For the first time in 50 years, the authorities in Burma have indicated that ordinary Burmese will be allowed to participate in ceremonies marking Martyrs’ Day, the anniversary of the assassination of independence leader Aung San and members of his cabinet on July 19, 1947.
In a sign of the shift, an article in the state-run Myanmar Ahlin newspaper announced on Wednesday that the Martyrs’ Monument in Meiktila, Mandalay Division, will be open next Thursday to members of the public who wish to lay wreaths in memory of the fallen national heroes.
The article also said that the site has undergone renovations, noting that it has been neglected for the past five decades. While it doesn’t say why this has been the case, the period of neglect coincides with Burma’s half-century of military rule that began with a coup by former dictator Gen Ne Win in 1962.
Prior to the army’s takeover, public participation in Martyrs’ Day ceremonies was the norm. Under Ne Win and his successors, however, ordinary citizens were barred from attending official events, although low-key private ceremonies were common in many parts of the country.
As is often the case in Burma, there has been no official announcement of plans to permit public events, but many groups in the country say they expect to be allowed to openly commemorate the occasion this year.
“We are planning to march to the Martyrs’ Mausoleum to lay wreaths for our national heroes,” said Mandalay resident Ko Ko Lay.
Even activists who were recently detained for planning events to mark another anniversary—Ne Win’s deadly crackdown on Rangoon University students on July 7, 1962, and the subsequent dynamiting of the Student Union building—believe they will be able to go ahead with plans to commemorate Martyrs’ Day.
“I think we can celebrate Martyrs’ Day with fewer restrictions than other events such as the 7th of July because it is an official day in Burma,” said Phyo Phyo Aung, the general secretary of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions’ organizing committee, who was taken into custody on July 6 and detained for 23 hours.
However, there were news reports on Wednesday that members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) in Pegu were denied permission to hold a Martyrs’ Day ceremony just days after Burma’s Parliament passed a law guaranteeing the right to protest and hold public gatherings. Under the law, organizers must seek permission from local authorities and police five days in advance of the planned event.
This hasn’t, however, deterred others from planning events of their own.
“I don’t think we need to ask permission,” said Myint Maung, an NLD member in southern Burma’s Kawthaung Township. “We will go and lay wreaths in front of the statute of Gen Aung San in Kawthaung as we did in the past.”