The “8888” uprising refers to a series of protests that took place in Burma during 1988 that culminated on the date 8/8/1988, giving this uprising its name. These protests, which began in March of 1988, were initially incited largely by students to express their disgust with the military government’s hostile economic, political, and monetary policies. The one-party rule led by the Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP) suppressed the democratic desires of the people, and the economic situation in Burma placed it on the “Least Developed Country” list by the United Nations Economic and Social Council by 1987. The government at that time was headed by General Ne Win, who ruled Burma from 1962-1988 as an oppressive and violent ruler. Despite Ne Win’s resignation in July of ’88, the protests and anger continued since his successor, Sein Lwin, was also hated by the Burmese people, and he refused to address the issues that the protesters were calling for action on.
Although the center of the uprising was in the Burmese capital city of Rangoon, rural areas were also the scene of protests and strikes. From August 1-7 of that year, the protests intensified as students called upon everyone to become involved and to participate in the mass demonstration planned for August 8. The people responded, and the streets were filled with monks, workers, intellectuals, and members of all ethnic groups and walks of life. The August 8 demonstration stretched into a 5-day strike that took the Burmese military government aback, with promises from the leadership that the people’s demands would be considered, although of course, these promises were never meant to be fulfilled. Rather, during this time, it is estimated that around 3,000 people were killed as the police and military massacred peaceful protestors under orders from the BSPP.
With the surprise resignation of Sein Lwin on August 12, the protests only paused for a few days before resuming again, with increased violence on all sides as the Burmese people fought for their rights, and the regime stepped up its repression. It was towards the end of August when Aung San Suu Kyi first entered the political arena as she addressed the masses of people gathered by Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. She became a symbol of democracy and freedom to not only the Burmese, but to the rest of the world. When congress met in September, 75% of the delegates voted for a multi-party system, but the BSPP rejected any changes. The rioting continued, and members of the army and police forces began to side with the protesters. Finally, on September 18, 1988, the Burmese military again took power of the government and quickly suppressed the protests using extremely violent measures. Led by General Saw Maung, the 1974 constitution was repealed and martial law was instituted with the establishment of the “State Law and Order Restoration Council.”
Many believed that had the United Nations or the United States become involved during these protests or refused to recognize the coup during its takeover, the military regime would have failed to take hold and would have collapsed. To commemorate the bloody “8888” uprising, groups around the world have been holding remembrances on August 8 since then, and on the 20th anniversary of the uprising, Burma Center Prague, like other groups around the world, held a special event to honor the past and present victims of the Burmese dictatorship.