were allowed to function and more freedoms were allowed after an election in 2010, the military remains the country’s most powerful institution. According to Bo Gyi: “Now, 30 years on, we are living in a hybrid regime” where power is shared between the democratically elected government and the military.
“We can see some positive signs,” he wrote, “but the civil war goes on, torture remains widespread and gross human rights violations still exist.”
Myanmar has come a long way since the 1988 uprising, but it is hardly the democratic and free society that the people took to the streets to demand 30 years ago.