March 2 is “Peasants Day” in Myanmar, a national holiday in honor of rural workers.
But most people know it as the anniversary of the 1962 coup, when the elected government of Burma (as the country was then known) was removed in the early hours by force. General Ne Win took over, throwing the country into military rule, where it would remain until 2010 and the transition to a semi-civilian government.
Today is the 54th anniversary.
The period between then and now has been marked by abuses that are too long and detailed to list here: jailings, killings, exile, loss of livelihood. Many view Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy’s election victory in November as the first real step towards change from authoritarian-style governance, though reforms put in place post-2010 (end of censorship, pardons of many political prisoners) have made Myanmar a much more open place than in the past.
But the past is still with us, and historian Thant Myint-U’s Facebook post from late Tuesday night shows why.
The author and Yangon Heritage Trust executive director posted photos from a few days after the coup, calling March 2 “the day that democracy died.”
“President Mahn Win Maung, Prime Minister U Nu, all members of the cabinet and many other senior political figures including leading Shan sawbwas were arrested over the day. Sao Myee Myee, the 17 year old son of the first President Sao Shwe Thaike was killed before dawn during the takeover of his father’s home on Kokine Road,” he wrote, describing what happened in the early hours of the morning when it all began.
Thant Myint-U was describing history, not a direct personal experience; he was born four years later. But his post prompted others to leave personal (and inevitably heartbreaking) memories in the comments section.
Not all the comments revived “cruel stories.” Some, in fact, struck a note of optimism, pointing towards the future.