For the seventh day in a row, monks are marching in the streets of Rangoon, demanding an end to the military government.
For the last forty years, the South-East Asian country of Burma has been ruled by one of the most ruthless military governments the world has ever seen. The last major uprising demanding democracy was started by students in August 1988. The so-called 8888 Uprising gained momentum as government workers, monks, soldiers and teachers joined the protests. The uprising came to a bloody end as the Burmese army killed hundreds, maybe thousands of protesters.
In the iron grip of the military junta
Since 1988, the military government has held the country in an iron grip. Universities have been closed because the generals feared new student protests, and education is a privilege reserved for children of loyal cronies of the government. In May 1990, the government held “free” elections for the first time in almost 30 years. The National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, won 392 out of a total 489 seats, but the election results were annulled by the military junta, which refused to step down. Since the, the military government has held the country in an iron grip, and Suu Kyi has been imprisoned, either in prison or in her own house.
Protests against the regime have been rare, as the military junta has succeeded in creating a climate of fear. That might be about to change. After rising the price of fuel by up to five times the former price on August 15., the Burmese government now see not only the prices, but the very people rising. Activists from NLD took to the streets protesting the price hike, and were soon joined by both ordinary people and buddhist monks. The generals must have hoped that the momentum of the demonstrations would eventually die down, but so far,the opposite seems to be the case. After the military beat up several monks during a rally in Pakokku, monks have been marching all over the country demanding an apology from the government. According to the BBC, the demonstrations are escalating because the monks – now joined by 150 nuns – are urging civilians to join in.
Burma’s three sons
The Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks, which is leading the demonstrations, has vowed to continue until they had “wiped the military dictatorship from the land”. While I doubt that the Buddhist monks can bring about democracy on their own, a Burmese saying states that when the “three sons” of the nation join hands, the military regime will be in big trouble.
The three sons – a play on words in the Burmese language – are students, monks and soldiers. The monks are already marching, and the students have been quietly working for a better Burma ever since 1988. The important question now is whether Burmese soldiers will join them in their struggle for democracy, or once more be the iron heel that crushes every hope, just like they were in ’88?