Suu Kyi's determination to peacefully defy dictatorship remains unchanged

I'm moved to tear several times while editing this column in the morning.
This is also one of the finest columns I've ever read in my life, being edited by an editor with Mainichi Shimbun.
I'm deeply moved.

(Mainichi Japan) February 24, 2011
Suu Kyi's determination to peacefully defy dictatorship remains unchanged

The Mainichi Shimbun resumed Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's column, "Letter from Burma," this year after a 13-year break. I flew to Myanmar where press restrains were in force late last year and visited Suu Kyi's residence prior to the publication of the first part of the column on New Year's Day.

Suu Kyi had been under house arrest there on and off over a 15-year period from 1989 to November last year. I stood by one of the windows of her residence, and thought about how firm her determination must be to spend her life resisting Myanmar's military dictatorship.

The military dictatorship has been in power in Myanmar for nearly half a century since the 1962 coup. Suu Kyi founded the National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1988 in a bid to democratize the country, and the party secured 82 percent of the seats in Parliament in a 1990 general election. Nevertheless, the military regime refused to hand over power to the NLD and suppressed pro-democracy movements.
The military regime has continued a reign of terror, detaining and torturing NLD members and supporters. Last autumn, the regime called a general election and released Suu Kyi from house arrest. However, the shift to civilian rule was a mirage and the military is still ruling the country.

Suu Kyi's residence is situated in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar. Since its gate is higher than an adult's average height, it is impossible to look into her home from the street. There is no other house nearby, and since security forces are surrounding her home round the clock, ordinary citizens are reluctant to approach her house out of fear that security authorities might suspect they have ties to Suu Kyi.

Her house is a western-style two-story building with white walls, and security authorities set up a fence with barbed wire behind her home facing a lake. When I saw a scene at the lakeside while waiting for her to return home, I could hardly believe my eyes. There, dozens of couples were dating while people with children were taking a walk. A promenade leads to an amusement park and a Ferris wheel towers over trees.

A place isolated from the outside world and a place where citizens lead their daily lives coexist there -- a ruthless reality.

Suu Kyi, who was separated from her family because of her house arrest, has never lost courage even though she regularly sees citizens nearby who appear happy, and instead tolerates her solitary life. She has reasons for having to do so.

Suu Kyi lost her husband, who had been battling cancer in Britain, in 1999 while she was under house arrest. Feeling that he was close to the end of his life, he applied for a visa to visit Myanmar to meet his wife, only to be rejected. The military regime hoped that Suu Kyi would leave for Britain to meet with her ailing husband. However, she chose to stay home because there was no guarantee that she would be allowed to come back to Myanmar once she left the country. She chose to prioritize her pro-democracy movement rather than stay with her dying husband. Her determination is undoubtedly attributable to the existence of fellow freedom fighters imprisoned as political prisoners.

In December 1995, shortly after she started the column in the Mainichi Shimbun, Suu Kyi told the world political prisoners were barred from meeting their children for over two years and that their family members were being interrogated and harassed.

Her message that she was not the only Myanmar woman detained for her political thoughts appears to reflect a kind of guilty feeling she harbors toward other people who were being suppressed by the military regime.

There is a special reason why Suu Kyi evaded being tortured or imprisoned even though she is the leader of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement. Her father played a leading role in winning Myanmar's independence and she is well-known to the world as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The military regime cannot simply take her away from society.

In other words, Suu Kyi is a pro-democracy activist whose safety is guaranteed. Therefore, she is obviously determined to share the pain imposed on her fellow pro-democracy activists. In the second letter of the current series that ran on Feb. 6, she confessed that she made a habit of having breakfast quite late during her house arrest "so that in my hunger I would not forget our comrades who were incarcerated not in their own homes but in prisons, often in places far distant from where their families live."

I have met various people as a journalist, but I clearly remember I felt tense when I first met Suu Kyi. The feeling derived from my sense of reverence -- similar to a feeling I harbored toward citizens who repeatedly staged a sit-in protest in the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, to express opposition to the relocation of a U.S. base to the area and those who were involved in a signature-collecting campaign against a so-called plutonium-thermal power generation project. They are determined to confront political power without resorting to violence.

I asked Suu Kyi, a Japanophile who studied at Kyoto University in the 1980s, what she expects Japan to do for the democratization of Myanmar. Instead of answering my question, she asked me whether I, as a Japanese national, have urged the Japanese government to pressure Myanmar's military regime to release all political prisoners. I couldn't nod with confidence to Suu Kyi, who shot a questioning glance at me. (By Pak Chong-chu, Foreign News Department)

毎日新聞 2011年2月24日 0時12分

by kiyoshimat | 2011-02-25 08:18 | 英字新聞

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