Aspirations of 1988 Still Being Fought For

August 15th, 2017  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  6 minute read
Featured image

Last week, 8 August, 2017, marked the 29th anniversary of the 8-8-88 uprising in Myanmar[1] , the largest people power uprising against military rule the country has ever seen. Yet the ideals and aspirations that these nationwide protests were fighting for have yet to be fully achieved, none more so than peace and democracy for non-Bamar ethnic nationality communities.

The events of 1988 in Myanmar were the catalyst for a new generation of activists engaged in the long and ongoing struggle for democracy since the first military coup of 1962. A nationwide strike organized by students starting on 8 August, 1988 mobilized hundreds of thousands of monks, students, workers, opposition politicians, civil servants, even some members of the armed forces and people of all ethnicities and religions of the country marching through the streets demanding democracy. The uprising, however, was brutally subjugated with the brutal crackdown on 8 August, and again on 18 September, 1988 as the Myanmar Army took back the streets through arrests, beatings and thousands of killings across the country. The democracy movement, however, did not die on that day. Despite the violence committed by the military regime against political dissent, democracy activists continued their efforts underground, from border areas of ethnic regions and Myanmar’s neighboring countries or in exile, often cooperating with ethnic nationalities’ movements to achieve a federal democratic system of governance and overthrowing the military.

Today, while strides have been made, including the election to Parliament of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party that the 1988 movement gave birth to, the Myanmar Army is committing the same abuses as it did in 1988. The victims of such abuses are overwhelmingly ethnic and religious minorities of Myanmar. On 8 August, 2017 – the day that marked 29 years since the first day of mass, nationwide demonstrations – over 300 villagers in Namtu Township, northern Shan State, had to flee armed clashes as the Myanmar Army launched offensives against the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. Such clashes are not unusual. Large parts of northern Shan State and Kachin State have seen fierce fighting over the last few years, with hundreds of thousands displaced and villagers bearing the brunt of abuses committed by the Myanmar Army as it seeks to wipe out ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that have been fighting for ethnic equality and self-determination for decades.

In Rakhine State, a ‘clearance operation’ after an attack on a Border Guard post by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army led to tens of thousands of people fleeing over the border to Bangladesh. A flash report by the UN Office for the High Commission of Human Rights detailing atrocious human rights abuses committed during this operation has led to allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Myanmar Army.

That the Myanmar Army continues such offensives and abuses in ethnic minority areas, despite the NLD being able to form a government, shows how far away the achievement of peace and democracy is for people in these communities. The Myanmar Army, despite the political and economic changes in recent years, remains unaccountable to the civilian government, maintains key levers of political power, and remains intent on destroying the aspirations of ethnic nationalities. A true democracy must include all stakeholders, and by ignoring the concerns of ethnic people, such dreams will be unfulfilled. As Ko Mya Aye, one of the leaders of the ‘88 Generation Students, stated in a recent debate, “We never started this fight without thinking of the principle of national reconciliation.

“We never started this fight without thinking of the principle of national reconciliation.”

Ko Mya Aye, one of the leaders of the'88 Generation Studetns

In today’s political context, an ostensibly freer environment than 29 years ago has facilitated a plethora of contrasting narratives on how to move the country forward, making the path towards a full democracy less clear. Yet the values and principles that formed the basis and the unity of the people’s uprising of August 1988 – inclusivity and human rights – remain an aspiration for civil society, activists and ethnic nationality communities throughout the country. Sacrifices have been made and much more work remains, but to ignore the realities on the ground, particularly in ethnic nationality areas, would be to go against the spirit and aspirations of 8-8-88.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

ႏွစ္ (၅၀) ေျမာက္ ဆန္ျပႆနာေန႔ အထိမ္းအမွတ္အတြက္ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ေႀကညာခ်က္
By All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress

ABSDF:ရွစ္ေလးလံုးဒီမိုကေရစီအေရးေတာ္ပံုၾကီး ၂၉ – ေျမာက္ အထိမ္းအမွတ္ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By All Burma Students’ Democratic Front

Maungdaw Investigation Commission’s Report is Nnot Credible
By Arakan Rohingya National Organisation

ASEAN MPs Call for Stronger Protections for Migrants and Refugees
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

HURFOM: International Youth Day
By Human Rights Foundation of Monland

Burma: National Commission Denies Atrocities
By Human Rights Watch

Burma: Drop Charges against Mandalay Farmers and Land Rights Defenders
By International Federation for Human Rights

Film screening of “The Kheshorter: Indigenous Karen’s Community Forest.”
By Karen Environmental and Social Action Network and Kawthoolei

ကေဆာထယ္ – ဌာေနကရင္တိုင္းရင္းသားလူမ်ိဳးတို႕၏ေက်းရြာပိုင္ဘံုသစ္ေတာ ရုပ္သံမွတ္တမ္းဗြီဒီယိုမိတ္ ဆက္ျပသျခင္း
By Karen Environmental and Social Action Network and Kawthoolei

KHRG: International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2017
By Karen Human Rights Group

Letter of KNU President Gen.Saw Mutu Say Poe on 67th Anniversary of Martyrs’ Day
By Karen National Union, President Gen.Saw Mutu Say Poe

မြန္ျပည္သစ္ပါတီ (၇၀) ႀကိမ္ေျမာက္ မြန္ေတာ္လွန္ေရးေန႔ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By New Mon State Party

PSLF Statement of Central Committee 6-Monthly Meeting
By Palaung State Liberation Front

ပေလာင္ျပည္နယ္လြတ္ေျမာက္ေရးတပ္ဦး PSLF/TNLA အဖြဲ႕၏ ၆ လပတ္အစည္းအေ၀း ထုုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Palaung State Liberation Front

Statement by the Rohingya Consultative Body
By  Rohingya Consultative Body

SYCB: (၂၉)ႏွစ္ေျမာက္ (၈.၈.၈၈)ဒီမိုကေရစီ အေရးေတာ္ပံုေန႔ သေဘာထား ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By Students and Youth Congress of Burma

Myanmar: UN Rights Expert Urges Restraint in Security Operation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State
By The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

3.8 Million Homes Needed Immediately to Meet Myanmar’s Housing Requirements
By The United Nations Population Fund

(၂၉) ႏွစ္ေျမာက္ ရွစ္ေလးလုံးလူထုအေရးေတာ္ပုံေန႔အတြက္ UNFC ၏ သ၀ဏ္လႊာ
By United Nationalities Federal Council (Union of Burma)

Press Release by Kachin Civil Society Organizations
By 16 Kachin Civil Society Organizations



Urgent Humanitarian Situation Update in Northern Shan State

By Joint Strategy Team

Urgent Update on the Humanitarian Situation Regarding Kasung Village in Moegaung Township, Kachin State, 11 August 2017
By Joint Strategy Team

Urgent Update on the Humanitarian Situation Regarding Kasung Village in Moegaung Township, Kachin State, 13 August 2017
By Joint Strategy Team

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”