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After 15 years, Aung Sun Suu Kyi and Nazi resistance figure Hessel finally meet

French intellectual Stéphane Hessel, a former Nazi resistance figure, will meet Aung Sun Suu Kyi tomorrow as she concludes a tour of Europe. He talks to the Monitor about what this means to him.

By Staff writer / June 26, 2012

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi enters a car after her arrival at Gare du Nord train station for a three-day visit in Paris June 26.

Philippe Wojazer/Reuters



Tomorrow, Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, on the final leg of her 17-day Europe visit, is meeting both President François Hollande and French Nazi resistance figure Stéphane Hessel at the Élysée Palace.

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Mr. Hessel, who helped author the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and counted Eleanor Roosevelt among his friends, has tried to meet Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi before, without success. His life is storied: He escaped Nazi prison camps three times, was the son of the couple “Jules and Jim” in the famous French film, and last year came out of retirement to write a bestseller that has made him a sort of celebrity intellectual at age 94.

His 30-page tract “Get Indignant,” which urges younger generations not to give up hope, is widely seen as helping spark the European version of the  “Occupy” movement in Spain last spring. That protest then partly morphed into the “99 percent” movement in the US.

In the 1990s Hessel traveled to Rangoon (the capital of Myanmar) on a semi-official mission of support for Aung San Suu Kyi, but was blocked from meeting her by Burmese authorities.

As Suu Kyi arrives in France, the Monitor caught up with Hessel for a brief chat.

Monitor: What does Aung San Suu Kyi represent for you?

Hessel: All my philosophy, if you want to call it a philosophy, all my political philosophy, goes more and more in the line of nonviolence and determination. My little book, which we called “Indignez-vous!” said essentially, “We must be brave, we must have confidence, we must work for basic human values that are in democracy and human rights, etc. … And of course, from that point of view, Aung San Suu Kyi is the best possible example.

Can you say more?

It’s not only that she is a woman, already very important – we need women now, some of them are very good, as she is – but she has this quality of determination and at the same time nonviolence. She has never preached violence. Therefore, her image can be put close to … Nelson Mandela, or Mikhail Gorbachev, or Vaclav Havel, and Gandhi himself, of course, and these people have something in common that puts them close to Buddhist philosophy as well…. The idea that one can be efficient by being determined and nonviolent is something on which I think we can try to build the future of our unfortunate mankind.


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