Wed 29 Feb 2012
Filed under: Interviews
Two prominent Burmese dissidents of the 88 Generation Group say they plan to continue campaigning for democracy either through civil society or by forming a political party.One of them admits that the events of “Arab Spring” prove that Burma will inevitably follow the path of democracy.”We are not afraid to be arrested again. It’s perhaps part of Burma’s political culture.
Jail is our second home anyway,” said Mya Aye, who was released along with other political prisoners on January 13.
Min Ko Naing, perhaps Burma’s most prominent pro-democracy dissident after Aung San Suu Kyi, said in a separate interview that he will remain outside parliament to pursue full-fledged democracy for the country.
“There are three options for us – parliamentary politics, civil society or ethnic affairs. I am going to be involved in people’s politics – civil society. We have to strengthen our foundation for democracy,” he said.
Some members of the 88 Generation Group will take part in party politics while others will be involved in civil society’s work.
“Others will be working in various fields as intellectuals such as artists, writers, painters, film stars, etc,” he said.
“I don’t want to run in the election because Aung San Suu Kyi is already playing that role and I respect her for that. I will be involved in civil society’s activities,” he said.
Asked whether he believes in President Thein Sein’s sincerity in launching political reform, Min Ko Naing said he believes in what Aung San Suu Kyi says. “As for the president’s promise of reform, I will wait and see.”
Mya Aye, in response to the same question, said it doesn’t matter whether the government is sincere or not.
“Burma must move democracy forward. That’s the trend of the world. Look at the Arab Spring. Look at the events around the world. Burma will have to follow that trend, whether they like it or not.”
He said members of the 88 Generation Group are weighing the pros and cons of setting up a political foundation to pursue civil activities or forming a “strong political party”.
“We may form a political party … just maybe. We are still debating the issue among ourselves,” he said.
Min Ko Naing has, since the student uprising of 1988, spent most of his years incarcerated for opposing the military regime. He was instrumental in organising protests against the military government including one calling for a general strike on 8-8-88 (August 8, 1988) which later became synonymous with the dissident movement itself.
The 8-8-88 general strike attracted hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of Rangoon and was considered a turning point in Burma’s democracy movement.
Min Ko Naing was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, which was commuted to 10 years under a general amnesty in 1993. In November 2004, he was released from prison after serving 15 years. He was rearrested in September 2006 ahead of Burma’s 2006 national convention. He was released in 2007 and rearrested in November 2008, with at least 22 other dissidents, this time to serve 65 years behind bars.
Mya Aye was first arrested in 1989 and sentenced to eight years in jail for his role as a student leader in the 1988 campaign for democracy. He was arrested again in 2007 together with other student leaders and sentenced to 65 years and six months in jail.
They were both freed on January 13 in a mass release of prisoners, including some prominent “prisoners of conscience”.