What is happening in Myanmar?

Anti-military protests broke out across the country on Sunday 8th August, marking the anniversary of a bloody 1988 pro-democracy uprising, known as the 8888 uprising, against a previous military group.  

These were some of several nationwide protests over the last six months in response to a coup-d’etat in February, resulting in the military seizing power from elected government officials and detaining democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi amongst other key party members. 

The coup followed a 10 year period of democracy within the country which, prior to this, had seen more than half a century of military rule. 

A Troubled Past

This most recent coup is one of a long list of insurgencies in Myanmar’s political history. 

Previously known as Burma, the nation gained independence from British rule in January 1948 to become an independent republic, electing politician U Nu as its first Prime Minister. 

Democracy wasn’t to last long, however, in 1962 U Nu’s party was ousted during a coup led by military general U Ne Win, who ruled the country with a revolutionary council whose members consisted mostlyof senior military officers.

For almost 60 years the country was ruled under a military junta who nationalised the economy and brought an end to civil liberties and democratic institutions, all which helped lead Myanmar to becoming one of the world’s poorest countries. 

During this time, almost all objections to rule were suppressed, often violently, of which perhaps the most famous example is the 8888 uprising. 

8888 uprising remembered

During the four eights uprising hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across Myanmar in opposition of Ne Win’s one-party Dictatorship, and were violently put down by military firing openly at the protesters. 

Although they were successful in toppling his regime, the country failed to return to democracy as another military dictatorship soon took his place, remaining in power until early 2011. 

It is estimated that around 3,000 people were killed on this day and in the months that followed. 

These most recent protests are as much in remembrance of the struggle and blood shed by past protesters as they are linked to the ongoing so-called “spring revolution” to overthrow the current military regime. 

On the uprising’s 33rd anniversary the protesters, who marched in various parts of Myanmar including the cities of Yangon and Mandalay, dressed in red to represent the strong spirit of the 8888 movement.

As well as this, many protesters flashed an eighth-finger salute to represent the revolutionary nature of the movement and carried banners reading “Let’s return the old blood debt of 1988 in 2021.”

This “eight-finger strike campaign” gaining popularity both online and during protests is not just a protest against the injustices suffered at the hands of the current military rule, but a movement in opposition of all of the military regimes that have suppressed an entire nation for almost 70 years.  

photo via The Associate Press

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