Friday, 8 August 2008

Searching for Democracy Twenty Years On - Editorial

The Irrawaddy News

Two decades have passed since the streets of Burma were filled with hundreds of thousands of triumphant demonstrators chanting over and over again, "We want democracy."

Unfortunately, their calls for creating a democratic, free and prosperous nation fell on the deaf ears of the power-crazy generals who only saw the wishes and desires of the demonstrators as a threat to their very existence.

August 8, 1988, known as “the day of four eights [8.8.88],” when a nationwide pro-democracy uprising broke out across the country, was a major turning point in Burma's political history. An estimated 3,000 protestors were killed on the streets, shot by the security forces to quell the nationwide outcry.

Although 20 long years have passed since then, the country is still ruled by a clique of generals whose hands are stained with the blood of unarmed civilians, monks and young students. In August 2008 and in the following years, the Burmese regime locked up nearly 2,000 political prisoners, along with the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Paradoxically, the regime led by Snr-Gen Than Shwe thought it could save the country from "disintegration" and "anarchy." The most disturbing thing is the generals' stubbornness and unwillingness to make the courageous decisions that are imperative if national reconciliation is to be brought about in Burma. The army, in power since 1962, has presided over a dramatic political and economic decline, and Burma is now one of Asia’s poorest states.

Whenever the people of Burma call for change, however, they meet only further brutality and state-sponsored violence.

The last time demonstrators took to the streets, in monk-led protests in September 2008, the regime again reacted with uncompromising violence, cracking down with its customary brutality. Homes were raided, prominent members of the 88 Generation Students group and other activists were seized and ruthless manhunts were unleashed to capture those who escaped the terror.

Then came Cyclone Nargis in May this year, and again the regime displayed little concern for the people, making totally inadequate and delayed attempts to help the victims. Even now thousands are homeless and face a daily struggle for food.

The junta has not yet shown any real commitment to political reform, despite its announcement of 2010 elections, while the economy stagnates and society remains crippled.

The past 20 years have shown the Burmese army, the Tatmadaw, to be the world's most corrupt armed forces, commanded by generals who have no moral or legal authority to govern Burma, while practicing barbarism, tyranny, anarchy, militarism and enslaving Burmese citizens.

Yet some of Burma’s neighbors—notably Thailand, China and India—are keen to keep on good terms with the Burmese generals for their own business interests, while the UN Security Council has yet to take any effective action against Burma’s ruling generals.

Twenty years on, the blood on the Burmese generals’ hands is still warm, and those who shaking these stained hands should realize they are dealing with one of the cruelest and most brutal regimes in the world. They should recognize the words of the courageous Burmese people who sacrificed their lives for their country, words which have lingered on through 20 years of oppression: "We want democracy."

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