There’s a man named John, aged somewhere in his 50s, who sometimes loiters near the entrance to the headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Myanmar’s ruling party as of one year ago. If you say hello to him, preferably in his native Burmese, there’s a very good chance that he will tell you all about the day the White Bridge turned red.
John says that on March 13, 1988, he was shot in the back — he readily displays a scar as evidence — and his college girlfriend was killed when police violently cracked down on a student protest that had morphed into an openly antigovernment march. The White Bridge atrocity was one of the early events that led to Myanmar’s 1988 uprising, which by August of that year had grown into a nationwide effort to overthrow the country’s brutal military regime. Authorities responded, predictably, with more brutality.
One year ago, on March 30 , the NLD was sworn in as Myanmar’s ruling party with a resounding majority after it swept the country’s first free election in decades on Nov. 8, 2015. The party, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, now 71, was founded in the wake of the 88 popular uprising, and after a decades-long struggle she marshaled its members to a dramatic comeback and she became State Counselor, the country’s highest civilian role. This was the stuff of screenplays: in a rare vindication of history, a former political prisoner, the quiet and dignified daughter of the country’s late independence hero, stepped out of the sidelines to trounce the corrupt, inept and violent regime that had kept her in confinement for the better half of two decades.
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