Brief History of All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU)

In Burma, a common democratic ideology links student movements and popular struggles. This link was formed through the fight against colonialism and fascism, and strengthened through the national independence movement and the ongoing revolution against the military dictatorship. Students in Burma have always stood on the side of the people whenever a conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed has taken place.

Burmese students and the student unions have always admired and honored this tradition. The students’ commitment to truth, the tenacity of their beliefs, and their sacrifices for those beliefs are known as ‘"student ethics" or "morals of fighting peacock." The fighting peacock is a symbol of student unions of Burma.

In 1931, the Rangoon University Students’ Union (RUSU) was formed as a social organization. In 1935, our independence hero Aung San and his friends Ko Nu (later the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Burma), Ko Thein Pe (later the General Secretary of Communist Party of Burma), and Ko Kyaw Nyein (later the Deputy Prime Minister) became the leaders of the RUSU and led the second university students’ strike against British colonial rule. On May 8, 1936 the first students’ conference was held in Rangoon. Organized by RUSU, it marked the formation of the All Burma Students’ Union (ABSU). During that conference, Ko Yarship was elected as Chairman and Ko Aung San was elected as Vice Chairman of the ABSU.

In 1951, the All Burma Students’ Union (ABSU) changed its name to the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) to represent all the students of Burma. The ABFSU was active in both educational reform and peaceful campaigning for the establishment of democracy.

During the Sixth Conference of the ABFSU in 1960, the five policies and three flags of the organization were adopted unanimously in order to work for a democratic educational system, safeguarding student rights, democracy, internal peace and national reconciliation.

On March 2, 1962 the new democratic system of Burma was challenged and overthrown in a coup d’etat led by General Ne Win and his cronies. The ABFSU greeted the anti-military movement with a student strike. Students in Burma became the enemies of the army. General Ne Win cracked down on the strike by violently occupying the Rangoon University campus with his troops. During the raid of July 7th, 1962, hundreds of students were killed, thousands of students were put behind bars and the Student Union Building was demolished. ABFSU went underground and began to operate secretly.

In 1988, as part of the 8888 people’s uprising, the ABFSU was re-established publicly. On August 28, 1988, Min Ko Naing and his closest friends organized the student conference on the site of the former Student Union building. Min Ko Naing was elected unanimously as Chairman. While the student movement was gaining momentum, he and other student leaders were arrested by the military. Some student leaders fled to the border, but the ABFSU continued its movement under new leadership.

The National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the general election of May 28th, 1990, but the military refused to hand over power to the elected representatives. The ABFSU continued to organize mass demonstrations to support the National League for Democracy in their struggle to form a people’s government. In December 1990, all student leaders of the ABFSU were arrested and sentenced to long terms in prison.

Although student leaders were behind bars, the military was not able to put the ABFSU into the jail. With new leadership and a new generation of students, the ABFSU continues to fight for the people and for democracy. On December 10th, 1991, when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize, the students celebrated with a demonstration demanding her release from house arrest. And in 1996, student demonstrated again for democracy and students’ rights, proving that however hard the military tries to crush the students, their revolutionary spirit will never die and will be passed from one generation to the next.

In conclusion, the student movements led by the ABFSU in Burma always highlight the conditions of the general populace. By their nature, dictatorships work against the will of the people; this ensures their fear of student movements. In Burma, the ruling regime regards the ABFSU as an enemy to be attacked and destroyed. Generation after generation of students have been murdered, brutally tortured, imprisoned and dismissed from school. At present, many ABFSU leaders are in the jail. Others are still operating the ABFSU movement inside Burma underground. Some are also working on the country’s borders.

We believe that the military dictatorship will eventually disappear from Burma. But the All Burma Federation of Student Unions will last forever.