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For some, those saffron-thronged vistas of Rangoon three years ago lead to a remote hillside of a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border.
Three years after Burma dared to dream once more, monks, activists and elected MPs gathered in exile, with the revered saffron-clad community leading a ceremony to remember those days of defiance, and those whose defiance spelled the end.
Here, in many respects, were two of the pillars of opposition politics in Burmese society for the last quarter century. Exemplary was monk U Nyar Nathara who addressed the crowd, dressed in saffron with a pendant of the red flag, emblazoned with the fighting peacock of the All Burma Student’s Democratic Front (ABSDF) on his lapel.
He had not been a monk in September 2007 but displays laid out for the event were testimony to why what happened then was life changing; horrors depicted in photographs, wounded monks, corpses and soldiers. His participation, he said, not only engendered him with a renewed sense of admiration for the order of monks but with a personal spirituality – he did not intend to remain in the robes for this long.
Amongst the elected MPs speaking was Khun Myint Tun, MP for Thaton 1 constituency in Mon state. It is a ‘seat’, needless to say, that he has never been able to sit in. His address to the assembled stuck to the themes of unity and diversity, appropriate given the variety who had assembled and sheltered from the heavy rain that intermittently battered the steep settlement.
Here, on the hearth of the camp monastery, were people of all ages, multiple religions and ethnicities. Khun Myint Tun MP, also an active member of the Pa’O National Liberation Organisation (PNLO), used the occasion to foster inter-ethnic unity, whilst berating the military for their attempts to control the monkhood and commending monk, U Wi Zaya, for his leadership during the protests.
Amongst the crowd was Saffron veteran and camp resident, Htay Htay Win. The Saffron Revolution was her third uprising, having been involved in the student protests in 1974 and 1988. The former was her first taste of military justice as she was jailed at the tender age of 15 for her involvement in protests. She fears for the future: lack of leaders, she says, will leave the opposition bereft of options.
There was little reference to the route cause of the protests – the sudden hike in fuel prices – with the day being more about commemoration than economics. But the pertinence of this should not be forgotten for it says something peculiar about a regime when something of this sort occurs in a nation richly endowed with fossil fuels. This was also the root cause of the 1988 protests, and in the grand scheme of things, the two events, plus harsh crackdowns and fuel shortages, show a regime that is not only brutal and vindictive but incompetent to boot.