Burmese democracy activists held a memorial day event at Keller Region Park, to remember those who laid down their lives 21 years ago for democracy in their homeland Burma now also known as Myanmar.
The event was organized by the Committee for Celebration, with a gathering of various ethnic compatriots of Burma, along with student activists, then and now, refugees and asylees representing various pro-democracy groups. Together they marked the 21st event to remember the 8888 Pro-democracy Movement – named for August 8, 1988, when the military junta suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations against the military takeover following the National Leagues for Democracy victory in the elections that would have made Daw Aung San Suu Kyi president.
The participants posed with a cardboard independence monument replica crafted by Aung San Oo. An oil painting of Suu Kyi by activist Chit Win was displayed together with a photo of her late father, General Aung San, considered the father of Burma’s independence and assassinated by paramilitaries in 1947.
Hundred and possibly thousands students and citizens were shot during the mushrooming nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations. The Minnesota ceremony began with a laying a wreath to mourn the deaths and for the fate of the expatriates and fellow countrymen inside of Burma.
There were several statements read to call for the military to hand over power to the 1990 election winners and free Aung San Suu Kyi and Khun Htun Oo and all prisoners of conscience.
Ye Din, a student activist, called for the government to abolish its plan to hold new elections in 2010 – calling them a sham that is designed to prolong the rein of the ruling military.
Saw Hla Tun Oo of the Karen Community of Minnesota, who took part in the student demonstrations of 1988, said the events are still vivid.
“We shall not forget those who have sacrificed their lives for democracy and will strive to achieve what they have given their lives for,” said Oo.
Ko Chin, also a student activist, said that given the history of the democracy movement’s attempts to reconcile with the junta, that he now does not believe this is possible. He described a leadership vacuum where NLD leaders continue to remain jailed.
”So the only option left for change to democracy in Burma, in my opinion, is through peoples’ power or armed struggle,” he said.
Benjamin Aung, a local community leader, was a student activist in the demonstrations against the military when the army shot and killed university students on July 7, 1962.
Aung also recalled when Burma’s most well-known citizen of the 1960s, United Nations Secretary General U Thant of Burma, succeeded Dag Hammarskold in 1961 and served until 1971, and during the time of the Myanmar junta takeover. When he died of cancer in 1974, the Myanmar junta refused to grant national honors in the burial service.
The final speaker was the Venerable monk, Ashin Thondara, who said ”as a 21 year old the pro-democracy movement is very strong and healthy.”
”We should have no fear when fighting for Democracy or Human Rights,” he added. “Truth is the real strength. The world loves the truth. Have faith and carry on. Downfall awaits the junta.”
The ceremony concluded with the 1988 democracy movement song ” KAba Ma Kye Bu” (We Shall Not Forget) with guitarist Soe Naing and Chit Win.
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