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Daw Suu's Letter from Burma #5

Mainichi Daily News, Monday, December 25, 1995

Letter from Burma (No. 5)
By Aung San Suu Kyi


        The 10th day of the waning moon of Tazaungdine marks National Day in
Burma.  It is the anniversary of the boycott against the 1920 Rangoon
University Act which was seen by the Burmese as a move to restrict higher
education to a privileged few.  This boycott, which was initiated by
university students, gained widespread support and could be said to have
been the first step in the movement for an independent Burma.  National Day
is thus a symbol of the intimate and indissoluble link between political and
intellectual freedom and of the vital role that students have played in the
the politics of Burma.
        This year the 75th anniversary of National Day fell on Nov. 16.  A
committee headed by elder politicians and prominent men of letters was
formed to plan the commemoration ceremony.  It was decided that the
celebrations should be on a modest scale in keeping with our financial
resources and the economic situation of the country.  The program was very
simple; some speeches, the presentation of prizes to those who had taken
part in the essay competitions organized by the National League for
Democracy, and the playing of songs dating back to the days of the
independence struggle.  There was also a small exhibition of photographs,
old books and magazines.
        An unseasonable rain had been falling for several days before the
16th but on the morning of National Day itself the weather turned out to be
fine and dry.  Many of the guests came clad in /pinni/, a hand-woven cotton
cloth that ranges in color from a flaxen beige through varying shades of
apricot and orange to burnt umber.  During the independence struggle pinni
had acquired the same significance in Burma as /khaddi/ in India, a symbol
of patriotism and a practical sign of support for native goods.
        Since 1988 it has also become the symbol of the movement for
democracy.  A pinni jacket worn with a white collarless shirt and a Kachin
sarong (a tartan pattern in purple, black and green) is the unofficial
uniform for *democracy men.*  The dress for *democracy women* is a /pinni
aingyi/ (Burmese style blouse) with a traditional hand-woven sarong.  During
my campaign trip to the state of Kachin in 1989 I once drove through an area
considered unsafe because it was within a zone where insurgents were known
to be active.  For mile upon mile men clad in pinni jackets on which gleamed
the brave red badge of the National League for Democracy stood on *guard
duty* along the route, entirely unarmed.  It was a proud and joyous sight.
        The sight on the 75th anniversary of National Day too was a proud
and joyous one.  The guests were not all clad in pinni but there was about
them a brightness that was pleasing to both the eye and the heart.  The
younger people were full of quiet enthusiasm and the older ones seemed
rejuvenated.  A well-known student politician of the 1930s who had become
notorious in his mature years for the shapeless shirt, shabby denim
trousers, scuffed shoes (gum boots during the monsoons) and battered hat in
which he would tramp around town was suddenly transformed into a dapper
gentleman in full Burmese national costume.  All who knew him were stunned
by the sudden picture of elegance he represented and our photographer
hastened to record such an extraordinary vision.
        The large bamboo and thatch pavilion that had been put up to receive
the thousand guests was decorated with white banners on which were printed
the green figure of a dancing peacock.  As a backdrop to the stage too there
was a large dancing peacock, delicately executed on a white disc.  This is
the symbol of the students who had first awoken the political consciousness
of the people of Burma.  This is a symbol of a national movement that had
culminated triumphantly with the independence of the country.
        The orchestra had arrived a little late as there had been an attempt
to try to *persuade* the musicians not to perform at our celebration.  But
there spirits had not been dampened.  They stayed on after the end of the
official ceremony to play and sing nationalist songs from the old days.  The
most popular of these was Nagani.  *Red Dragon* Nagani was the name of a
book club founded by a group of young politicians in 1937 with the
intentions of making works on politics, economics, history and literature
accessible to the people of Burma.  The name of the club became closely
identified with patriotism and a song was written about the prosperity that
would come to the country through the power of the Red Dragon.
        Nagani was sung by a young man with a strong, beautiful voice and we
all joined in the chorus while some of the guests went up on the stage and
performed Burmese dances.  But beneath the light-hearted merriment ran a
current of serious intent.  Our national movement remains unfinished.  We
have still to achieve the prosperity promised by the dragon.  The time is
not yet for the triumphant dance of the peacock.


(This is one of a yearlong series of letters, the Japanese translation of
which appears in the Mainichi Shimbun the same day, or the previous day in
some areas.)