A Year Gone By: Looking Back on the Saffron Uprising

SEOUL — ON SEPTEMBER 24 OF LAST YEAR, Burma’s military junta issued a warning to the masses of gathering protesters, saying they were prepared to crack down on the Buddhist monks who had driven the demonstrations. The streets of Rangoon were filled with saffron robes and laypeople alike, in numbers not seen since the 8.8.88 democracy uprising. What had started as outrage over fuel prices was now a situation as volatile as gasoline, and both sides were tempting it to spark.

Two days later, it lit. Soldiers opened fire into crowds of protesters. Monasteries were raided. Myint Thein, the spokesperson for Aung San Suu Kyi’s democracy party, was arrested along with scores of other activists. Reports of monks being shot and killed sent ripples of anguish throughout the Southeast Asian nation, as images of Burma’s bloody struggle spilled onto front pages worldwide.

And then, the heaving streets were subdued — largely remaining so until the torrential rains of Cyclone Nargis wiped them from the map. The tension that had continued to roil under the surface was overwhelmed, drowned into despair.

Most of the news media have since moved on, but there are still some reports trickling out. George Packer writes from Rangoon for The New Yorker, interviewing writers and watching plays at the American Center. He wonders whether the people of Burma can improve their lives through their own civic activism without tangling with governments — as many have given up hope for a foreign invasion, and even more have realized their own administration wants nothing to do with them.

Radio Free Asia remembers the uprising through the eyes of a citizen activist and a monk. The man, who is referred to only as Zarni, recalls having to go into hiding and being divorced by his wife after talking to journalists towards the beginning of the protests. The monk, U Zawana, is the leader of the All Burma Monks Union and talks about why the sangha got involved.

And in a more recent development, The Irrawaddy says that its Web site was the victim of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, a day ahead of the anniversary of the beginning of the Saffron Uprising. The publication says reports have been coming in that Internet speeds in Burma have been extremely slow lately, indicating a concerted effort to choke the flow of information.

A year gone by, and still not much has changed.

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