Burma's Nobel Laureate

The world honors a heroine of democracy

DAW AUNG SAN SUU KYI, the daughter of the legendary hero of Burma - Gen. Aung San, who led Burma to its independence from the British colonial rule in 1948 - has courageously followed the path of her father in striving to obtain what she termed "the second independence" for Burma from military rule. As leader of the democracy and human rights movement in Burma, she has personified what she termed "freedom from fear" for the subjugated people of Burma and the world. For that role, she was awarded the three consecutive human rights and peace awards: the Rafto and Sakharov awards in 1990 and now the Nobel Peace Prize for 1991. The response of the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), expressed by the Burmese ambassador to Thailand, was that the Nobel Peace Prize would not cause any change in the treatment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest. The SLORC has also reportedly purged hundreds of civil servants for giving wrong answers to the 33 questionnaires forced upon them. There are further signs that the government is intimidating the public by forcing them to answer questions on the whereabouts of their dissident relatives and through threats of martial law. But the international recognition of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's achievement has rekindled hope for the "freedom from fear" which she inspires. From behind the walls of the house that has been her prison since July 20, 1989, she has been waging a war with her spirit against the guns of military rulers. The SLORC has been governing Burma against the wish and will of the people of Burma by voiding the result of the May 1990 election, won in a landslide by the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League f or Democracy. Richard Lovelace's "stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage" aptly describe the indomitable spirit of freedom and power which she has held up before the people of Burma and the international human rights community. Her father's favorite passage, "Under the bludgeoning of chance, my head is bloody but unbowed," from the poem by William Henley cited by all Burmese dissidents, captures her fight against the repressive military regime of Burma. Fearful of her symbolic power to break the military stranglehold on the country, the SLORC regime of Saw Maung has offered her freedom from house arrest more than once since 1989 on the condition that she depart her native land and promise not to engage in politics. She has persistently refused this offer, sacrificing the chance to live freely abroad with her English husband and two children, who have been denied a visit to Burma for more than two years. A voluntary power transfer by SLORC to the legitimate winners of the 1990 election is highly unlikely. Increasing pressure by the United Nations, the United States, and other Western democracies to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and transfer power to a democratically elected government has so far been ignored by the military power holders. On the contrary, members of SLORC have been coming out with blunt statements of intent to hold on to power for another decade. The SLORC of Burma, however, is facing another political foe. In the economic arena, the military commanders are under siege by hyperinflation, shortages of basic necessities, a pending rice crisis due to the floods in August and September, corruption, a trade deficit, and a growing external debt to pay for arms purchases, including a $1.4 billion arms agreement with China. This economic deterioration, combined with the symbolic power of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is very likely to precipitate another cycle of mass unrest and ruthless repression by the Burmese Army, which has previously shown no compunction in killing thousands of unarmed demonstrators. To what extent these developments, including the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize by the young heroine of Burma, will effectuate democratization of Burma is far from certain. What is certain is that the failed democracy of Burma since 1988, at the cost of thousands of lives, has been resuscitated by this international recognition of her continued role as the focal point of the democracy movement in Burma. It also reaffirms the fact that her leadership alone will dispel the darkness that has fallen over t he Golden Land. From behind the wall of the house which has been her prison for the last two years, she remains the symbol of hope for peace and "freedom from fear" to the people of Burma and the world. One can only hope that the freedom-loving people of the world will come to the aid of the subjected people of Burma. As President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia, in nominating Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma for the 1991 Nobel peace prize, poignantly asserted: The individual quest for freedom, when constrained by totalitarian power, leads to the creation of different movements for human rights and freedom, for a humane and democratic society. It is the duty of all of us to assist this development whenever and wherever it is threatened.

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