Crusader for Democracy Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi Is Kept from Collecting Her Nobel Prize. ANALYSIS

By Takashi Oka, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 1991 | Go to article overview

Crusader for Democracy Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi Is Kept from Collecting Her Nobel Prize. ANALYSIS


Takashi Oka, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THIS year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, presented in Norway today, shares a circumstance with earlier Peace Prize-winner Andre Sakharov and Literature Prize-winner Boris Pasternak: Her own government will not allow her to collect it in person.

Far from the award ceremony amid the snows of Oslo, Aung San Suu Kyi, heroine and symbol of the Burmese people's struggle for democracy and freedom, sits inside her two-story stucco house in humid Rangoon, Burma. The military junta's troops surround it, cutting off contact with the outside world, as they have since July 1989. In Oslo, Suu Kyi is represented by her British husband, Tibetologist Michael Aris, and her two teenage sons.

Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, the revered founder of Burma's army and builder of its independence. She burst onto Burma's political stage in August 1988, at a time of tense, bloody confrontation between the Ne Win military dictatorship of 26 years and masses of citizens - many of them students and monks - demonstrating in the streets. From the start she called for nonviolence as well as unity and discipline in the struggle for democracy, stumping the countryside from the steamy south to the dusty north, winning the hearts and minds not only of sophisticated intellectuals but also of village grandmothers. Her activity lasted less than a year. On July 20, 1989, government troops abruptly prevented her from leaving her house and have kept her in isolation ever since. In her solitude, she remains a luminous symbol of the Burmese peoples' continuing fight for democracy and human rights.

The potency of this symbol was stunningly demonstrated 18 months ago when the junta held its long-promised multiparty elections. Despite Suu Kyi's total absence from the political arena for 10 months, her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won 392 out of 485 seats contested.

The junta was startled by the NLD's victory, but ignored the results. It arrested most of the newly elected legislators and forced those that remained to disavow Suu Kyi's leadership. Except for a handful of students and others living in precarious conditions on the border with Thailand, opposition to the regime has gone deep underground.

But today, the world can hear Suu Kyi's authentic voice for the first time since her house arrest. On the occasion of the Nobel Peace Prize award, Professor Aris has edited a collection of some of Suu Kyi's speeches and writings: "Freedom From Fear and Other Writings" (Penguin, 338 pp., $25 cloth, $12 paper).

The essay "Freedom from Fear," from which the book takes its title, begins with the arresting statement, "It is not power that corrupts but fear" and goes on to note that fear is at the root of some of the most repressive actions taken by corrupt or dictatorial power holders.

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Crusader for Democracy Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi Is Kept from Collecting Her Nobel Prize. ANALYSIS
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