June 24 on ASSK.pdf by ayekyawsoe


June 24 on ASSK.pdf

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									                                MYANMAR’s REFORMED!
                                Once Men’s only club has
                              Women Sidecartrists now.
                           From left side sidecar to right side
                          sidecar; from Pautsi to Fish & Chips.

                                     Sunday, June 24, 2012
                            Aung San Suu Kyi: behind
                                    the image
                         Aung San Suu Kyi comes to Dublin on Monday.
                         She is Burma’s ‘only hope’, a political icon,
                         and the whole world wants a piece of her. Can
                         this one woman – strong and stubborn but
                         physically fragile and with no experience of
                         government – deliver on such high hopes, asks

AT ABOUT 5PM ON Saturday, November 13th, 2010, soldiers armed with
rifles and tear-gas launchers pushed aside the barbed-wire barriers
that blocked the route to a dilapidated villa at 54 University Avenue
in Rangoon. A swarm of excited people dashed the final 100 metres to
the gate. “Twenty minutes later, a slight 65-year-old woman popped her
head over her red spiked fence,” reported the Los Angeles Times. And
the crowd went wild. “I’m very happy to see you,” she yelled over the
chants, the loud sobbing and the shouted words of love. “It’s been a
very long time since I’ve seen you.”

The tidal wave of joy and adulation surging across the world found
expression as far away as Co Carlow, where a small group of Rohingya
Muslims, one of three Burmese communities in the State, felt the first
stirrings of hope. “She is our only hope,” a Burmese student living in
Ireland, who did not wish to be identified, said. “She is the only one
who can bring justice and the rule of law to our community.”

Where some may see green shoots of democracy in Burma, the Burmese
student, a grave young man, sees no change. For several days last
week, he says, his mother and family, who are still in Burma, came
under violent attack from Buddhists and he didn’t hear from them for
three days. Although they have lived there for hundreds of years, the
million or so Rohingya people within Burma are treated as illegal
immigrants. They require permits in order to marry and to travel to
other towns. They are restricted to three children per family and are
barred from studying the higher professions, such as medicine and law.

As the words pour out in a torrent, the sense of expectation invested
in the slight woman who turns 67 on Tuesday becomes almost oppressive.
In the tinderbox of Burma and its population of 55 million, the
Rohingya, who are officially stateless, aren’t even numbered among the
135 ethnic groups clamouring for attention after a generation of
dictatorship. “Yes, we’re worried about the expectations on Aung San
Suu Kyi as well: very worried,” says the Burmese student. “The
majority in Burma are the Buddhist people, and she can’t talk against
them . . . If she talks to one side, she might lose support in the
2014 elections. But she is the champion of human rights. She is the
one who wants to reconcile all ethnic groups.”

This, then, is the enormous expectation invested in one woman, whose
moral strength was never in doubt but whose physical frailty was
painfully evident on Thursday in Geneva when, in the middle of a press
conference, an assistant had to rush to her side after she was taken
ill. During her nationwide election campaign in March, she had to
withdraw on several occasions for health reasons, citing exhaustion,
hot weather and airsickness. Despite the steely resolution, the
ramrod-straight deportment and the cheerful flowers in her hair,
visitors to Rangoon have invariably described her as fragile. It could
hardly be otherwise, after 20 years of an emotional and psychological
crucifixion, several assassination attempts and 15 years of detention,
during which 15 armed soldiers, inside and outside her home, watched
her every move.

One by one, every human consolation was taken: her party colleagues,
her friends, her children and her husband, according to Peter Popham,
author of a masterly biography, The Lady and the Peacock. She had no
telephone because a soldier had severed the cable. When the regime
opened one of her parcels and had the contents – a Jane Fonda workout
video, the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, novels and food in jars and tins
– photographed for a newspaper, she refused any further mail. Rather
than accept food from the regime, she instructed guards to sell the
furniture for food. Her hair fell out for lack of nourishment. Her
weight dropped to about six and a half stone, and she developed
spondylosis, a degeneration of the spinal column.

She spent the monsoon months moving her bed, bowls, basins and buckets
around the bedroom to catch the leaks that soaked her mattress. The
roof leaked because her only surviving sibling and eldest brother,
Aung San Oo, had filed a court case in 2000, allegedly at the behest
of the regime, claiming half the house belonged to him and blocking
repairs on the basis that they would “damage” his property. The case
dragged on until 2010 when, to general amazement, the courts found in
her favour.

Aung San Oo is “strangely absent from Suu’s story”, says Popham. The
froideur between them was evident long before her immersion in Burmese
politics. Lady Pat Gore-Booth, Suu Kyi’s London-based guardian in her
Oxford years, noticed it even then. A charmless individual by all

accounts, Aung San Oo studied electrical engineering at Imperial
College London, from where, in Popham’s words, “he proceeded to a
career and marriage (to a Burmese woman) in the US with speed and
dispatch, renouncing his Burmese citizenship in favour of American
along the way”. IN THE SPACE of six years Suu Kyi lost two other
siblings at a young age, as well as her father, Aung San. A revered
national figure, he was only 30 when he forged Burma’s first army and
then, with perfect timing, turned it against Japan, the power that had
sponsored it. A patriot with a pragmatic streak, he first looked to
the Japanese to help free Burma from British rule until he discovered,
to his horror, that he and his army colleagues “had swapped one form
of enslavement for another”, writes Popham. On his way to London to
negotiate a settlement with the British, he told journalists that he
wanted “complete independence”, not dominion status. It is said that
Michael Collins was one of his inspirations. In any event, the British
were ready to deal.

In the Burmese elections in 1947 his party won 248 of the 255 seats,
and Aung San became the pre-eminent leader of the nation. Three months
later, at a cabinet meeting, five men stormed the building and
assassinated him, along with most of the council. Suu Kyi was only two
at the time and has never pretended to remember much about him. But
she never got over his death, argues Popham. As the daughter of a
revered national martyr, she felt marked by destiny. There was little
sign of it, however, when she moved to England to study at Oxford
University. The family had been well cared for by the government after
Aung San’s assassination. They had been given the gracious old house
on University Avenue, and Suu Kyi’s mother, Daw Khin Kyi, had been set
on a career in high-profile public service.

When Suu Kyi headed to Oxford in 1964, her mother asked her old
friends Sir Paul Gore-Booth and his wife, Lady Pat, to act as her
daughter’s guardian; she became almost like a daughter to them. With
her elegant carriage, Audrey Hepburn looks and fresh flowers worn
daily in her high ponytail, she cut an exotic figure around college.
“Every male who met her had a bit of crush on her,” one man told
Popham. Yet she retained something of the prim and puritanical
postcolonial Victorian, a woman not for turning. Her years at Oxford
seem to have been marked by attempts to change her degree course (her
eventual third-class degree, friends suggest, was the result of
indifference) as well as an unrequited love for a Pakistani student,
which endured for a year or two after college.

While she was trying to plot a course in life, the Gore-Booths’ son
Christopher brought his lanky, rumpled friend Michael Aris to their
Chelsea home and introduced him to her. Aris, a student of Tibetan
language and culture, who was born in Havana to an Englishman and a
French-Canadian beauty, was instantly smitten. Then he flew off to
tutor the children of the Bhutanese royal family and she got a lowly
UN job in New York. They got engaged while he was visiting New York,
and the following year she visited him in Bhutan.

In the eight months between that visit and the wedding – a Buddhist
ceremony at the Gore-Booths’ home, marked by the absences of her
mother and brother – she wrote 187 letters to him. By any standard
these are untypical love letters. In what Popham calls “the mother of
all pre-nups”, she makes her conditions very clear in one of them. “I
ask only one thing, that should my people need me, you would help me
to do my duty by them. Would you mind very much should such a
situation ever arise? How probable it is I do not know, but the
possibility is there.” He accepted without demur. The possibility
probably seemed remote. Her future roles at that stage seemed to be
those of being a wife to a gentle scholar, and of being a mother. On
the face of it, there was little to distinguish her. As Popham puts
it, with stark clarity, she was a woman with a mediocre degree who had
done a little part-time tutoring and a little temporary research work,
obtained a postgraduate position in New York that she abandoned weeks
later, and then used her name and connections to get a semi-menial job
in the UN (of which U Thant, the then most famous Burmese person in
the world, was secretary general), from which she resigned after three
years to get married. “She was that unfortunate creature: a trailing

She gave birth to Alexander in 1973, and by the time Kim was born, in
1977, they were back in Oxford in a college flat while Aris studied
for his doctorate, living on modest funding. A friend detected
“anxiety, cramp and strain” amid Suu Kyi’s bright homemade curtains
and Bhutanese rugs. She ironed everything, including Aris’s socks, and
was rigorous about home-cooked food. It was Suu Kyi who gave the
textbook children’s parties, but the party-game rules were enforced
with unyielding exactitude, to the astonishment of the other children.
“To them, Suu was kindly but grave, an uncomfortably absolute figure
of justice in their malleable world,” said another mother. Meanwhile,
she returned to Burma most summers, alone or with the family, and took
the boys back for shinbyu, the ceremony all Burmese Buddhist boys
undergo between the ages of five and 12. She won a scholarship at
Kyoto University, in Japan, to study Burma’s independence movement.
She took eight-year-old Kim with her – Popham notes that he underwent
a very challenging year at school there; Aris took Alexander to the
Indian Himalayas while he pursued a fellowship.

IN 1988, WHEN her mother was taken to hospital in Rangoon, Suu Kyi
travelled there to nurse her. She encountered an uprising, of which
the results were visible in the injuries of some patients. Less than a
year later she had her first close encounter with death, during a
campaign tour, when soldiers were ordered to shoot her and her
colleagues. Her companions stuck to the side of the road, but Suu Kyi
walked into the middle, right in the line of fire. Only at the last
moment was the order revoked. She recalled that some of the kneeling
soldiers were “shaking and muttering to themselves”. She survived a
second serious attempt in 2003, in which 70 of her party colleagues
died. To many ordinary Burmese people her ability to survive and face
down her enemies suggested she was something of a living Buddha, a

divine being, born to save her people from suffering. It was reported
that Buddha statues had begun to weep from the left breast –
indicating the feminine principle, weeping out of pity – when the
regime ignored her party’s landslide victory in 1990.

“I don’t want a personality cult,” she told New York Times journalist
Steven Erlanger. “We’ve had enough dictators already.” But there was
little she could do about it. It had taken 15 years, but by now the
ferocious prenup promises had taken on a terrible reality. Alexander
and Kim, then 16 and 11, were with her in Rangoon when she was first
placed under house arrest. When Michael arrived he found his wife on
the third day of a hunger strike, her one demand being that she be
allowed to visit her young supporters in prison. Only when the regime
gave its word did she relent. (Her fears were real. A US embassy cable
from the time revealed that political prisoners were tortured with
cigarette burns, electric shocks to the genitals and brutal beatings
sometimes causing death).

The family had a month together then, before school beckoned back in
England. The family were never reunited. This is the question that
preoccupies many about Aung San Suu Kyi, and it’s one that would
rarely, if ever, be directed at a man in such circumstances. When she
effectively renounced her husband and vulnerable young sons, it was,
to most eyes, voluntary. How could she do it? This is what made her
long years in detention so exceptional. Unlike Nelson Mandela or
Andrei Sakharov, every day she could have walked free, headed for the
airport and flown back to her beloved Oxford. “Every day for 15
years,” wrote Polly Toynbee after interviewing her for the Guardian,
“she had to make that hard decision to stay, alone and isolated,
without her two sons, even as her beloved husband was dying of cancer
in Britain, cruelly forbidden from visiting her.”

Over the years her answer has been that she was not the only one; that
other Burmese prisoners had suffered far more in far harsher
conditions, half-starved, their health destroyed. When Steven Erlanger
asked about her family in 1989, she told him the decision “took a
while ” but that when she decided, that was that. “Obviously you have
to put the family second. But the kids are at an important age. Really
families need to be together all the time.” Then she paused and said,
with a tear running down her cheek, “My mother was very ill. It was
important to be here with her.”

She told another journalist, Alan Clements, that as a mother “the
greater sacrifice was giving up my sons”, but she immediately added,
“I was always aware of the fact that others had sacrificed more than
me.” Drawn out a little more by Clements, she said: “When I first
entered politics, my family happened to be here with me tending to my
mother. So it was not a case of my suddenly leaving them, or they
leaving me. It was a more gradual transition which gave us an
opportunity to adjust.”

Given that her interviews were always carefully calibrated for the
ears of the regime, it is difficult to take these words at face value.
For the generals, all this was ammunition; the last thing she wanted
to do was show that the slow torture was working. There were hints of
deep grief, according to an erstwhile Burmese friend also quoted by
Popham, such as when she was mending some of her young supporters’
shirts and it brought her back to Oxford and how she used to sew name
tags on her sons’ school shirts. She fell silent, with tears in her
eyes, wrote the friend, and said: “I had better concentrate on my new

What is beyond doubt is Aris’s unwavering support and understanding
for her stance. Back in Oxford she had disliked his smoking and
complained that he was too easygoing to fulfil his potential and was
too tolerant of English social hypocrisy. But when the tests came,
writes Popham, “without a blip, he became her other half in the world
outside”. His sister-in-law, Lucinda Aris, told Popham that Aris spent
at least half of his time working on Suu Kyi’s behalf and that he had
a secretary who worked exclusively on Burmese matters. “I don’t think
Suu ever realised how much he did,” she said. When it came to his
impending death, he remained as steadfast as ever to her cause,
saying, “Don’t come, don’t come.” They shared the decision.

MUCH HAS BEEN made of her alleged stubbornness, inflexibility and
refusal to concede the slightest thing in the interests of starting a
dialogue, writes Popham. Would it have made a difference had she flown
to her husband and children and turned off the lights at 54 University
Avenue for good? “The answer is, a great deal of difference,” he says.
Suu Kyi’s impact has been spiritual and emotional as much as
political. Even as the regime tried to paint her as a puppet of the
West, a poster girl, even as her image was being commandeered to sell
cars and light fittings, the bottom line about Suu Kyi and her
unwavering place in the hearts of tens of millions of Burmese is that
she could have flown away. But she never did.

Although few can know the truth of their own sacrifice, her sons have
survived. Alexander, who is now said to live a reclusive life in
Oregon, delivered an astonishing speech when he and Kim represented
their mother at the Nobel prizegiving. Kim has paid several visits to
her in Burma since her 2010 release. Now, as a member of parliament,
Suu Kyi has made the leap from icon to lawmaker. Now she isn’t merely
“absorbing the hopes the people are putting on her but she begins to
be responsible for making them come true,” Hillary Clinton said. “I
know that route. I know how hard it is to balance one’s ideals and
aspirations” with the demands of politics.

It is the steadfastness that will get her there, says Popham. And over
the next few days it is probably that steadfastness that will get her
through the sickness and the maelstrom of adulation, in a world where
everyone wants a piece of her.

Over 20 years the woman with a third-class Oxford degree incarcerated
in that shabby house on University Avenue has been showered with 66
honorary degrees and 57 international prizes. “Her great gift to her
country was to throw open the windows to the outside world,” writes
Popham. “At the same time she opened the windows of the world to Burma
. . . Burma will never be the same again.”

Electric Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi’s six-hour visit to Ireland – one of five European
countries her itinerary – comes on foot of an invitation from the
lawyer Bill Shipsey, who founded Amnesty International’s artist-
engagement programme. Shipsey arranged for his friend Lucinda Aris,
Suu Kyi’s sister-in-law, to go to a U2 concert during which people
processed across the stage in Suu Kyi masks, calling for her release.

Shipsey asked Lucinda to “tell her sister-in- law not to forget that
she was to come and pick up her Ambassador of Conscience award – and
if she comes, I said, we’d put on a concert for her”.With Aris’s
encouragement, Amnesty sent an invitation to Suu Kyi with notes from
Seamus Heaney and Mary Robinson. She accepted.

Monday’s concert, Electric Burma, at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre,
will include the presentation by Bono to Aung San Suu Kyi of Amnesty’s
Ambassador of Conscience award. Afterwards, outside the theatre, with
the Lord Mayor, Andrew Montague, Suu Kyi will sign the roll of
honorary freedom and address the public.


  Golda Meir: "One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely
                 because it does not fit the present."


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