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New Letter from Burma #1

Mainichi Daily News, Monday, January 6, 1997

(Editor=92s note:  This is the first installment in a new series of the
=93Letter from Burma=94 column by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize
laureate who leads the pro-democracy movement in Burma.  The new series is
scheduled to appear in the Mainichi Daily News on the first Monday of each
month, unless otherwise noted.  The Japanese translation of the column will
appear in the Mainichi Shimbun on the same day.  We hope our readers will
enjoy this new series.)

=93Starting Anew=94

Letter from Burma (No. 1) By Aung San Suu Kyi

	So another year has ended.  Three hundred and sixty-five days which can
never be brought back again lie behind us.  The beginning of a new year is
as much a time for rendering accounts as a time for hope.  It is a time for
taking a hard look at the events of the past and for assessing what has been
gained and what has been lost.  1996 cannot be said to have been a happy
year for Burma.  It was a period that saw much injustice and repression.
Fear was let loose among the populace to dissuade them from supporting the
democratic cause.  At the same time, the economy started showing
unmistakable signs of malaise, giving the lie to claims of impressive growth
and progress.
	Looking back on the old year, I cannot help but think of friends and
colleagues who lost their liberty because of their efforts to gain the
greater liberty of our people.  The numbers of political arrests during 1996
rose well into the hundreds.  As U Win Htein, who was taken away from his
home one midnight in May and sentenced to 14 years=92 imprisonment two=
later, remarked, the authorities pick up people and put them in confinement
as a rough poulterer might pick up young chicks or birds and fling them into
cages, with little regard for human feelings.
	The accelerated arrests of organizers and supporters of the National League
for Democracy is matched only by the accelerated rate of inflation.
Although prices have been rising steadily over the last several years, 1996
was particularly noteworthy for the alarming way in which inflation took
off.  The most obvious change is in the price of diesel oil which went up
from 180 kyats per gallon at the beginning of the year to over 300 kyats by
the year end.  The prices of foodstuff have also gone up considerably,
making the housewife=92s task of keeping her family adequately fed a
formidable business.  (Prison terms meted out to NLD members have also been
subject to the general inflationary trend:  a sentence less than seven years
is seen as pretty mild.)
	We saw the old year out at the home of U Kyi Maung, one of the deputy
chairmen of the National League for Democracy.  The New Year Eve party has
been a tradition in his family for many years.  But the guests have changed
with the changing times and reflect the varying fortunes of our hosts and
our country.  This New Year Eve the majority of the guests were members of
the National League for Democracy; in other words it was a political family
party.  These are times when all responsible citizens need to be=
	There were also a few foreign correspondents who had come to ask about our
reaction to the accusations leveled against the National League for
Democracy at the latest government press conference.  There is a special
flavor to meetings with the press which are held in this impromptu fashion,
everybody sitting around casually amidst a tangle of video cameras, tape
recorders and cups of coffee.  The journalists who find their way to these
informal press conferences are usually enterprising and good humored, the
kind of people who are thoroughly professional but who are always ready to
see the funny side of any situation.  This makes for a friendly, relaxed
atmosphere where irreverent jokes about the powers that be are appreciated
in a light-hearted way, as one might appreciate a cup of fine, fragrant tea.
	After the correspondents left, we got down to the serious business of
tucking into the mounds of noodles that had been prepared for us and singing
dissident songs.  There is one particular song that represents the
revolutionary spirit of 1988.  It is a song of students recalling the
bloodshed and the grief of those days which can never be forgotten,
appealing to the spirits of Thakin Kodaw Hmaing, a grand literary figure of
the independence movement, and of my father, and dedicating themselves to
the cause of democracy.  When it is sung in full force by strong young
voices to the strumming of guitars, it is both moving and inspiring.  We saw
in the New Year in international fashion, singing Auld Lang Syne as the last
minutes of 1996 ticked away.  But as soon as we crossed over into 1997, we
sang once again the song that had resounded at so many gatherings eight
years ago when the forces of democratic change had swept across Burma.  We
know that the New Year will bring challenges that will make heavy demands on
our inner resources.
	The New Year also brings in its wake the anniversary of Burmese
independence day on Jan. 4.  It is now nearly 49 years since Burma gained
freedom from colonial rule.  Last year for our independence day celebration
a drama troupe came down from Mandalay to give a traditional performance of
dance and song and highly amusing satirical comments.  The comments
reflected the current situation in the country so well and were so popular
with the audience, the two comedians and two NLD organizers who helped to
bring the troupe down to Rangoon are now serving long sentences in a cold
jail in the north of the country, far from their families.  In Burma ruled
by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), one pays a high
price for expressing the dissatisfactions of the people through the artistic
	Organizing the independence day celebrations this year has been fraught
with more than the usual difficulties.  With access to my house shut off
since the beginning of December, it remained a matter for speculation
whether it would even be possible for our guests to attend the ceremony.
Getting together a band, a simple enough matter one might imagine, also
became a task of gargantuan proportions.  Some experienced musicians we
approached were too frightened to risk the displeasure of the authorities.
No doubt they were thinking of the comedians in jail and of the band which
had its entertainment license taken away after they had performed at our
celebrations last year.  We were still grappling with our musical problems
when the leading lady of the play we had planned to put on at our
celebration was suddenly arrested under the charge that she had been
involved in the student demonstrations that took place toward the beginning
of the month.  Really, the SLORC provides us with far too much excitement.
	The past is important only that it may serve as a lesson to guide us safely
through the future.  According to Buddhist belief it is a demerit to indulge
in regrets.  That is to say, we should not waste our time and energy pining
over what might have been, it is more to the point to take constructive
action to put right whatever may have gone wrong.  1996 was a most peculiar
year from a political point of view.  So many incredible =96 and ludicrous =
events took place that we now have no trouble accepting the truth of the
words that fact is so very often stranger than fiction.  There are enough
=93democracy tales=94 to keep generations of our descendants fascinated and
	It is very likely that the next 12 months will bring many more interesting
and unexpected changes.  Whatever the future may hold, I look forward to it
with much curiosity.