“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Martin Luther King, Jr

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Suu Kyi, A story of bravery

The Lady was in court, but with the trial being closed to the public, few knew if she wore her trademark flowers in her hair. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, known to Burmese simply as "The Lady" was dragged to the infamous Insein Prison on Thursday morning to face charges of disobeying the terms of her house arrest. On May 3rd, according to Burmese state press, an American man illegally swam across a lake to Suu Kyi's waterfront villa and snuck into her compound for two nights. Foreigners are not allowed to stay overnight in Burmese houses and she is no ordinary lady. The leader of Burma's crushed democratic opposition, she has been confined to her crumbling home by the ruling junta for much of the past two decades.

Suu Kyi's trial is due to begin on May 18th, according to her lawyers.Two housekeepers who have lived with Suu Kyi since her latest stint of jail time began in 2003 were also arrested. Even though her lawyer said she was upset to discover the uninvited guest in her home she still could face up to 5 years in prison. After much stonewalling by the Burmese regime an American diplomat was allowed to meet with the swimmer, a 53 year old former military serviceman John William Yettaw. His motives for the midnight swim remain unclear.
The health of the 63 year old is watched anxiously not only by Burma's democratic opposition but by many other Burmese who revere her with a singular-if hushed- devotion. On sensitive dates related to the doomed democracy movement, some women put flowers in their hair, a subtle show of support for the silenced activist. Now with the Lady in jail those flowers may yet bloom again.

Aung San Suu Kyi born on June 19th, 1945 Her mother Daw Khin Kyi becomes a prominent public figure, heading social planning and social policy bodies. In Jan.1948 the Independent union of Burma is established and in 1960 when Suu Kyi was 15 her mother was appointed Burma's ambassador to India. Suu Kyi accompanied her mother to New Delhi. She attended high school and then went to Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi. In 1964 she attended Oxford University and recieved a B.A. in philosophy, politics and economics at St. Hugh's College.

Her British "parents" are Lord Gore-Booth, former British ambassador to Burma and High Commissioner in India, and his wife, at whose home Suu Kyi met Michael Aris, student of Tibetan civilization.

In 1969 She went to New York for graduate study, staying with family friend Ma Than E,  staff member at the United Nations, where U. Thant of Burma is Secretary General. Postponing her studies Suu Kyi joins U.N. secretariat as Assistant Secretary, Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. In the evenings and on week ends she volunteers t hospital, helping indigent patients in programs of reading and companionship.
In 1972 she married Michael Aris and joins him in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, where he tutors royal family and heads the Translation Department. She became Research Officer in the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


In 1973 they returned to England for the birth of their son Alexander in London. In 1974 Michael assumed the appointment in Tibetan and Himalayan studies at Oxford University.
In 1977 she gave birth to her second son at Oxford. While raising her children she began writing, researching for biography of her father, and assisted Michael in Himalayan studies. In 1984 she published Aung San in series of University of Queensland Press. In 1985 she published a book for young people Let's Visit Burma, also books on Nepal and Bhutan in the same series for Burke Publishing Company in London. In 1987 the family returns from Simla where Michael had fellowship at Indian Institute of Advance Studies,and where she published Socio-Political Currents in Burmese Literature1910-1940 in the journal of Tokyo University.

Back in London Suu Kyi enrolls at London School of Oriental and African Studies to work on an advanced degree. In March of 1988 she moved the family to Rangoon to take care of her mother after she had a severe stroke. In July of that year General Ne Win, military dictator of Burma since 1962 resigned. In August there was a mass uprising throughout the country and violent suppression by the military kills thousands. On August 15th Suu Kyi, in her first political action sends open letter to government asking for formation of independent consultative committee to prepare multi-party elections. On August 26th in her first public speech addressed several hundred thousand people outside Shwedon Pagoda, calling for a democratic government. On September 18th military establishes State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Political gatherings of more than four persons is banned with arrests and sentencing without trial reaffirmed. On September 24th the National League for Democracy formed with Suu Kyi general-secretary.There was a policy of non-violence and civil disobedience.

Defying the ban Suu Kyi makes speech-making tour throughout the country to large audiences. In December of that year her mother Daw Khin Kyi died and at her huge funeral procession Suu Kyi vows that as her father and dead mother had served the people of Burma, so too would she, even unto her death. January 1989 through July of same year Suu Kyi continues her campaign despite harassment, arrests and killings by soldiers. On February 17th she was prohibited from standing for election. April 5th in the incident in Irawaddy Delta she courageously walked towards rifles that soldiers were aiming at her. On July 20th Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest, without charge or trial. Her sons were with her and Michael flew to Rangoon and finds her on her third day of hunger strike. Michael asked to be jailed to join students who were arrested at her home. She ended the strike when good treatment of students was promised.
In May of 1990 despite detention of Suu Kyi, NLD wins election with 82% of parliamentary seats. SLORC refused to recognize the results of the election. In October of 1990 Suu Kyi was granted the 1990 Rafto Human Rights Prize. In July of 1991 European Parliament awarded her Sakharov human rights prize. In 1991 Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In December of that year Freedom from Fear was published in New York, England, Australia, and New Zealand. It was also translated to Norwegian, French and Spanish. On Dec. 10th Alexander and Kim accepted their mother's prize in an Oslo ceremony. Suu Kyi remained in detention having refused an offer to be freed if only she would leave Burma and withdraw from politics. Now world wide appeal is growing for her release. In 1992 she announced that she would use her $1.3 million prize money to establish health and education trusts for Burmese people. In 1993 a group of Nobel Peace Laureates, having been denied entry into Burma visited Burmese refugees on the Thailand border calling for Suu Kyi's release. Their appeal later was repeated at UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva.
In February of 1994 she has her first non-family visitors, a UN representative, a U.S. congressman and a New York Times reporter. In September and October SLORC leaders meet with Suu Kyi, who is still asking for a public dialogue. On July 10th, 1995 the SLORC releases Suu Kyi from house arrest after 6 years of detention.

On March 27th, 1999 Michael Aris died of prostate cancer in London. He had petitioned the Burmese authorities to allow him to visit Suu Kyi but his request was denied. He had not seen his wife since Christmas 1995. The Burmese government always urged her to visit her family abroad, but she knew once she left she would never be allowed back into Burma. This separation she regarded as one of the sacrifices she had to make in order to work for a free Burma.
All in all Suu Kyi has been detained on and off for the last nineteen years.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1991-1995, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1999
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures.


Relax Max said...

I don't know much at all about the government of Burma or this woman. They apparently look at her as a disrupter rather than someone who is trying to be helpful. I hope they leave her alone.

ettarose said...

She has fought her entire life for the rights of the Burmese. To be out from under the tyranny that is Burma today. She and her party actually won the election in 1990 but of course the military regime would never recognize her or her party.


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