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Daw Aung San Suu Kyi , one of twent
Subject: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi , one of twenty great Asians
Aung San Suu Kyi
IT IS HARD TO TELL WHEN AUNG SAN SUU KYI FINALLY CONFIRMED THAT HER FATE
WAS BOUND UP WITH THE CAUSE OF DEMOCRACY IN HER COUNTRY. Perhaps it was
on July 23, 1988, when strongman Ne Win announced that he was stepping
down after 26 years of debilitating socialist rule. His surprise retreat
triggered a frenzy of pro-democracy demonstrations. In the ensuing
crackdown, soldiers killed as many as 3,000 people.
Perhaps it was on Aug. 26, 1988, when Suu Kyi addressed a half-million
demonstrators at Shwedagon Pagoda. With the crowd's chants of Daw Aye
Daw Aye ("Our Rights! Our Rights!") ringing in her ears, she called for
the resignation of the government and democracy for Myanmar. On Sept.
18, the military seized power in another round of bloodletting.
What is clear is that at some point during those fateful months, Suu
Kyi, daughter of Myanmar's independence hero Aung San, decided to take
on the generals. It hardly seemed an even match: the delicate-boned,
1.6-meter-tall Oxford academic against soldiers schooled in repression
and little else. Yet the crowds she drew, the attention she commanded
and the courage she displayed and instilled in others, inevitably led to
her becoming the standard-bearer for the fledgling democracy movement.
When two truckloads of troops pulled up and aimed their weapons at a
crowd she was addressing, she could coolly respond: "We are grateful to
those who are giving the people practice in being brave."
Such spirit was not allowed to go unchecked. In June 1989, when she was
first arrested, 100 unarmed supporters clashed with police to try to
snatch her back. She was detained for only an hour then. But a month
later, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC, as the
junta calls itself, put her under house arrest that persists to this
The generals miscalculated if they thought detention would blunt her
appeal. They miscalculated again when they carried through on their
pledge to stage Myanmar's first multi-party elections in 30 years.
Perhaps they thought that with well over 2,000 candidates from at least
100 political parties in the race, there was little chance of a
But Myanmar's 40 million people were of a single mind. In the May 1990
polls, Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won 392 of the 485
parliamentary seats. The military-backed National Unity Party won just
10. SLORC responded by refusing to honor the election results and
jailing NLD leaders, along with most of their elected representatives.
Such flagrant denial of the popular will drew international condemnation
for SLORC, and mounting tributes for the woman who dared defy them. In
October 1991, Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Said the
Norwegian Nobel Committee: "Suu Kyi's struggle is one of the most
extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades. She
has become an important symbol in the struggle against oppression."
Suu Kyi did not plan to become a political activist, let alone a
national hero. She had left her home in England to go to Myanmar's
capital, Yangon, in 1988 to look after her ailing mother. She had spent
most of the previous 28 years outside her homeland, returning just eight
times. SLORC tried to use that against her, saying she was a foreigner
with no real interest in Myanmar. They also criticized her for marrying
a foreigner, Oxford don Michael Aris, a Briton. They have two children.
But Suu Kyi was very much her father's daughter. Born June 19, 1945, she
was barely 2 years old when Gen. Aung San was gunned down while planning
for the country's soon-to-be-granted independence. He is easily the most
revered political figure in Myanmar history. Suu Kyi was researching a
book on his life when she chanced upon a revolution-in-the-making.
She said she wanted to bring her people "freedom from fear." The simple
message she preached matched her own elegance. "What we want are basic
freedoms," she said. "A government that fails to protect political and
democratic rights will never be able to protect the people's economic
Her jailers cannot bear to speak her name. In interviews, they refer to
Suu Kyi as "the factor" or "the very specific problem." Problem, yes --
and one that literally refuses to go away. SLORC offered her freedom if
she left the country. But the sparrow -- who can be as stubborn in her
convictions as the toughest soldier -- chose to remain in her cage,
demanding the military open political talks. "I want to confront them
across the table," she told a visiting U.S. congressman.
This July will see the sixth anniversary of her arrest. For a time last
year, it looked as if a truce might be in the works: Suu Kyi met with
SLORC leaders for what she said was the first time since her detention
began. Two meetings, both televised, raised hopes that she might be
released. Instead, the only thing raised was the level of rhetoric
By early this year, Suu Kyi was back to being, in SLORC's words, "the
foreigner who should go back to Britain." But the ongoing detention,
meant to remove her as a vocal conscience and government critic, has
served only to ensure that she will attain a stature rivaling her
father's. Once again, the generals have miscalculated.
"THERE WILL BE NO REAL DEMOCRACY IF WE CAN'T GURANTEE THE RIGHTS OF THE
MINORITY ETHNIC PEOPLE. ONLY UNDERSTANDING THEIR SUFFERING AND HELPING
THEM TO EXERCISE THEIR RIGHTS WILL ASSIST PREVENTING FROM THE
DISINTEGRATION AND THE SESESSION." "WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THEIR
STRENGTH, WE CAN'T TOPPLE THE SLORC AND BURMA WILL NEVER BE IN PEACE."
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