Democracy Summer

   A series of events between July and September 1988 that constitute the largest popular uprising in Burma's modern history. In her speech of August 26, 1988, at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called this uprising the "second struggle for national independence." Following the Burma Socialist Programme Party Extraordinary Congress, which convened on July 23 and resulted in Ne Win's retirement and the selection of Sein Lwin, the "Butcher of Rangoon" (for his role in the suppression of March and June demonstrations), as his successor, student activists led by Min Ko Naing proclaimed the Four Eights Movement of August 8, a general strike aimed at forcing Sein Lwin to resign. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary townspeople participated, in Rangoon (Yangon) and elsewhere. Sein Lwin stepped down on August 12, but only after hundreds of demonstrators had been killed or wounded by the Tatmadaw in Rangoon, Sagaing, and other cities.
   After the authorities lifted martial law on August 24, the army was withdrawn from Rangoon, and for a few weeks its citizens enjoyed unprecedented freedom. The media were not censored; "strike centers" were set up both in the capital and around the country (in 200 of 314 townships); and new political leaders, of whom the most important was Daw Suu Kyi, became prominent. After President Maung Maung promised on September 10 that multiparty elections would be held, Daw Suu Kyi, U Tin U, and Aung Gyi established a coalition calling for an interim government (it later became the National League for Democracy). But popular rage against suspected government informers, actions by regime agents provocateurs, and an economy in chaos contributed to an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. On September 18 the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) seized power, killing hundreds more demonstrators and shutting down Democracy Summer. The total number of fatalities from July to September 1988 is unknown, since the authorities made no effort to identify the dead or return the remains to their families. However, it is estimated to have been at least several thousand. Thousands more were held in prison or fled to neighboring countries.
   Although most of the events of Democracy Summer occurred in Rangoon, there were massive demonstrations in urban centers around the country. Mandalay was for a brief period governed by a committee of young monks, students, and workers. However, rural and ethnic minority areas were largely unaffected. Despite SLORC claims to the contrary, the Communist Party of Burma, based along the Burma-China border, had little or no role in the uprising. Democracy Summer focused international attention on Burma, a previously obscure country, and initiated a movement both inside the country and abroad to replace military rule with some form of democracy. But unlike Presidents Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Suharto in Indonesia, overthrown by popular movements in 1986 and 1998, the post-1988 military regime has been ruthlessly successful in blocking political change.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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