Fri 3 Aug 2012
Filed under: Opinion
In 1988, after the student uprising, thousands of Burmese University students fled to the Thai border jungles. The impact of this on expatriate Burmese in Thailand was enormous, as daily news was aired on Thai TV and newspapers. News was blacked out in Burma at the time.
The predominant feeling was that Burma would lose its most valiant and gifted generation…the generation that in later years Min Ko Naing coined “The 88 Student Generation.”
Notwithstanding the fact that a lot of the students at the border perished in jungle warfare and to malaria, thousands were relocated and given political asylum by the US, Canada, UK, Norway, Australia, India and many survived in Thailand as illegal immigrants until they were relocated to Western countries. Credit should go to the UNHCR in Bangkok and the governments of the above nations who accepted these young Burmese political refugees and gave them a chance to live and rebuild their lives in safety and a degree of human dignity.
Most political pundits and the Western media view the 88 uprising as a failed revolution. This commentator has a different opinion.
That student uprising was a gigantic explosion of a force made up of discontent and disillusionment that had been gathering steam for three decades under Ne Win’s military dictatorship. It was spearheaded by the 88 student leaders.
Though the uprising was severely stamped out, the movement did not die in Burma. It went underground and abroad and it survived for nearly a quarter century. This in fact is the greatest and most fascinating history of survival of Burmese democracy movement. And it is all because of the 88 generation of students who would not give up their commitment to the ideal of democracy in Burma whether they survived within the country or abroad.
Inside the country, squired by the student leadership, Aung San Suu Kyi became a globally recognized icon for democracy that kept the movement alive simply by staying put under house arrest. She and others inside the country kept the flame of hope alive. Abroad, the students, wherever they were relocated, tried to rebuild their lives, found their own niches and kept the ideals of freedom for Burma as best they could. The most notable student refugees were the ones who were able to set up democratic media outlets like the Democratic Voice of Burma in Norway, Mizzima in India, Irrawaddy in Thailand, who joined up Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and the BBC. These media virtually kept the thread of democracy alive for the Burmese living abroad and also for the population inside Burma.
The rich in the nation would receive the news via satellite dishes and all over Burma wherever one goes even in rural areas FM radios are ubiquitous. BBC, RFA and DVB kept the Burmese population informed of the movement. Many of the student refugees tried to survive in the respective countries they were relocated in and tried to rebuild their lives under very difficult circumstances.
There are many success stories as well as failures and everything in between. But one common thread was that their commitment to their political ideal never died. They were just too resolute, too headstrong and just refused to wither away and die out. They just would not give up.
It was very gratifying that the Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann met with Min Ko Naing and his group of 88 student leaders in Naypyitaw. At long last, the 88 generation of students have gotten their place in the sun.
It seems the pro-military government has finally recognized that this generation could not be put down and their talents and courage should be recognized and recruited in nation building.
It is also gratifying to see the reconciliation of the exile media, the BBC, RFA and others, which now welcomed by the government inside the country. This is a very wise tactical move by the government.
Finally, the democracy movement that the 88 generation of students began at a great sacrifice of life and limb, that went underground and abroad, has finally come home to roost and to reconcile with the pro-military government and participate in the rebuilding of the nation.
This is an occasion to rejoice. Aug 8 is drawing near. Both the authorities and the 88 students will presumably be sensitive about it. But the day should not be contentious.
Aug 8 should be celebrated as a day of healing and commemoration of the valor and the courage of the students who have given their lives to the country. The day should help to narrow the great divide between the military and the 88 generation students. The reconciliation should not stop at the office of the House Speaker but trickle down to the grassroots level. Local and regional authorities should also make efforts to reconcile with the students without fear.
The healing must begin now for the generation that would not die.