burmeseyouth_280Cut off from much of the world by a repressive junta that has ruled for nearly 50 years and further isolated by international sanctions against the regime, Burma is recently making its way towards democratic change. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament last April after a historic by-election that was meant to test Burma’s reform credentials. Since her release from house arrest in November 2010, Suu Kyi has made engagement with Burma’s youth a priority and has spoken of her intentions to bring herself up to date with youth fads, such as social networking.

For years, young people were conditioned to view politics as a dirty and dangerous word, holding onto the memory of the infamous 1988 uprising, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest economic mismanagement and government oppression. Up to 6000 students were gunned down by the military. While politics remains a potentially dangerous venture in Burma, it seems youngsters now have a different mindset. During the by-election campaign, increasing numbers of young people have come out in support of their Lady. Hundreds across the country joined the National League for Democracy (NLD) and devoted themselves to bringing victory to their leader’s party. Every single one of them felt concerned and proud to participate in what they called the ‘democratic wave’.

Burma has a significant amount of activist organisations located in and outside the country: Generation Wave is one of them. Founded after the 2007 Burmese anti-government protests (known as The Saffron Revolution), GW is a group of young Burmese dedicated to overthrowing the military government. Its members belong to a generation of urban kids that find new ways to express themselves through hip hop music and the Internet. For years they operated illegally, campaigning against government policies and taking great risks. Between 2007 and 2011, 30 of its members were imprisoned, while others fled to Thailand. Soon after the release of political prisoners early this year followed by encouraging political reforms, Generation Wave settled back in Burma last February and started working openly in Yangon.

However, the elections that will decide Burma’s political future will only come in 2015, when 75% of the parliament will be contested. It’s clear that the country’s youth will play a significant role in Suu Kyi winning the presidential elections. But it remains to be seen whether the government – and Burma’s military – will allow the NLD to win the 2015 election and cede its power.
Jeremy Suyker