Returning the Blood Debt of ‘88

August 12th, 2021  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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“Our public struggle and resilience over the past six months are the best proof that we will achieve victory.”

Tayzar San, activist and leader of the Spring Revolution from Mandalay

As the resolve of the people of Myanmar and their Spring Revolution refuses to be broken, flashmob-style protests across the country marked a familiar anniversary on Sunday, 8 August, 2021. It has been 33 years since the 1988 uprising against military dictatorship was brutally put down by the same military that today is gunning down innocent people calling for democracy, human rights and federalism. It is tragic that the anniversary is not one of reflection on darker days of the past, but rather is in the middle of a familiar and long-standing struggle. Yet it is also a testament to the bravery and determination of the people of Myanmar, that despite the extreme violence and brutality they face, they continue to be on the streets demanding an end to military rule.

Flashmob protests, quickly appearing and disappearing before the junta troops could murder or arrest participants, occurred in Yangon, Mandalay, and rural areas to remember the momentous days of the democracy movement in Myanmar of 1988. A slogan linked the two national movements, “Let’s struggle together towards completion of the unfinished 8-8-88 people’s liberation movement” while another remembered the extreme and familiar violence with which the junta put down the 88 Generation movement, “Let’s return the old blood debt of 1988 in 2021.” That blood debt, which references the thousands of protesters who were murdered in 1988 by the military for daring to oppose their rule, has only accrued interest in the years since, and particularly in the last 6 months since the attempted coup of 1 February.

As in 1988, the Spring Revolution is one that brings the country together from all strata of society, including the youth, workers, students, middle and working classes, LGBTIQ community, as well as Myanmar’s diverse religious and ethnic groups from the Kachin to the Rohingya. It follows in the footsteps of the previous ‘88 Generation, as well as other moments of democratic defiance, such as in 1996 and 2007. However, the violence committed by the Myanmar military is once again cruel and inhumane. At least 965 people have been killed by junta troops and over 7,000 arrested since 1st of February. Attacks against ethnic armed organizations, and in particular the Karen National Union and the Kachin Independence Organization who have been voicing solidarity and providing support to the Generation Z students and youth activists who have fled the crackdowns in the cities, have been particularly fierce. In just the last month, heavy artillery, airpower, and attacks in Karenni, Kachin and Karen areas has caused displacement, deaths, and injury, only worsening a humanitarian crisis that consists of a trifecta of the coup, COVID-19, and seasonal flooding.

In a dynamic that has emerged since the 1 February coup and is reminiscent of the immediate post-independence era of Myanmar, self-defence forces have established themselves throughout the country. Often named People’s Defence Forces (PDF), these decentralized groups are rooted in local communities, some with ties to the interim, National Unity Government (NUG) and have been making a brave stand against the illegitimate coup and subsequent violence by the junta. However, just as with protesters in the towns and cities of central Myanmar, and just as with ethnic communities living in conflict-affected areas, the military junta has unleashed terrible vengeance. For example, in Kani Township, Sagaing Region, yet another mass grave has been found, the third in the past few weeks, evidencing a massacre of villagers by junta troops. The bodies of the 12 people, including one 14 year old boy, were found a few days after an operation by the military to seek out members of local PDF chapters. As with the other two graves in Kani Township, the bodies showed signs of torture. Meanwhile in Mindat, where the Chinland Defence Force has put up defiant resistance, the junta has blocked the transportation of essential aid and essential items to this remote part of the country, leaving up to 50,000 people with only two weeks of food left.

The anniversary of the 1988 uprising is a stark reminder of how long the struggle to overturn military rule has been going on for. Yet it is also a reminder that despite all the setbacks, violence and cruelty that the people of Myanmar are facing, their resolve and determination to fight remains as strong as ever. The people are on the streets, workers are on strike, and communities are looking after each other the best they can in the worst possible circumstances. As Tayzar San, activist and leader of the Spring Revolution from Mandalay told news outlet, Myanmar Now, “Our public struggle and resilience over the past six months are the best proof that we will achieve victory.”


[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.

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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.”