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. …