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.
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Are there other globally recognized figures of conscience comparable to Aung San Suu Kyi today?Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Aung San Suu Kyi
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I keep searching. She is really for the time being a very exceptional figure. I don’t see anywhere a similar figure. There are people like Mary Robinson [former Irish president] who has been a great figure in human rights, and Gro Brundtland [former Norwegian prime minister] who has been very active for Rio+20. … But no one is as exemplary as Aung San Suu Kyi.
You recently published a dialogue with her.
More than 15 years ago my wife and I were sent to Rangoon to try to meet Aung San Suu Kyi and deliver a message from Danielle Mitterrand [wife of former French President Francois Mitterrand] … She wanted us to visit Aung San Suu Kyi and tell her how strongly French [human rights activists] supported her.
This failed. We arrived in Rangoon at a time there were student movements and the government wanted nobody in contact with her. She was already under house arrest for some time…. But we stayed in contact with this very important movement called Info Birmanie [French Association for a Free Burma]. And many times, over the years we would go and [demonstrate] in front of the Burmese embassy. That went on for some time. And then, recently ... we did [speak] with each other. She was in Rangoon and I was in Paris … and I said, “Are you sure they are not going to put you in jail again?” and she said “No, no, I think we can go forward,” and I said “We all think of you dearly, and please do not take unnecessary risks.”
It was a half-hour conversation and Info Birmanie decided to publish a book, which we called “Resistances, for a Free Burma.”
You have urged younger French not to give up their ideals. Does Aung San Suu Kyi offer something here?
Absolutely, she is an example for the young generation. She is an example for all my friends who try to get over violence. When I hear [former French Prime Minister] Michel Rocard declaring yesterday that we should give up our nuclear military facility, I feel that he is in the right direction. We need people determined to go against violence, but to do it without violence.
How is it possible to remain idealistic without being or seeming naïve these days?
It is extremely difficult and people are easily discouraged. I think, for instance, of the terrible situation under which our Palestinian friends are laboring, trying to get something and never getting any progress. Therefore, discouragement, unfortunately, is there for all of us and it needs the kind of stamina that is needed if one wants success. And that is where Aung San Suu Kyi gives us an example.