Friday, June 19, 2009

Whys and Suu Kyi

The Irrawaddy News

Several “whys” woke me up this morning on the 64th birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi, who would wake up this morning to the sounds of prisoners’ iron shackles and the harsh shouts of wardens in the Insein Prison compound.

The first “why” was: Why have the powerful Burmese generals who control 400,000 soldiers detained Suu Kyi for more than 13 of the past 19 years?

The answer is simple. They are afraid of the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner, who now represents democracy to people not only in Burma but around the world.

Though she has been mentally and physically held down by the junta since 1988 when she dedicated her life to restore democracy in Burma, Suu Kyi has proved how strong, resilient and durable she is. Recently, she has even become more threatening to the generals.

Why are they so afraid?

Basically, she represents the truth. “Truth is a powerful weapon,” she said once. “And truth—like anything that is powerful—can be frightening or reassuring, depending on which side you are on.”

“If you’re on the side of truth, it’s very reassuring—you have its protection. But if you’re on the side of untruth—then it’s very frightening,” she said in the book The Voice of Hope, based mainly on interviews with her after her release from her first house arrest in 1995,

The junta is on the side of untruth. One of its big lies was the 1990 election, the results of which were simply discarded by the generals after Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy, won by a landslide. The people gave her a huge mandate which, in the junta’s eyes, was something to fear.

The generals broke their promise after the election to convene a people’s assembly and hand over power to the winner. Voters will never forget that lie.

Why is she so respected as a leader?

She has practiced what she believes even when dealing with one of the most cruel and cunning regimes in the world: “Honesty is the best policy.” To that, however, some detractors say, “She is saint, but not politician.”

Suu Kyi once said: “Political integrity means just plain honesty in politics. One of the most important things is never to deceive the people. Any politician who deceives the people either for the sake of his party or because he imagines it’s for the sake of people, is lacking in political integrity.”

Even after the brutal treatment of the past 21 years, she still applies that policy of “honesty,” and her dedication and conviction to restore democracy has never wavered.

Her words have touched the Burmese people, and her actions have impressed them, proving to the people she is a true leader.

Why is she still relevant, even though she has been forced off-stage in terms of political activity?

Even during her trial, which was called “an absurd mockery of justice” by Britain Prime Minister Gordon Brown, she again raised the issue of national reconciliation which is the only way to bring about peaceful change in the country.

“There could be many opportunities for national reconciliation if all parties so wished,” she told diplomats she met in Insein Prison in May. “It was not too late for something good to come out of this unfortunate incident.”

Obviously, what she said showed that she has been thinking of the development of the country. When she got an opportunity to make an important point, she used it.

She first began calling for dialogue soon after she became active in politics in 1988. The international community unanimously supports dialogue, but the junta is deaf.

Many people in Burma believe that she is the only capable and trustworthy leader who can deal with the generals in a national reconciliation process. Not only that, she is the best person to reconcile with the diverse ethnic groups and reform economic and development policies, and she is a leader who can deal with regional and world leaders.

The last “why” was: Why has the international community taken so long to obtain her freedom?

That is a big question. There are several factors, such as the world has never been united when it comes to a Burma policy. Also, in the past two decades, many world leaders have become inured to the phrase “Free Suu Kyi” and failed to take action.

Gordon Brown renewed the call for the world to act in his article on her birthday. He noted three points: “I have been struck by how Burma’s neighbors have led the world community in calling for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release. We need to translate this outrage into ongoing political pressure for change.”

Also, he said, “We need the UN Security Council to reinforce its calls for Suu Kyi’s release and to support the secretary-general’s efforts to bring about political progress through an early visit to Burma.”

He continued, “We should impose a new set of tough sanctions that target the regime’s economic interests. We will be pushing for stronger European Union action in that regard. Such a step would hit the business interests of the generals and their cronies.”

Brown’s points have all been repeated many times, which shows that the world has been good at talking about what to do, but lacking in achieving results.

Today is Suu Kyi 64th birthday, and the leaders of the world, including Brown, have again called for her immediate release and suggested many ways to deal with the regime.

But, again, we’ll have to wait and see. We will know if the world has succeeded in taking effective actions to win her freedom by her next birthday in 2010.

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