“We couldn’t stand that. So, we joined the people.”
By Tanyalak Thongyoojaroen for Fortify Rights. Illustrations by Tams Lu.
It has been just over six months since the military coup d’état in Myanmar, and in that time the junta’s forces have killed more than 900 people and arrested more than 7,000. As the junta continues its attack on the country’s 50 million people, the world appears to be re-watching the bloody crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters that took place 33 years ago, on August 8, 1988 — or what became known as the “8888” uprising.
Myint Wai, a 62-year-old former Myanmar soldier, fought for democracy during the 8888 uprising and continues the fight today as the Director of the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma.
“I was enlisted in the air force, but I left [the military] to join the ’88 protests,” Myint Wai told Fortify Rights.
Growing up in Kawa township in Bago, Myint Wai’s childhood dream was to become a soldier. “I wanted to be a soldier since I was in grade 5. I had a postcard of the Military Defense Service Academy hanging on my bookshelf.”
At 19, after six months of training, he fulfilled his dream by joining the air force as a technician.
After ten years in the air force, Myint Wai shifted paths when he learned about the brutal acts of the Myanmar military against protesters on August 8, 1988.
“The army suppressed people on August 8, and they took airplanes from our military camp to kill people the next day,” he said. “We couldn’t stand that. So, we joined the people.”
Following the arrest of other military deserters and protesters, Myint Wai fled to Thailand.
“I didn’t want to leave Myanmar,” Myint Wai told Fortify Rights. “I wanted to fight in Yangon. I didn’t want to go, but three chief [military] officers were arrested. Everyone told me that I couldn’t stay there. Students also left.”
Now, 33 years after the 8888 uprising, Myint Wai continues to support an unfinished fight for democracy, providing humanitarian aid to those fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar. “We send them some money. We buy medicines and food for them,” he said.
Despite the return to military rule in Myanmar, Myint Wai believes in the power of people.
“People help each other. There’s a saying in Thai that Thai people won’t leave each other. We have the same in Myanmar,” he said. “In the future, I want to see a democratic, federal government in Myanmar, and I hope that people from different ethnicities can come together to talk; this is what I hope for.”