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Asiaweek profiles Burma's Great Asi
Subject: Asiaweek profiles Burma's Great Asian
Burmese Relief Center--Japan
DATE:May 30, 1995
TIME: 6:30PM JST
Subject: Asiaweek profiles Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
As part of its 20th anniversary celebration, Asiaweek profiles
the shapers of the New Asia
June 2, 1995 Asiaweek
Twenty Great Asians 1975-995
THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE COMMITTEE CALLED HER
"ONE OF THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY EXAMPLES
OF CIVIL COURAGE IN ASIA.
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 day.
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 multiparty
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 one-sided result.
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 mili-
tary-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
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
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 independen
ce. 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 rights."
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 tele-
vised, raised hopes that she might be released. Instead, the
only thing raised was the level of rhetoric against her.
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
Asiaweek, June 2, 1995