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The Burmese Cat On The Hot Tin Roof


The freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi has reignited the ‘people’ power of the Burmese people. It’s a power we have seen before in our lifetimes most recently in South Africa when Nelson Mandela emerged from a cell to become President of South Africa in less than four years.

Who is this woman? What does she stand for? What drives her?

She was barely two years old when her father, General Aung San and Prime Minister of Burma to all intents and purposes, was assassinated.  That’s the kind of life changing event that pretty well determines you life path right there.

Suu Kyi (middle front) with her father, mother and two brothers

There is a sense of cosmic irony that would not be seen till years after the assassination. Her father is noted as a founder of the modern Burmese Army: the same organisation that later seized power in 1962 and the same organisation that put her into house arrest.  The Buddhist circle of life in action.

Politics weaved strong threads in her life. Her mother became ambassador for India and Nepal and while in Delhi, Suu Kyi graduated with a degree in politics in 1964. She later moved to the UK where she continued her studies at Oxford completeing a BA in   Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1969.

After graduating, she lived in New York City with a family friend and worked at the United Nations for three years. She married Dr Michael Aris who she had met while in studying in the UK in 1972. She had two sons, studied again earning a doctorate in 1985.

She returned to Burma in 1988 to care for her mother and very quickly found herself emersed in the politics of the country of her birth. Inspired by Ghandi’s philosophy of non-violence, in September 1988 she founded the National League for Democracy.

Less than 18 months later, in July1990, she was placed under house arrest for the first time of several. All in all, she is put under house arrest for 15 of 21 years of her stay in Burma. Despite this in 1990 her NLD party captured a staggering 59% of the countries primary vote entitling them to 82% of the seats in the parliament. Her father’s own party won a similar percentage in 1947.

In 1990 she gave a speech entitled ‘FREEDOM OF FEAR’. The opening lines began thus:

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

The military junta, who had held power since 1962, reacted typically. The July 3rd, 1990 vote was nullified by the junta and 17 days later, she was placed under her first house address.

Periods under detention

  • 20 July 1990: Placed under house arrest in Rangoon under martial law that allows for detention without charge or trial for three years.
  • 10 July 1995: Released from house arrest.
  • 23 September 2000: Placed under house arrest.
  • 6 May 2002: Released after 19 months.
  • 30 May 2003: Arrested following the Depayin massacre, she was held in secret detention for more than three months before being returned to house arrest.
  • 25 May 2007: House arrest extended by one year despite a direct appeal from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to General Than Shwe.
  • 24 October 2007: Reached 12 years under house arrest, solidarity protests held at 12 cities around the world.
  • 27 May 2008: House arrest extended for another year, which is illegal under both international law and Burma’s own law.
  • 11 August 2009: House arrest extended for 18 more months because of “violation” arising from the May 2009 trespass incident.
  • 13 November 2010: Released from house arrest.

The junta had hoped that she would be forgotten by now. They had hoped she would be broken. Judging by her call for a peaceful revolution, this is not the case.

So Aung San Suu Kyi walks the hot tin roof that is Burma. Again, her life is clouded with cosmic irony. In May 2008, a cyclone had ripped the roof off the house she was detained in. She had lost electricity and was forced to use candles at night. The junta announced in August 2009 that plans to repair and renovate her house would begin.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been deprived of liberty, deprived of humanity, deprived of family, deprived of democracy, deprived of light, and deprived of a roof. As they saying goes however, you can not take someone’s dignity; they need to give it up. Suu Kyi has refused to do this on countless occasions. She still carries her dignity with her and the people have waited for her return.

The junta’s decision to ban the NLD in May 2010 and thereby  from contesting the recent elections seems to have allowed them to think they have control of  the people. Not so it seems. Now it is they who tread the hot roof. It is they that feel the heat of the people they wish to govern.

I end this with another saying from Aung San Suu Kyi. One that is not only meant for the ears of those who are currently in power in Burma, but for every government in every country. It is no coincidence that governments in the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and many others are minority governments. Many just seem to not listen.

“Government leaders are amazing”, she once said. “So often it seems they are the last to know what the people want.”

A. Ghebranious   2010           All Rights Reserved

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