In August, 2007, spurred by widespread poverty, rising prices, and profligate military spending, citizens began a series of mostly peaceful demonstrations in the Union of Myanmar (Burma). Led by Buddhist monks, these demonstrations called for democratic rule in Burma, asked the government to restore recently-suspended fuel subsidies, and chanted Gautama Buddha’s words on universal love and compassion.
The junta currently in control of Burma, the State Peace and Development Council, responded swiftly and decisively: protesters were declared threats to the security of the state, beaten, and arrested.
The Burmese government’s actions did not have the intended effect. Hundreds and then thousands more Buddhist clergy joined the demonstrations, and though they urged people not to risk themselves by joining the protests, tens of thousands of civilians joined them anyway. Within a week, thousands of monks were marching in synchronized peaceful demonstrations throughout the country. With half a million Buddhist monks and nuns in Burma, the ruling junta apparently began to suspect it couldn’t just throw all of them in prison.
The government imposed a curfew, banned public gatherings, and began a systematic campaign of arresting prominent pro-democracy figures. Violence against protesters increased; riot police occasionally opened fire on protesters, leading to deaths. Desperate to keep news of the abuses from spreading, the junta began shutting down Internet access and beating or executing journalists. And people have begun disappearing.
World opinion has increasingly turned against Burma’s government; several nations have urged the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force, while the UN Security Council condemns the ongoing violence. Nobody is yet sure how this will end-but the Buddhist clergy has sworn to continue the protests as long as necessary.