Sunday, Mar 29th, 2020 - 21:24:30


Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi: "In Quest of Democracy" (1989)

"This essay and the two which follow were written by the author for a project she was unable to complete before she was placed under house arrest on 20 July 1989. The project was intended to result in a volume of essays on democracy and human rights which she had been hoping to dedicate to her father as Essays in Honour of Bogyoke Aung San."

'Opponents of the movement for democracy in Burma have sought to undermine it by on the one hand casting aspersions on the competence of the people to judge what was best for the nation and on the other condemning the basic tenets of democracy as un-Burmese. There is nothing new in Third World governments seeking to justify and perpetuate authoritarian rule by denouncing liberal democratic principles as alien. By implication they claim for themselves the official and sole right to decide what does or does not conform to indigenous cultural norms. Such conventional propaganda aimed at consolidating the powers of the establishment has been studied, analysed and disproved by political scientists, jurists and sociologists. But in Burma, distanced by several decades of isolationism from political and intellectual developments in the outside world, the people have had to draw on their own resources to explode the twin myths of their unfitness for political responsibility and the unsuitability of democracy for their society. As soon as the movement for democracy spread out across Burma there was a surge of intense interest in the meaning of the word 'democracy', in its history and its practical implications.

More than a quarter-century of narrow authoritarianism under which they had been fed a pabulum of shallow, negative dogma had not blunted the perceptiveness or political alertness of the Burmese. On the contrary, perhaps not all that surprisingly, their appetite for discussion and debate, for uncensored information and objective analysis, seemed to have been sharpened. Not only was there an eagerness to study and to absorb standard theories on modern politics and political institutions, there was also widespread and intelligent speculation on the nature of democracy as a social system of which they had had little experience but which appealed to their common-sense notions of what was due to a civilized society. There was a spontaneous interpretative response to such basic ideas as representative government, human rights and the rule of law. The privileges and freedoms which would be guaranteed by democratic institutions were contemplated with understandable enthusiasm. But the duties of those who would bear responsibility for the maintenance of a stable democracy also provoked much thoughtful consideration.

It is natural that a people who have suffered much from the consequences of bad government should be preoccupied with theories of good government.

Members of the Buddhist Sangha in their customary role as mentors have led the way in articulating popular expectations by drawing on classical learning to illuminate timeless values. But the conscious effort to make traditional knowledge relevant to contemporary needs was not confined to any particular circle - it went right through Burmese society from urban intellectuals and small shopkeepers to doughty village grandmothers.

Why has Burma with its abundant natural and human resources failed to live up to its early promise as one of the most energetic and fastest-developing nations in South-east Asia? International scholars have provided detailed answers supported by careful analyses of historical, cultural, political and economic factors. The Burmese people, who have had no access to sophisticated academic material, got to the heart of the matter by turning to the words of the Buddha on the four causes of decline and decay: failure to recover that which had been lost, omission to repair that which had been damaged, disregard of the need for reasonable economy, and the elevation to leadership of men without morality or learning. Translated into contemporary terms, when democratic rights had been lost to military dictatorship sufficient efforts had not been made to regain them, moral and political values had been allowed to deteriorate without concerted attempts to save the situation, the economy had been badly managed, and the country had been ruled by men without integrity or wisdom. A thorough study by the cleverest scholar using the best and latest methods of research could hardly have identified more correctly or succinctly the chief causes of Burma's decline since 1962.

Under totalitarian socialism, official policies with little relevance to actual needs had placed Burma in an economic and administrative limbo where government bribery and evasion of regulations were the indispensable lubricant to keep the wheels of everyday life turning. But through the years of moral decay and material decline there has survived a vision of a society in which the people and the leadership could unite in principled efforts to achieve prosperity and security. In 1988 the movement for democracy gave rise to the hope that the vision might become reality.

At its most basic and immediate level, liberal democracy would mean in institutional terms a representative government appointed for a constitutionally limited term through free and fair elections. By exercising responsibly their right to choose their own leaders the Burmese hope to make an effective start at reversing the process of decline. They have countered the propagandist doctrine that democracy is unsuited to their cultural norms by examining traditional theories of government.

The Buddhist view of world history tells that when society fell from its original state of purity into moral and social chaos a king was elected to restore peace and justice. The ruler was known by three titles: Mahasammata, 'because he is named ruler by the unanimous consent of the people'; Khattiya; 'because he has dominion over agricultural land'; and Raja, 'because he wins the people to affection through observance of the dhamma (virtue, justice, the law)'. The agreement by which their first monarch undertakes to rule righteously in return for a portion of the rice crop represents the Buddhist version of government by social contract. The Mahasammata follows the general pattern of Indic kingship in South-east Asia. This has been criticized as antithetical to the idea of the modern state because it promotes a personalized form of monarchy lacking the continuity inherent in the western abstraction of the king as possessed of both a body politic and a body natural. However, because the Mahasammata was chosen by popular consent and required to govern in accordance with just laws, the concept of government elective and sub lege is not alien to traditional Burmese thought.

The Buddhist view of kingship does not invest the ruler with the divine right to govern the realm as he pleases. He is expected to observe the Ten Duties of Kings, the Seven Safeguards against Decline, the Four Assistances to the People, and to be guided by numerous other codes of conduct such as the Twelve Practices of Rulers, the Six Attributes of Leaders, the Eight Virtues of Kings and the Four Ways to Overcome Peril. There is logic to a tradition which includes the king among the five enemies or perils and which subscribes to many sets of moral instructions for the edification of those in positions of authority. The people of Burma have had much experience of despotic rule and possess a great awareness of the unhappy gap that can exist between the theory and practice of government.

The Ten Duties of Kings are widely known and generally accepted as a yardstick which could be applied just as well to modern government as to the first monarch of the world. The duties are: liberality, morality, self-sacrifice, integrity, kindness, austerity, non-anger, non-violence, forbearance and non-opposition (to the will of the people).

The first duty of liberality (dana) which demands that a ruler should contribute generously towards the welfare of the people makes the tacit assumption that a government should have the competence to provide adequately for its citizens. In the context of modern politics, one of the prime duties of a responsible administration would be to ensure the economic security of the state.

Morality (sila) in traditional Buddhist terms is based on the observance of the five precepts, which entails refraining from destruction of life, theft, adultery, falsehood and indulgence in intoxicants. The ruler must bear a high moral character to win the respect and trust of the people, to ensure their happiness and prosperity and to provide a proper example. When the king does not observe the dhamma, state functionaries become corrupt, and when state functionaries are corrupt the people are caused much suffering. It is further believed that an unrighteous king brings down calamity on the land. The root of a nation's misfortunes has to be sought in the moral failings of the government.

The third duty, paricagga, is sometimes translated as generosity and sometimes as serf-sacrifice. The former would constitute a duplication of the first duty, dana, so self-sacrifice as the ultimate generosity which gives up all for the sake of the people would appear the more satisfactory interpretation. The concept of selfless public service is sometimes illustrated by the story of the hermit Sumedha who took the vow of Buddhahood. In so doing he who could have realized the supreme liberation of nirvana in a single lifetime committed himself to countless incarnations that he might help other beings free themselves from suffering. Equally popular is the story of the lord of the monkeys who sacrificed his life to save his subjects, including one who had always wished him harm and who was the eventual cause of his death. The good ruler sublimates his needs as an individual to the service of the nation.

Integrity (ajjava) implies incorruptibility in the discharge of public duties as well as honesty and sincerity in personal relations.

There is a Burmese saying: 'With rulers, truth, with (ordinary) men, vows'. While a private individual may be bound only by the formal vows that he makes, those who govern should be wholly bound by the truth in thought, word and deed. Truth is the very essence of the teachings of the Buddha, who referred to himself as the Tathagata or 'one who has come to the truth'. The Buddhist king must therefore live and rule by truth, which is the perfect uniformity between nomenclature and nature. To deceive or to mislead the people in any way would be an occupational failing as well as a moral offence. 'As an arrow, intrinsically straight, without warp or distortion, when one word is spoken, it does not err into two.'

Kindness (maddava) in a ruler is in a sense the courage to feel concern for the people. It is undeniably easier to ignore the hardships of those who are too weak to demand their rights than to respond sensitively to their needs. To care is to accept responsibility, to dare to act in accordance with the dictum that the ruler is the strength of the helpless. In Wizaya, a well-known nineteenth-century drama based on the Mahavamsa story of Prince Vijaya, a king sends away into exile his own son, whose wild ways had caused the people much distress: 'In the matter of love, to make no distinction between citizen and son, to give equally of loving kindness, that is the righteousness of kings.'

The duty of austerity (tapa) enjoins the king to adopt simple habits, to develop self-control and to practise spiritual discipline.

The self-indulgent ruler who enjoys an extravagant lifestyle and ignores the spiritual need for austerity was no more acceptable at the time of the Mahasammata then he would be in Burma today.

The seventh, eighth and ninth duties -- non-anger (akkodha), non-violence {avihamsa) and forbearance (khanti) ~ could be said to be related. Because the displeasure of the powerful could have unhappy and far-reaching consequences, kings must not allow personal feelings of enmity and ill will to erupt into destructive anger and violence. It is incumbent on a ruler to develop the true forbearance which moves him to deal wisely and generously with the shortcomings and provocations of even those whom he could crush with impunity. Violence is totally contrary to the teachings of Buddhism. The good ruler vanquishes ill will with loving kindness, wickedness with virtue, parsimony with liberality, and falsehood with truth. The Emperor Ashoka who ruled his realm in accordance with the principles of non-violence and compassion is always held up as an ideal Buddhist king. A government should not attempt to enjoin submission through harshness and immoral force but should aim at dhamma-vijaya, a conquest by righteousness.

The tenth duty of kings, non-opposition to the will of the people (avirodha), tends to be singled out as a Buddhist endorsement of democracy, supported by well-known stories from the Jatakas. Pawridasa, a monarch who acquired an unfortunate taste for human flesh, was forced to leave his kingdom because he would not heed the people's demand that he should abandon his cannibalistic habits. A very different kind of ruler was the Buddha's penultimate incarnation on earth, the pious King Vessantara. But he too was sent into exile when in the course of his strivings for the perfection of liberality he gave away the white elephant of the state without the consent of the people. The royal duty of non-opposition is a reminder that the legitimacy of government is founded on the consent of the people, who may withdraw their mandate at any time if they lose confidence in the ability of the ruler to serve their best interests.

By invoking the Ten Duties of Kings the Burmese are not so much indulging in wishful thinking as drawing on time-honoured values to reinforce the validity of the political reforms they consider necessary. It is a strong argument for democracy that governments regulated by principles of accountability, respect for public opinion and the supremacy of just laws are more likely than an all-powerful ruler or ruling class, uninhibited by the need to honour the will of the people, to observe the traditional duties of Buddhist kingship. Traditional values serve both to justify and to decipher popular expectations of democratic government.


The people of Burma view democracy not merely as a form of government but as an integrated social and ideological system based on respect for the individual. When asked why they feel so strong a need for democracy, the least political will answer: 'We just want to be able to go about our own business freely and peacefully, not doing anybody any harm, just earning a decent living without anxiety and fear.' In other words they want the basic human rights which would guarantee a tranquil, dignified existence free from want and fear. 'Democracy songs' articulated such longings: 'I am not among the rice-eating robots . . . Everyone but everyone should be entitled to human rights.' 'We are not savage beasts of the jungle, we are all men with reason, it's high time to stop the rule of armed intimidation: if every movement of dissent were settled by the gun, Burma would only be emptied of people.'

It was predictable that as soon as the issue of human rights became an integral part of the movement for democracy the official media should start ridiculing and condemning the whole concept of human rights, dubbing it a western artefact alien to traditional values. It was also ironic - Buddhism, the foundation of traditional Burmese culture, places the greatest value on man, who alone of all beings can achieve the supreme state of Buddhahood.

Each man has in him the potential to realize the truth through his own will and endeavour and to help others to realize it. Human life therefore is infinitely precious. 'Easier is it for a needle dropped from the abode of Brahma to meet a needle stuck in the earth than to be born as a human being.'

But despotic governments do not recognize the precious human component of the state, seeing its citizens only as a faceless, mindless - and helpless - mass to be manipulated at will. It is as though people were incidental to a nation rather than its very life-blood. Patriotism, which should be the vital love and care of a people for their land, is debased into a smokescreen of hysteria to hide the injustices of authoritarian rulers who define the interests of the state in terms of their own limited interests. The official creed is required to be accepted with an unquestioning faith more in keeping with orthodox tenets of the biblical religions which have held sway in the West than with the more liberal Buddhist attitude:

It is proper to doubt, to be uncertain . . . Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing. Nor upon tradition, nor upon rumours . . . When you know for yourself that certain things are unwholesome and wrong, abandon them . . . When you know for yourself that certain things are wholesome and good, accept them.

It is a puzzlement to the Burmese how concepts which recognize the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of human beings, which accept that all men are endowed with reason and conscience and which recommend a universal spirit of brotherhood, can be inimical to indigenous values. It is also difficult for them to understand how any of the rights contained in the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be seen as anything but wholesome and good. That the declaration was not drawn up in Burma by the Burmese seems an inadequate reason, to say the least, for rejecting it, especially as Burma was one of the nations which voted for its adoption in December 1948. If ideas and beliefs are to be denied validity outside the geographical and cultural bounds of their origin, Buddhism would be confined to north India, Christianity to a narrow tract in the Middle East and Islam to Arabia.

The proposition that the Burmese are not fit to enjoy as many rights and privileges as the citizens of democratic countries is insulting. It also makes questionable the logic of a Burmese government considering itself fit to enjoy more rights and privileges than the governments of those same countries. The inconsistency can be explained - but not justified - only by assuming so wide a gulf between the government and the people that they have to be judged by different norms. Such an assumption in turn casts doubt on the doctrine of government as a comprehensive spirit and medium of national values.

Weak logic, inconsistencies and alienation from the people are common features of authoritarianism. The relentless attempts of totalitarian regimes to prevent free thought and new ideas and the persistent assertion of their own lightness bring on them an intellectual stasis which they project on to the nation at large.

Intimidation and propaganda work in a duet of oppression, while the people, lapped in fear and distrust, learn to dissemble and to keep silent. And all the time the desire grows for a system which will lift them from the position of 'rice-eating robots' to the status of human beings who can think and speak freely and hold their heads high in the security of their rights.

From the beginning Burma's struggle for democracy has been fraught with danger. A movement which seeks the just and equitable distribution of powers and prerogatives that have long been held by a small elite determined to preserve its privileges at all costs is likely to be prolonged and difficult. Hope and optimism are irrepressible but there is a deep underlying premonition that the opposition to change is likely to be vicious. Often the anxious question is asked: will such an oppressive regime really give us democracy? And the answer has to be: democracy, like liberty, justice and other social and political rights, is not 'given', it is earned through courage, resolution and sacrifice.

Revolutions generally reflect the irresistible impulse for necessary changes which have been held back by official policies or retarded by social apathy. The institutions and practices of democracy provide ways and means by which such changes could be effected without recourse to violence. But change is anathema to authoritarianism, which will tolerate no deviation from rigid policies. Democracy acknowledges the right to differ as well as the duty to settle differences peacefully. Authoritarian governments see criticism of their actions and doctrines as a challenge to combat. Opposition is equated with 'confrontation', which is interpreted as violent conflict. Regimented minds cannot grasp the concept of confrontation as an open exchange of major differences with a view to settlement through genuine dialogue.

The insecurity of power based on coercion translates into a need to crush all dissent. Within the framework of liberal democracy, protest and dissent can exist in healthy counterpart with orthodoxy and conservatism, contained by a general recognition of the need to balance respect for individual rights with respect for law and order.

The words 'law and order' have so frequently been misused as an excuse for oppression that the very phrase has become suspect in countries which have known authoritarian rule. Some years ago a prominent Burmese author wrote an article on the notion of law and order as expressed by the official term nyein-wut-pi-pyar. One by one he analysed the words, which literally mean 'silentcrouched-crushed-flattened', and concluded that the whole made for an undesirable state of affairs, one which militated against the emergence of an articulate, energetic, progressive citizenry. There is no intrinsic virtue to law and order unless 'law' is equated with justice and 'order' with the discipline of a people satisfied that justice has been done. Law as an instrument of state oppression is a familiar feature of totalitarianism. Without a popularly elected legislature and an independent judiciary to ensure due process, the authorities can enforce as 'law' arbitrary decrees that are in fact flagrant negations of all acceptable norms of justice. There can be no security for citizens in a state where new 'laws' can be made and old ones changed to suit the convenience of the powers that be. The iniquity of such practices is traditionally recognized by the precept that existing laws should not be set aside at will.

The Buddhist concept of law is based on dhamma, righteousness or virtue, not on the power to impose harsh and inflexible rules on a defenceless people. The true measure of the justice of a system is the amount of protection it guarantees to the weakest. Where there is no justice there can be no secure peace. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that 'if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression', human rights should be protected by the rule of law. That just laws which uphold human rights are the necessary foundation of peace and security would be denied only by closed minds which interpret peace as the silence of all opposition and security as the assurance of their own power. The Burmese associate peace and security with coolness and shade:

The shade of a tree is cool indeed

The shade of parents is cooler

The shade of teachers is cooler still

The shade of the ruler is yet more cool

But coolest of all is the shade of the Buddha's teachings.

Thus to provide the people with the protective coolness of peace and security, rulers must observe the teachings of the Buddha. Central to these teachings are the concepts of truth, righteousness and loving kindness. It is government based on these very qualities that the people of Burma are seeking in their struggle for democracy.

In a revolutionary movement there is always the danger that political exigencies might obscure, or even nullify, essential spiritual aims. A firm insistence on the inviolability and primacy of such aims is not mere idealism but a necessary safeguard against an Animal Farm syndrome where the new order after its first flush of enthusiastic reforms takes on the murky colours of the very system it has replaced. The people of Burma want not just a change of government but a change in political values. The unhappy legacies of authoritarianism can be removed only if the concept of absolute power as the basis of government is replaced by the concept of confidence as the mainspring of political authority: the confidence of the people in their right and ability to decide the destiny of their nation, mutual confidence between the people and their leaders and, most important of all, confidence in the principles of justice, liberty and human rights. Of the four Buddhist virtues conducive to the happiness of laymen, saddha, confidence in moral, spiritual and intellectual values, is the first.

To instil such confidence, not by an appeal to the passions but through intellectual conviction, into a society which has long been wracked by distrust and uncertainty is the essence of the Burmese revolution for democracy. It is a revolution which moves for changes endorsed by universal norms of ethics. In their quest for democracy the people of Burma explore not only the political theories and practices of the world outside their country but also the spiritual and intellectual values that have given shape to their own environment.

There is an instinctive understanding that the cultural, social and political development of a nation is a dynamic process which has to be given purpose and direction by drawing on tradition as well as by experiment, innovation and a willingness to evaluate both old and new ideas objectively. This is not to claim that all those who desire democracy in Burma are guided by an awareness of the need to balance a dispassionate, sensitive assessment of the past with an intelligent appreciation of the present. But threading through the movement is a rich vein of the liberal, integrated spirit which meets intellectual challenges with wisdom and courage.

There is also a capacity for the sustained mental strife and physical endurance necessary to withstand the forces of negativism, bigotry and hate. Most encouraging of all, the main impetus for struggle is not an appetite for power, revenge and destruction but a genuine respect for freedom, peace and justice. The quest for democracy in Burma is the struggle of a people to live whole, meaningful lives as free and equal members of the world community. It is part of the unceasing human endeavour to prove that the spirit of man can transcend the flaws of his own nature.'

+ In Quest of Democracy (1989):


'Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a Keynote Address at the U.S.-Myanmar Conference in Indianapolis on May 29, 2015. At Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).'
+ Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Keynote Speech (2015):

'History has been made in Burma as Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy opposition party was confirmed on Friday as the winner of historic elections held five days earlier. The latest official election results delivered an unassailable lead to the National League for Democracy in the parliamentary elections. Ms Suu Kyi will be able to name the next president and form the new government. Asked why so many people voted for her party, the Nobel laureate earlier told Radio Free Asia:

“Our hearts beat in the same note. We struggled together, and we had hopes together. We dreamed together for nearly 30 years. The NLD and the people are comrades-in-arms. I think that is the reason they supported us."

The electoral triumph was declared official exactly five years after the world's most famous political prisoner was released from house arrest for a third and final time. Ecstatic street celebrations had begun within hours of polls closing on Sunday as it became clear that the NLD led by Ms Suu Kyi was on course for a landslide... The NLD needed a crushing victory because the electoral cards were stacked against them by the military-drafted constitution. That document allocates 25 per cent of seats to military appointees, so the NLD needed to win at least two-thirds of the constituencies being contested on Sunday to secure a clear majority in parliament. That means that Ms Suu Kyi can now form the next government and nominate the new president without the help of coalition partners, although several smaller ethnic groupings will also side with the NLD. There are of course some strict limitations, however. For a start, under the constitution drawn up to entrench military influence even after the elections, the army chief will appoint the three key ministerial portfolios of interior, defence and border areas... And most obviously, despite her overwhelming popularity, Ms Suu Kyi – known to many Burmese simply as “mother” – cannot be nominated as president because of a clause that rules out any candidate with a foreign spouse or children. Ms Suu Kyi’s late husband was British, as are her two adult sons. Ms Suu Kyi is expected to push for constitutional change at some stage, although the military bloc of appointed MPs – if they vote en masse – can block any such move. In the meantime, she has made clear that she will govern the country, whatever her official title, through a nominee president who will follow her orders as the leader of the largest party.'
+ Burma election: Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party clinches landslide victory:
+ Suu Kyi party in big win - Landslide gives NLD power to elect next President:

'The generals have gone back on their word before. In 1990, two years after a student uprising and brutal military crackdown launched Suu Kyi into politics, her pro-democracy party won 80 percent of the seats in parliament. The military, in power since a 1962 coup, simply ignored the results. Nyan Win was in prison at the time of the 1990 elections, and Suu Kyi, who would win the Nobel Peace Prize the following year, was under house arrest. She would spend 15 out of 21 years confined to her lakeside house with the leaky roof on University Avenue — the lady by the lake. In some ways, Suu Kyi was the daughter of Burma. Her father, Aung San, helped secure the country’s independence from Britain and was assassinated in 1947, when she was 2 years old. She was an Oxford-educated mother of two and the wife of a British academic when she returned home in 1988 after her mother had a stroke. She quickly became swept up in the pro-democracy uprising taking place at the time. The movement was eventually crushed by the military, with hundreds of protesters shot in the streets and its leaders imprisoned... She gave her first major speech in August 1988, before a crowd of hundreds of thousands gathered in front of the city’s golden Shwedagon Pagoda, the ancient heart of Rangoon, and electrified the crowd with her call for unity and democracy. “At that time she was too young to become a great leader,” Aung Thein said. “We loved her and believed in her because she is the daughter of Aung San. We didn’t know anything about her knowledge and her ability.” A platform had been built for the speakers at the event, he recalled: “Somebody had to pick her up and put her on stage. She was too young and too thin.” Over time, Suu Kyi would become one of the world’s most famous dissidents, heaped with accolades and awards in absentia. But there was private pain, too, that played out in public. She was separated for years from her husband, Michael Aris, and two sons, who remained in Britain. In January 1999, Suu Kyi learned Aris had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, according biographer Peter Popham. The generals said that she could travel to be with him, but she feared that she would never be let back into the country. They never saw each other again; Aris died that March. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama would eventually travel to meet Suu Kyi, and she met with Obama in the Oval Office in 2012. The two sides have their differences — analysts say Suu Kyi does not want to be thought of as a puppet of the West, and she exasperates U.S. officials with her occasionally imperious manner. But she continues to command respect. “If she can manage to hold together a democratic movement . . . with everything falling around her, and her people being imprisoned and held on house arrest for 15 years — that’s a remarkable achievement,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y). “People would be foolish to underestimate her.”'
+ Burma victory caps a decades-long battle for opposition leader Suu Kyi:
+ Myanmar activist Suu Kyi's party wins a historic majority in parliament:

YANGON, Myanmar — 'The dictators and army generals of Myanmar have ceded political power one drop at a time over the past decade, a process they carefully managed. Until this week. The landslide election victory on Sunday by their longtime antagonist, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the country’s democracy movement, stunned the military-backed governing party, party members and government officials said on Friday. “All of our calculations were wrong,” U Zaw Htay, deputy director general of the office of the president, said in an interview. “It was like a tsunami.” Even as official results on Friday finally pushed Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party over the threshold of a solid parliamentary majority, the great unanswered question was why the military leaders who controlled the country for 53 years would voluntarily hand over power. The answer now seems to be that they never thought they would. “This is payback for the last 50 years,” Mr. Zaw Htay said. The governing party miscalculated voter preferences in ethnic areas, he said, and did not understand that “swing voters” would support Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. Having promised to respect the election results, the governing party and military leaders have to some extent painted themselves into a corner.

“This is an unexpected situation,” said U Hla Maung Shwe, a senior adviser to the Myanmar Peace Center, a government organization that helps lead peace talks in rebellious ethnic areas.

“The government and the military would have had Plan A, B and C, but now Plan Z has just happened.”

He said the governing party had counted on forging alliances with ethnic parties and winning at least 130 seats to form a majority. Instead, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party swept a great number of seats in the ethnic areas, and so far, the governing party has won just 41 seats.

“All of their pre-election expectations went wrong,” Mr. Hla Maung Shwe said.

They were not the only ones who got it wrong. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, considerably underestimated its own strength. Nyan Win, the party spokesman, said the National League for Democracy had expected to win around 60 percent of the vote but seemed on track to win more than 80 percent. He attributed the stunning margin to residual hatred of the military. But he also said the governing party was hurt by infighting, including the forced removal of its chairman just months before the election. A study commissioned by the chairman earlier in the year warned that the ruling party might suffer steep losses, but the party leadership rejected the analysis, party members said. “They have no unity,” Mr. Nyan Win said.'
+ Victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s Party Catches One Group Off Guard: The Government:
+ Military Concedes Election to Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar:

'The election is the latest signpost along Burma's long, fitful journey toward a genuine democracy. Even if Suu Kyi's NLD wins a good majority of seats in the country's parliament, it will have to contend with a bloc of lawmakers hand-picked by the military who will occupy a quarter of the assembly's seats. For good reason, even with victory in sight, Suu Kyi cautioned supporters to wait for the final tally, which may take a few more days to emerge. They know from bitter experience what it feels like to have a democratic triumph cruelly turned into a defeat. The last time her party stood poised to clinch a dramatic electoral landslide, the result was nullified. In May 1990, Burma, also known as Myanmar, staged a general election, a vote that came in the wake of a dramatic pro-democracy uprising in 1988 that saw Suu Kyi emerge as a leader of those opposed to the country's military rule. In a context of martial law and extensive political repression, 93 parties contested the election. Suu Kyi, detained by authorities in 1989, was already under house arrest. Surprisingly, the vote itself was not manipulated. Turnout of 72 percent saw the NLD pick up about 60 percent of the vote — a mandate large enough to give the party control over 80 percent of Burma's legislature. But the ruling junta, known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, did not hand over power to the people. Instead, it cracked down further on its opponents. My colleague William Branigin journeyed to Burma five months after the May election and reported on the mood of fear at the time, which included the stifling of certain Buddhist monasteries that were hotbeds for dissent.

Contributing to the atmosphere is the Orwellian quality of many of the junta's actions and pronouncements. Large red billboards around Mandalay and Yangon proclaim slogans in Burmese and English such as "Crush All Destructive Elements" and "Observance of Discipline Leads to Safety." One, across the street from the U.S. Embassy, reads "Down With Minions of Colonialism."

In an account of raids against six Mandalay monasteries Oct. 24, the official radio said the monks in charge "were full of smiles, happily permitting the searches because they were encouraged by the efforts being made through the use of power to purify the religion."

"We are helpless without arms," an elderly Buddhist abbot told The Post then. An office worker from Rangoon lamented: "We're just like slaves right now. People just hate this government."

In the city of Mandalay, famed for its myriad pagodas, Branigin was briefly detained as he investigated the crackdown on opposition monks. He painted the scene of a pariah state's long isolation:

'Today this former British colony seems a drab and fearful place, dominated by a junta that appears bent on stamping out even token opposition and whose foreign policy is based essentially on isolationism and xenophobia. In many respects it is a country forgotten by time. Although limited economic reforms have allowed slight modernizations in recent years, buses whose design predates World War II still wheeze down the streets, and weeds and shrubs grow out of crevices in the capital's decaying British colonial buildings.'

"The winds of change are blowing everywhere but in Burma," a senior Western diplomat told Branigin. "It is absolutely certain that [the junta] will never, ever allow the [NLD] to take over. There will be no free elections anymore in Burma."

Of course, a lot has changed since then. Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2010 and is now once more the country's most visible and well-known politician. In 2012, she was able to travel to Oslo and accept the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to her in absentia in 1991. Foreign investment, particularly from countries such as China and India, has flooded in. The U.S. and other Western governments have cautiously welcomed Burma's steps toward political reform and democracy.'
+ What happened when Aung San Suu Kyi’s party last won an election in Burma:
+ Myanmar’s army recognises Suu Kyi win, offers co-operation:


'Myanmar's president has promised a peaceful transfer of power to the victorious party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in general elections, ensuring that the country's march toward greater democracy after decades of military rule will not be derailed. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy said Wednesday it received a message from Information Minister Ye Htut on behalf of President Thein Sein congratulating it for leading the race for parliamentary seats in the Nov. 8 election. Ye Htut said the government will pursue a peaceful transfer of power "in accordance with the legislated timeline." He was not immediately available for comment. The message helps remove lingering concerns that the military, which has a large influence over the ruling party, may deny the NLD power, as it did after elections in 1990. It also means that Myanmar is likely to soon have its first government in decades that isn't under the military's sway.'
+ Myanmar transition to democracy on track after government promises peaceful transfer of power:
+ Military will retain powers:

People in Myanmar have waited a few decades for democracy... How much longer do they have to wait?

My message to my people is: if you work hard, it won't take too long.

Martin Luther King had a dream. Mahatma Gandhi had a dream. Nelson Mandela had a dream. What is Suu Kyi's dream?

My dream is the dream of all the others who went before me. We just dream of a strong and united people, who can carve out their own destiny in peace and prosperity.

What lessons have you learned from the failure of the 1988 uprising?

I don't think you can call the 1988 uprising a failure. It did not have all the results that we expected, but certainly it opened the way for a new form of politics in Burma. So the lessons we learned are many, of course... but I would protest against the word failure.

You mean to say it helped the democracy movement gain international exposure?

No, it opened up Burma to new political ideas... which had not had a chance to emerge in the previous two decades.

Do you see a role for the military in a future government of national reconciliation?

National reconciliation involves everybody. So the process of national reconciliation would, of course, involve the army as well.

What is the way forward in the short term? Pursue a compromise formula with the generals or work slowly towards a full-fledged democracy?

Our ultimate goal, of course, is a full-fledged democracy. But the road along which we go must be done through compromise. It has to be built on compromise.

So, there will be some role for the army?

This is something that we have to decide through negotiations.

In case a national reconciliation government becomes a reality, are you ready to lead the nation?

That is for the people to decide, and for the people who are part of the national reconciliation.

If the junta were to meet three of your demands immediately, what would they be?

I don't think this is the way we reach a compromise - by stating our demands. The way we reach a compromise is by talking to each other and deciding what we can do together.

This year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, is languishing in a Chinese jail and his wife is reportedly under house arrest. What is your message to him?

For anybody who is under house arrest or in prison, my message would be the same - that you have to be steady and loyal to your beliefs. The most important thing in the world is to be true to your beliefs. If you really think what you are doing is right, you must be strong enough to keep going.

What ideology do you believe in? Are you a leftist, a rightist, a capitalist, a Nehruvian socialist or a liberal?

Well, if I had to choose one thing, I would choose liberal. But I am not sure that I am subscribing to any particular ideology. I believe in the basic rights of man, the basic dignity of man and if that makes me a liberal, I don't mind being called a liberal.

Shall I call you the Burmese Gandhi as you strictly stick to his philosophy of non-violence in your fight for democracy?

I strongly believe in non-violence, but I really don't think I am great enough to be called a Gandhi.

Some personal questions. How difficult was it to withstand the junta's psychological warfare and how did you manage to come out in fairly good shape despite the prolonged isolation?

I never thought they were engaging in a psychological warfare against me. I always thought that my struggle was against myself in isolation.

It was for me to learn to live with myself alone and I have to say I never wanted to go out. I never cared about it. It has never been any problem for me to stay indoors. The thing was to keep myself spiritually and mentally strong so the struggle was with myself and not with the junta at all.

So you have no grudge against the junta?

No, not all. I think if anything, they helped me to be stronger.'

+ I didn't make a sacrifice, I made a choice, Suu Kyi tells KT:
+ Suu Kyi prepares for shift of power:


"The digital revolution has belatedly taken grip in Myanmar as the army loosens its iron hold over the nation with a spate of political and economic reforms unleashed under Thein Sein. Just one percent of the population was thought to have access to the Internet in 2011, but now millions are online with the advent of cut-price technology. Outside major cities, however, vast pockets of the country still have no electricity and mobile penetration remains low. In recent months a growing clampdown on free speech has also targeted the social network with two activists arrested over Facebook posts about the military last month."
+ Myanmar top brass, voters turn to Facebook as Suu Kyi victory beckons:
+ Suu Kyi to Face Reality Test in Myanmar if Party Secures Power:

'In a statement on Facebook yesterday President Thein Sein, whose government has steered recent reforms, said "we would like to congratulate" Suu Kyi for "winning the people's approval."

"As the government, we will respect and obey the election results and transfer power peacefully."

The NLD has swept up 256 seats, just over 70 short of an outright majority. But it was almost certain to smash through that marker, with more official results due to be released today. Suu Kyi yesterday called for national reconciliation talks with the powerful army chief Min Aung Hlaing and Thein Sein, stressing the need for a peaceful transition.'
+ Myanmar's prez pledges peaceful power shift to Suu Kyi party:
+ Suu Kyi reaches out to military:

'Suu Kyi has declared, however, that she will become the country’s de facto leader, acting “above the president” if her party forms the next government. She described that plan further in an interview Tuesday with Singapore’s Channel News Asia television.

“I make all the decisions because I’m the leader of the winning party. And the president will be one whom we will choose just in order to meet the requirements of the constitution,” she said. “He (the president) will have to understand this perfectly well that he will have no authority. That he will act in accordance with the positions of the party.”

The military, which took power in a 1962 coup and brutally suppressed several pro—democracy uprisings during its rule, gave way to a nominally civilian elected government in 2011 with strings attached. It installed retired senior officers in the ruling party to fill Cabinet posts and gave itself key powers in the constitution, including control of powerful ministries and a quarter of the seats in the 664—member two—chamber Parliament. In a state of emergency, a special military-led body can even assume state powers. Another provision bars Suu Kyi from the presidency because her sons hold foreign citizenship.'
+ Myanmar army extends hand as Suu Kyi’s party nears majority:
+ From activists to MPs: Newly-minted MPs join Suu Kyi for tough road ahead:

Aung San Suu Kyi

'Thais used to take pride in our progressive democracy. We had two successful uprisings in our political history. The Oct 14, 1973 students uprising which chased away the Thanom-Prapas-Narong group, and the 1992 popular movement that drove out the Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon regime. After a decade of thriving democracy, it was colour-coded politics, aggravated by unscrupulous politicians, that unfortunately opened the door to the Thai military -- twice in one decade. When compared to the regime set up by his predecessor, Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin in the 2006 coup, the Prayut Chan-o-cha regime, according to some public polls, enjoys solid popularity. Yet, this has something to do with Gen Prayut's character, rather than the regime itself. It's undeniable that many Thais still like strong, decisive leaders. It's unfortunate that many of his decisions deal a heavy blow to the poor. Another important factor that may have helped sustain the regime's legitimacy so far is that many people are willing to trade off freedom for peace and order -- as long as the stay is temporary. This group of people have the hope that the regime will lay the groundwork for national reform and reconciliation and subsequently leave politics for good, as promised. But no matter how the regime tries to convince us of its merits, a system that lacks a mechanism of checks and balances is a flaw in itself. The emerging irregularities, like the Rajabhakti scandal, will simply erode public trust in the regime. More importantly, after more than a year in power, we are still not near either reform or reconciliation. But I believe if the military ended its control today, we would go back to that same old scenario -- daily street protests by those on the opposite sides of the political spectrum. Gen Prayut seems to realise this, or he would not have made his "shut down the country" speech. Though he subsequently apologised and said he did not mean it, I believe otherwise. But he cannot stay on much longer. The prime minister must do everything to ensure that the groundwork for real reform and reconciliation is laid down, while sticking to the roadmap. As he appreciates Myanmar voters' enthusiasm, he must embrace their message to those at the helm -- no more military rule.'
+ Myanmar poll offers us food for thought:
+ As election results trickle in, Myanmar government promises peaceful power transfer:

BEIJING — 'Burma’s historic general elections and signs of a landslide victory for backers of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have raised some uncomfortable questions in giant northern neighbor China. The first is how China’s Communist Party rulers will manage to get along with a civilian-led government in Burma after decades of backing military rule in Burma. But a second question, perhaps less expected, has bubbled up from Chinese people themselves in the past few days. If the Burmese can have democracy, some ask, why can’t we? Sun Liping, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University was among the first to question the official line that Western-style democracy was simply not appropriate for China at its current level of development.'

“Actually, democracy is a normal way for a normal society to behave,” he posted on the Sina Weibo microblogging service, according to Washington-based Radio Free Asia. “It’s a way of life that allows for human nature. Just because grown-ups told kids in the past not to talk and eat at the same time, doesn’t mean that talking and eating are incompatible.”

'The post was retweeted more than 2,000 times in a few minutes, Radio Free Asia reported, and prompted a lively debate between supporters and opponents of one-party rule — itself unusual on China’s increasingly heavily censored social media... “They voted one by one,” wrote lawyer Li Fangping, in another widely retweeted post in reference to Sunday’s vote in Burma, also known as Myanmar. “You can see they are smiling. Do Burmese qualify better than the Chinese? As we all know, Burma’s GDP, middle class, literacy rate and transportation facilities are all worse than China.” Another weibo user sarcastically remarked that yet another country “had stepped on the ‘evil’ path of freedom, democracy and happiness.” Some of that debate can still be seen online, although Sun’s original post seems to have vanished, while searches for Burma have now been blocked by Sina Weibo.'
+ Burma’s election leaves former patron China with uncomfortable questions:
+ Myanmar's Suu Kyi edges toward landslide victory:

Taipei (Nov. 11, 2015) "Taiwan on Wednesday congratulated Myanmar on the successful completion of its general elections on Nov. 8, the first poll since a nominally civilian government was introduced in 2011, ending nearly 50 years of military rule. The Republic of China (Taiwan) government hopes to strengthen exchanges with Myanmar in all areas, based on the existing foundation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. In an effort to advance relations with Myanmar, the government-funded International Cooperation and Development Fund (Taiwan-ICDF) and the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) have opened offices there to promote cooperation and exchanges in trade, agriculture and other areas, the ministry said. It also commended the people of Myanmar for electing parliamentarians in a peaceful and democratic manner."
+ Taiwan congratulates Myanmar on conclusion of historic elections:
+ Myanmar in Aung San Suu Kyi's hands:


'Aung San Suu Kyi was born on 19 June 1945 in Rangoon (now often called Yangon). Her father, Aung San, founded the modern Burmese army and negotiated Burma's independence from the British Empire in 1947; he was assassinated by his rivals in the same year. She grew up with her mother, Khin Kyi, and two brothers, Aung San Lin and Aung San Oo, in Rangoon. Aung San Lin died at the age of eight, when he drowned in an ornamental lake on the grounds of the house. Her elder brother emigrated to San Diego, California, becoming a United States citizen. After Aung San Lin's death, the family moved to a house by Inya Lake where Suu Kyi met people of various backgrounds, political views and religions. She was educated in Methodist English High School (now Basic Education High School No. 1 Dagon) for much of her childhood in Burma, where she was noted as having a talent for learning languages. Currently, she speaks 4 languages: Burmese, English, French and Japanese. She is a Theravada Buddhist. Suu Kyi's mother, Khin Kyi, gained prominence as a political figure in the newly formed Burmese government. She was appointed Burmese ambassador to India and Nepal in 1960, and Aung San Suu Kyi followed her there. She studied in the Convent of Jesus and Mary School in New Delhi, and graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi with a degree in politics in 1964. Suu Kyi continued her education at St Hugh's College, Oxford, obtaining a B.A degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1969. After graduating, she lived in New York City with a family friend Ma Than E, who was once a popular Burmese pop singer. She worked at the United Nations for three years, primarily on budget matters, writing daily to her future husband, Dr. Michael Aris. On 1 January 1972, Aung San Suu Kyi married Aris, a scholar of Tibetan culture, living abroad in Bhutan. The following year she gave birth to their first son, Alexander Aris, in London; their second son, Kim, was born in 1977. Between 1985 and 1987, Suu Kyi was working toward an M.Phil degree in Burmese literature as a research student at SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She was elected as an Honorary Fellow of SOAS in 1990. For two years she was a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS) in Shimla, India. She also worked for the government of the Union of Burma. In 1988 Suu Kyi returned to Burma, at first to tend for her ailing mother but later to lead the pro-democracy movement. Aris' visit in Christmas 1995 turned out to be the last time that he and Suu Kyi met, as Suu Kyi remained in Burma and the Burmese dictatorship denied him any further entry visas. Aris was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 which was later found to be terminal. Despite appeals from prominent figures and organizations, including the United States, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II, the Burmese government would not grant Aris a visa, saying that they did not have the facilities to care for him, and instead urged Aung San Suu Kyi to leave the country to visit him. She was at that time temporarily free from house arrest but was unwilling to depart, fearing that she would be refused re-entry if she left, as she did not trust the military junta's assurance that she could return. Aris died on his 53rd birthday on 27 March 1999. Since 1989, when his wife was first placed under house arrest, he had seen her only five times, the last of which was for Christmas in 1995. She was also separated from her children, who live in the United Kingdom, but starting in 2011, they have visited her in Burma. On 2 May 2008, after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, Suu Kyi lost the roof of her house and lived in virtual darkness after losing electricity in her dilapidated lakeside residence. She used candles at night as she was not provided any generator set. Plans to renovate and repair the house were announced in August 2009. Suu Kyi was released from house arrest on 13 November 2010... Suu Kyi received the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 1992 she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding by the government of India and the International Simón Bolívar Prize from the government of Venezuela. In 2012, the Government of Pakistan awarded her the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Award For Democracy. In 2007, the Government of Canada made her an honorary citizen of that country, the fourth person ever to receive the honour. In 2011, she was awarded the Wallenberg Medal. On 19 September 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi was also presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, which is, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States.'
+ Aung San Suu Kyi:
+ Online Burma / Myanmar Library:



typehost's picture

“Please don’t have the attitude that politics do not concern you... Everything is politics. Politics is not just coming here and supporting us. The housewife, who is cooking at home, also has something to do with politics because she is struggling to feed her family with the money she has. Struggling to send children to school is politics. Everything is politics. No one is free of politics. So saying that politics does not concern you and that you do not wish to be involved in politics is a lack of awareness of politics.”

“A human being must have all its manifestations and live in human dignity... The Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins by saying that everyone is born with inherent dignity. This dignity must be upheld... There are also things that the people must do. Everyone must know his or her responsibility and be able to fulfill them. Only then will our country develop... [R]ather than blaming who is at fault for this lack of development, I would only like to ask for the opportunities for us to work together hand in hand.”

“The NLD is not an NGO. This is a political party. We have never said that we will become an NGO. We said that we will work in humanitarian affairs. Humanitarian affairs cannot be separated from politics. At this time, our people are in need, they are poor, in trouble, in need of help. We will help them in this respect, but this is nothing new, since 1995, we have been involved in humanitarian affairs.”


'The first autobiography I ever read was providentially, or prophetically, or perhaps both, Seven Years Solitary, by a Hungarian woman who had been in the wrong faction during the Communist Party purges of the early 1950s. At 13 years old, I was fascinated by the determination and ingenuity with which one woman alone was able to keep her mind sharp and her spirit unbroken through the years when her only human contact was with men whose everyday preoccupation was to try to break her.

It is one of the most basic needs that those who decide to go into, and to persevere in, the business of dissent have to be prepared to live without. In fact living without is a huge part of the existence of dissidents. What kind of people deliberately choose to walk the path of deprivation? Max Weber identifies three qualities of decisive importance for politicians as passion, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of proportion. The first - passion - he interprets as the passionate dedication to a cause. Such a passion is of crucial importance for those who engage in the most dangerous kind of politics: the politics of dissent. Such a passion has to be at the core of each and every person who makes the decision, declared or undeclared, to live in a world apart from the rest of their fellow citizens; a precarious world with its own unwritten rules and regulations. The world of dissidence. There are no external signs by which the strange denizens of this world can be recognised.

Come any week day to the headquarters of the NLD, a modest place with a ramshackle rough-hewn air of a shelter intended for hardy folk. More than once it has been described as the NLD “cowshed”. Since this remark is usually made with a sympathetic and often admiring smile, we do not take offence. After all, didn’t one of the most influential movements in the world begin in a cowshed?

In our shabby, overcrowded office, you will find very ordinary looking people. That elderly man with poetically unstylish hair is a veteran journalist. He is also a dissident supreme, and when he was released after 20 years in prison immediately set about writing a book about his harrowing experiences entitled "Is This A Human Hell?" He always wears a prison blue shirt to keep alive the awareness that there are still thousands of prisoners of conscience in Burma. This neat, bespectacled woman with a face free from lines of worry or despair is a doctor who spent 9 years in prison. Since her release 3 years ago, she has been busily involved in the social and humanitarian projects of our party. There are some sweet old ladies in their eighties.

They have been coming regularly to our office since 1997. That was one of our “Tsunami” years when a big wave of repression swept away large members of our democracy activists into jail.

At one of our party meetings, I called on the wives and small children and old parents of those who had been taken away to rally to our cause to show the Junta that we will not be defeated; that those of us who remained free would take up the standard of those whose freedom had been curtailed. The sweet old ladies were among the brave who picked up the standard. They are still holding onto it with great tenacity.

You will also see in our NLD office women and men whom the Burmese would say were of “good age”. That means they’re in their forties. When they joined the Movement for Democracy, they were in their twenties or even still in their late teens, fresh faced and flashing eyed, passionate for the cause. Now they are quieter, more mature, and more determined, their passion refined by the trials they have undergone. You do not ask them if they have ever been to prison. You ask them how many times they have been to jail.

Then there are young people, but not too young to be strangers to interrogation and incarceration. Their faces are bright with hope, but sober, free from the flush of illusion.

They know what they have let themselves in for. They threw down the gauntlet to the future with clear eyes. Their weapons are their faith; their armour is their passion - our passion. What is this passion? What is the cause to which we are so passionately dedicated as to forego the comforts of a conventional existence? Going back to Vaclav Havel’s definition of the basic job of dissidents, we are dedicated to the defence of the right of individuals to free and truthful life. In other words, our passion is liberty.

Passion translates as suffering and I would contend that in the political context, as in the religious one, it implies suffering by choice: a deliberate decision to grasp the cup that we would rather let pass. It is not a decision made lightly - we do not enjoy suffering; we are not masochists. It is because of the high value we put on the object of our passion that we are able, sometimes in spite of ourselves, to choose suffering.

In May 2003 a motorcade of NLD members and supporters accompanying me on a campaign trip to Dabayin, a small town in North Burma, was surrounded and attacked by unknown assailants thought to be operating under the orders of the Junta. Nothing has been heard to this day of the fate of the attackers, but we, their victims, were placed under arrest. I was taken to the notorious Insein jail and kept alone, but, I have to admit, kept rather well in a small bungalow built apart from the quarters of other prisoners.

One morning, while going through my daily set of physical exercises - keeping fit, as fit as possible was, in my opinion, one of the first duties of a political prisoner - I found myself thinking this is not me. I would not have been capable of carrying on calmly like this. I would have been curled up weakly in my bed, worrying my head out over the fate of those who had been at Dabayin with me. How many of them had been severely beaten up? How many of them had been dragged away to I did not know where? How many of them had died?

And what was happening to the rest of the NLD? I would have been laid low by anxiety and uncertainty. This was not me here, working out as conscientiously as any keep fit fanatic.

At that time, I had no recollection of Akhmatova’s lines: “No, this is not me. This is somebody else that suffers. I could never face that and all that happened.” It was only much later, back in my own house but still under arrest, that these words of requiem came back to me. At the moment of remembrance, I felt almost as a physical force the strong bond that linked those of us who had only our inner resources to fall back on when we were most in need of strength and endurance.

Poetry is a great unifier that knows no frontiers of space or time. U Win Tin, he of the prison blue shirt, turned to Henley’s Invictus to sustain him through the interrogation sessions he had to undergo. This poem had inspired my father and his contemporaries during the independent struggle, as it also seemed to have inspired freedom fighters in other places at other times. Struggle and suffering, the bloody unbowed head, and even death, all for the sake of freedom.

What is this freedom that is our passion? Our most passionate dissidents are not overly concerned with academic theories of freedom.

If pressed to explain what the word means to them, they would most likely reel off a list of the concerns nearest to their hearts such as there won’t be any more political prisoners, or there will be freedom of speech and information and association, or we can choose the kind of government we want, or simply, and sweepingly, we will be able to do what we want to do.

This may all sound naïve, perhaps dangerously naïve, but such statements reflect the sense of freedom as something concrete that has to be gained through practical work, not just as a concept to be captured through philosophical argument.

Whenever I was asked at the end of each stretch of house arrest how it felt to be free, I would answer that I felt no different because my mind had always been free. I have spoken out often of the inner freedom that comes out from following a course in harmony with one’s conscience. Isaiah Berlin warned against the dangers of the internalisation of freedom.

He said: “Spiritual freedom, like moral victory, must be distinguished from a more fundamental sense of freedom and a more ordinary sense of victory. Otherwise there will be a danger of confusion in theory and justification of oppression in practice in the name of liberty itself”.

There is certainly a danger that the acceptance of spiritual freedom as a satisfactory substitute for all other freedoms could lead to passivity and resignation. But an inner sense of freedom can reinforce a practical drive for the more fundamental freedoms in the form of human rights and rule of law. Buddhism teaches that the ultimate liberation is liberation from all desire. It could be argued, therefore, that the teachings of the Buddha are inimical to movements that are based on the desire for freedom in the form of human rights and political reform. However, when the Buddhist monks of Burma went on a Metta - that is loving kindness - march in 2007, they were protesting against the sudden steep rise in the price of fuel that had led to a devastating rise in food prices. They were using the spiritual authority to move for the basic right of the people to affordable food.

The belief in spiritual freedom does not have to mean an indifference to the practical need for the basic rights and freedoms that are generally seen as necessary that human beings may live like human beings.

A basic human right, which I value highly, is freedom from fear. Since the very beginning of the democracy movement in Burma, we have had to contend with the debilitating sense of fear that permeates our whole society.

Visitors to Burma are quick to remark that the Burmese are warm and hospitable. They also add, sadly, that the Burmese are in general afraid to discuss political issues.

Fear is the first adversary we have to get past when we set out to battle for freedom, and often it is the one that remains until the very end. But freedom from fear does not have to be complete. It only has to be sufficient to enable us to carry on; and to carry on in spite of fear requires tremendous courage.

“No, I am not afraid. After a year of breathing these prison nights, I will escape into the sadness to name which is escape. It isn’t true. I am afraid, my darling, but make it look as though you haven’t noticed.”

The gallantry embodied in Ratushinskaya lines is everyday fare for dissidents. They pretend to be unafraid as they go about their duties and pretend not to see that their comrades are also pretending. This is not hypocrisy. This is courage that has to be renewed consciously from day to day and moment to moment. This is how the battle for freedom has to be fought until such time as we have the right to be free from the fear imposed by brutality and injustice.

Akhmatova and Ratushinskaya were Russians. Henley was English. But the struggle to survive under oppression and the passion to be the master of one’s own fate and the captain of one’s own soul is common to all races.

The universal human aspiration to be free has been brought home to us by the stirring developments in the Middle East.

The Burmese are as excited by these events as peoples elsewhere. Our interest is particularly keen because there are notable similarities between the December 2010 revolution in Tunisia and our own 1988 uprising. Both started with what at that time seemed small, unimportant events.

A fruit-seller in a Tunisian town, unknown to the world at large, gave an unforgettable demonstration of the importance of basic human rights. One humble man showed the world that his right to human dignity was more precious to him than life itself. This sparked off a whole revolution. In Burma, a quarrel in a Rangoon teashop between university students and local men was handled by the police in a way the students considered unjust.

This led to demonstrations that resulted in the death of a student, Phone Maw. This was the spark that fired the nationwide demonstrations against the dictatorship of the Burmese Socialist Programme Party.

A friend once said she thought the straw that broke the camel’s back became intolerable because the animal had caught a glimpse of itself in a mirror. The realization dawned that the burden it was bearing was of unacceptable magnitude and its collapse was in fact a refusal to continue bearing so oppressive a load.

In Tunis and in Burma, the deaths of two young men were the mirrors that made the people see how unbearable were the burdens of injustice and oppression they had to endure. It is natural that the young should yearn for freedom. The desire to stretch newly matured wings is as strong as it is instinctive. It comes as no surprise to us in Burma that young people are at the vanguard of the Tunisian Revolution. It also comes as no surprise that a popular rapper was prominent among those who demanded that they be allowed to decide the shape of their own existence.

In Burma today, young rappers are at the core of Generation Wave, an informal organisation strongly committed to democracy and human rights. A number of them were imprisoned after the Saffron Revolution of the monks. About 15 of them still remain in jail today. The Burmese authorities, like the now ousted Tunisian government, are not fond of intense, unconventional young people.

They see them as a threat to the kind of order they wish to impose on our country. For those who believe in freedom, young rappers represent a future unbound by prejudice, by arbitrary rules and regulations, by oppression and injustice.

The similarities between Tunisia and Burma are the similarities that bind people all over the world who long for freedom. There are dissimilarities too and it is because of these dissimilarities that the outcome of the two revolutions has been so different. The first dissimilarity is that while the Tunisian Army did not fire on their people, the Burmese Army did. The second, and in the long-run probably the more important one, is that the Tunisian Revolution enjoyed the benefits of the communications revolution.

This not only enabled them to better organise and coordinate their movements. It kept the attention of the whole world firmly focused on them. Not just every single death - but even every single wounded - can be made known to the world within minutes. In Libya, in Syria, and in Yemen now, the revolutionaries keep the world informed of the atrocities of those in power. The picture of a 13 year old boy tortured to death in Syria aroused such anger and indignation that world leaders had to raise their voices in condemnation. Communications means contact and, in the context of the Middle Eastern revolutions, it was a freedom contact.

Do we envy the people of Tunisia and Egypt? Yes, we do envy them their quick and peaceful transitions. But more than envy is a sense of solidarity and of renewed commitment to our cause, which is the cause of all women and men who value human dignity and freedom. In our quest for freedom, we learn to be free. We have to act out our belief in freedom. This is Vaclav Havel’s Living in Truth. We go about our duties out of our own free will, in spite of the dangers that are inherent in trying to live like free people in an un-free nation. We exercise our freedom of choice by choosing to do what we consider to be right, even if that choice leads to the curtailment of other freedoms because we believe that freedom engenders more freedoms.

Those old women and those young people who come to their unpaid jobs at NLD headquarters are exercising their right to choose the hard road to freedom.

As I speak to you, I am exercising my right to the freedom of communications; and the very fact that I am exercising this right makes me feel a much freer person.

Dissent is a vocation in accordance with Max Weber’s views on politics as a vocation. We engage in dissent for the sake of liberty and we are prepared to try again and again with passion, with a sense of responsibility and a sense of proportion to achieve what may seem impossible to some. We are struggling with open eyes to turn our dream of freedom into a reality.'


DAVOS'Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi reached out Friday to the world's business elite to invest in her isolated, impoverished country — but carefully. "We yearn to be a part of the global community," the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said in an audio message to the World Economic Forum, where leading world executives and government officials are gathered in this Swiss Alpine resort. We have already missed so many opportunities because of political conflicts in our country over the last 50 years," she said. Defense spending in military-run Burma, one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, overwhelms spending on education and health, to the detriment of its 55 million people, she said She described following the global economic crisis by listening to radio broadcasts from house arrest, where she was held for seven years until her release in November. She is now struggling to get her National League for Democracy party legalized and back in politics. Without national reconciliation and political stability, she warned, "social and economic development will remain mere pipe dreams." She urged investment in technology and infrastructure, and micro-lending programs, but said investors "should pay close attention to the costs and collateral damage of our development, whether environmental or social." She appealed to "those who have invested or who are thinking of investing in Burma to put a premium on respect for the law, on environmental and social factors, on the rights of workers, on job creation and on the promotion of technological skills.""
+ Suu Kyi Asks Investors at Davos to Help Burma:
+ Davos 2011 - Aung San Suu Kyi:

typehost's picture

The following is the edited text of the 11 th Pope Paul VI Memorial Lecture, written by Aung San Suu Kyi and delivered by her husband Dr Michael Aris on November 3, 1997 at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, London.

'I sincerely believe that all peoples and creeds can co-exist in peace, that whatever our race or religion, we can all learn to agree on certain basic values essential for the development of human society. 1 am not an authority on either Buddhism or development, but I am strongly concerned with the problems of human existence which fall within the realm of both subjects. In a nutshell, I shall be speaking not as an expert but as a Buddhist and a concerned participant in the process of human development.

What do we mean by development? There was a time when development was measured purely in economic terms, but such is no longer the case. Now it is recognised that genuine development includes sociopolitical factors. Dare I suggest that true development should also comprise spiritual cultivation?

Sulak Sivaraksa of Thailand, known as one of Asia's leading social thinkers, describes the "spirit of Buddhist development" as one "where the inner strength must be cultivated, along with compassion and loving kindness". He sees the goals of Buddhist development as "equality, love, freedom and liberation" and goes on to say that: ... the means for achieving these lie within the grasp of any community from a village to a nation - once its members begin the process of reducing selfishness. To do so, two realisations are necessary: an inner realisation concerning greed, hatred and delusion, and an outer realisation concerning the impact these tendencies have on society and the planet.....

The qualities mentioned, both positive and negative, are not exclusive to Buddhist societies. It can be said that behind the materialism of developed countries lie greed, hatred and delusion. But there is also much of inner strength, compassion, loving kindness and strong support for equality and freedom to be found in these countries.

Buddhists speak of the four "heavenly abodes" or divine states of mind: metta (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekkha (equanamity). A wise colleague once remarked to me that upekkha is well-nigh impossible for most ordinary beings; therefore we should concentrate on cultivating loving kindness and compassion, and sympathetic joy would naturally follow.

Perhaps it might be well to mention here that upekkha means much more than mere equanimity in the conventional sense. It stands for a perfectly balanced state of the mind and emotions, a balance between faith and intelligence, between energy and concentration, between wisdom and compassion. It is non-preferential without inclination towards excess in any direction. It is therefore understandable why upekkha is beyond the attainment of ordinary human beings with just ordinary capacties for controlling their minds and emotions. The other heavenly abodes, however, are well within our reach and germane to the ideal type of development, whether termed Christian or Buddhist.

The first of the heavenly abodes, metta, loving kindness, plays a crucial part in the process of human development. While Buddhists speak of metta, Christians speak of Christian love. Both refer to disinterested love, a love that seeks to give and to serve, rather than to take and demand. Inherent in the concept of this kind of love is understanding, sympathy, forgiveness and courage. A Father Damien or a Mother Teresa give tender care, for "the love of Christ", to those whom humanity in general find physically repugnant, because Jesus had shown love and kindness towards the rejects of society, the lepers and the insane, the sick and the lame.

The Lord Buddha too set examples for the practical application of loving kindness. Once when the Lord Buddha and his cousin Ananda came across a sick monk lying in his own filth they washed him and tended him. Then the Lord Buddha called the other monks together, admonished them,for neglecting their sick brethren and taught them that it was more important to care for the sick than to tend to him, the Buddha himself.

Development projects should essentially be humanitarian labour on varying scales. Whether it is distributing milk powder to malnourished children or building a mega dam, it should be done with people in mind, people who need the balm of loving kindness to withstand the rigours of human existence. Projects undertaken for the sake of upping statistics or for love of grandiosity or praise, rather than for the love of live human beings with bodies that can be hurt, minds that can be damaged and hearts that can be bruised, seldom succeed in fostering the kind of development that enhances the quality of life.
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is surely one of the leading authorities on, and practitioners of, loving kindness in our world today. He teaches us that: ... we are not lacking in terms of the development of science and technology; still, we lack something here in the heart - real inner warm feeling. A good heart is needed ... The problems human society is facing in terms of economic development, the crisis of energy, the tension between the poor and rich nations, and many geopolitical problems can be solved if we understand each others' fundamental humanity, respect each other's rights, share each other's problems and sufferings, and then make Joint effort... Things and events depend heavily on motivation. A real sense of appreciation of humanity, compassion and love are the key points. If we develop a good heart, then whether the field is science, agriculture, or politics, since motivation is so very important, these will all improve......

Once during my years of house arrest, one of the people who were - shall we say, "taking care of me"? - said in an accusing tone that was always "on the side of the people". Yes, I said, that was so, because I would always stand by those who were weaker; they were the ones who needed support. But, came the query, what if the weaker side were in the wrong? In that case, I replied, I would try to correct them with metta. The only response to this was a somewhat pained smile. But later I asked myself what one would do if metta did not succeed in correcting those who were weak but quite patently in the wrong. The conclusion at which I arrived was that one would have to work at perfecting one's metta because perfect metta cannot fail.

But then what about self-sacrifice which demands that one puts others before oneself? The work of relief and development agencies often involves a certain degree of self-sacrifice. This is where compassion, the second of the heavenly abodes, comes in. What causes men and women to leave comfortable homes and give up lucrative positions to go out to bleak, even devastated lands for the sake of bringing relief to peoples of an alien race and creed? The motivating factor is surely compassion.

But compassion must be balanced by wisdom and wisdom must be balanced by compassion. This balance is essential that there might be harmony and that one might be able to make correct decisions for the general good. There are a number of Buddhist stories that illustrate the need for a healthy balance between compassion and wisdom. Of these stories, the following is one that I find most appealing.

Once there lived a dragon at the foot of the Himalayas, a fierce dragon king that breathed fire and smoke and reduced creatures to ashes with his incendiary glare. He was not unnaturally the terror of all who dwelled in the region. One day while the dragon was in one of his less amicable moods, a bodhisattva came by. The dragon king proceeded to give a fine display of his propensity for violence, no doubt imagining that he would succeed in terrifying the holy one (not that the dragon understood anything of holiness) before reducing him to ashes. To his surprise, the bodhisattva showed no fear or apprehension but instead gave him a brief sermon on the joys of non-violence and compassion. The dragon king was instantly converted to the path of non-violence and decided that he would never again harm any being under any circumstances.

Now, in an ideal world, that should be the happy end of the story. But ours is not an ideal world; it is a world conditioned by impermanence, suffering and the unresponsiveness of objects to one's wishes. When it dawned on the children who lived within the vicinity of the dragon's lair that the fire breathing monster had ceased to bristle with pyrotechnic ferocity, they began to approach it cautiously. Their confidence grew until they felt bold enough to touch the dragon king. On finding how docile the dragon king. On finding how docile and patient the dragon had become, the children handled it more roughly. Eventually the children got into the habit of ill-treating the dragon, making life a miserable for him.

When the bodhisattva came by again, the dragon king complained of how unhappy he had been since following the path of nonviolence. The bodhisattva replied that this had come about because the dragon had not balanced compassion with wisdom: when the children became unruly, he should show his fire to stop them from proceeding to cruel acts. The dragon king's failure to balance compassion with wisdom had been harmful both to himself and to the children, who had been turned into little bullies by his excessive forbearance.

The fruit of successful development projects should be the greater happiness of the beneficiaries and the reward for those who planned and implemented the projects should be mudita that rejoices in the good fortune of others, free from envy or ill will.

Fundamental to the kind of development that enhances the quality of life is justice. If there is true loving kindness that regards all beings with equal benevolence, and there is compassion balanced by wisdom, justice will surely not be lacking. And it will be the best kind of justice, that which is tempered by gentle mercy.

There are peoples in East as in the West who think the worth of a society is measured by its material wealth and by impressive figures of growth, ignoring the injustices and the pain that might lie behind them. Then there are those who believe that development must be measured in terms of human happiness, of peace within the community and of harmony with the environment. And so we come back to loving kindness and Compassion.

Paradise on earth is a concept which is outmoded and few people believe in it any more. But we can certainly seek to make our planet a better, happier home for all of us by constructing the heavenly abodes of love and compassion in our hearts. Beginning with this inner development we can go on to the development of the external world with courage and wisdom.'

The annual Paul VI Memorial Lecture was started by CAFOD to commemorate Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter Populorum Progressio ("On the development of peoples") Previous lectures have included the then President of Ireland, Mary Robinson; Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns of Brazil; ;the then president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors; the liberation theologian Jon Sobrino SK; and the late Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool.

+ Heavenly Abodes and Human Development - The Tablet [November 8, 1997]:
+ [Article on the speech of 7th November, 1997]

typehost's picture

[Address to a meeting of the World Commission on Culture and Development, Manila, 21 November 1994, to be presented on behalf of the author at her request by Mrs Corazon Aquino.]

'At its third meeting held at San Jose, Costa Rica, 22-26 February 1994, the World Commission on Culture and Development set itself three goals, the third of which was

"to promote a new cultural dynamic: the culture of peace and culture of development". The Commission undertook to "endeavour to recommend the concrete measures that could promote, on a national and international scale, a culture of peace" and went on to state that:

"a culture of peace, culture of democracy and culture of human rights are indivisible. Their effective implementation must result in a democratic management and ... the prevention of intercultural conflicts." [1]

Peace as a goal is an ideal which will not be contested by any government or nation, not even the most belligerent. And the close interdependence of the culture of peace and the culture of development also finds ready acceptance. But it remains a matter of uncertainty how far governments are prepared to concede that democracy and human rights are indivisible from the culture of peace and therefore essential to sustained development. There is ample evidence that culture and development can actually be made to serve as pretexts for resisting calls for democracy and human rights. It is widely known that some governments argue that democracy is a western concept alien to indigenous values; it has also been asserted that economic development often conflicts with political (i.e. democratic) rights and that the second should necessarily give way to the first. In the light of such arguments culture and development need to be carefully examined and defined that they may not be used, or rather, misused, to block the aspirations of peoples for democratic institutions and human rights.

The unsatisfactory record of development in many parts of the world and the ensuing need for a definition of development which means more than mere economic growth became a matter of vita concern to economists and international agencies more than a decade ago. [2] In A New Concept of Development, published in 1983, Francois Perroux stated that: "Development has not taken place: it represents a dramatic growth of awareness, a promise, a matter of survival indeed; intellectually, however, it is still only dimly perceived." [3]

Later, in the same book, he asserted that:

"... personal development, the freedom of persons fulfilling their potential in the context of the values to which they subscribe and which they experience in their actions, is one of the mainsprings of all forms of development." [4]

His concept of development therefore gives a firm place to human and cultural values within any scheme for progress, economic or otherwise. The United Nations Development Programme too began to spell out the difference between growth and development in the 1980s.[5] With the beginning of the 1990s the primacy of the human aspect of development was acknowledged by the UNDP with the publication of its first Human Development Report. And the special focus of the 1993 Report was people's participation, seen as "the central issue of our time". [6]

While the concept of human development is beginning to assume a dominant position in the thinking of international economists and administrators, the Market Economy, not merely adorned with capital letters but seen in an almost mystic haze, is increasingly regarded by many governments as the quick and certain way to material prosperity. Itis assumed that economic measures can resolve all the problems facing their countries. Economics is described as the "deus ex machina, the most important key to every lock of every door to the new Asia we wish to see"; and "healthy economic development" is seen as

"... essential to successfully meeting the challenge of peace security, the challenge of human rights and responsibilities, the challenge of democracy and the rule of law, the challenge of social justice and reform and the challenge of cultural renaissance and pluralism." [7]

The view that economic development is essential to peace, human rights, democracy and cultural pluralism, and the view that a culture of peace, democracy and human rights is essential to sustained human development, many seem on the surface to differ only in the matter of approach. But a closer investigation reveals that the difference in approach itself implies differences of a more fundamental order. When economics is regarded as "the most important key to every lock of every door" it is only natural that the worth of man should come to be decided largely, even wholly, by his effectiveness as an economic tool. [8]

This is at variance with the vision of a world where economic, political and social institutions work to serve man instead of the other way round; where culture and development coalesce to create an environment in which human potential can be realized to the full. The differing views ultimately reflect differences in how the valuation of the various components of the social and national entity are made; how such basic concepts as poverty, progress, culture, freedom, democracy and human rights are defined and, of crucial importance, who has the power to determine such values and definitions.

The value systems of those with access to power and of those far removed from such access cannot be the same. The viewpoint of the privileged is unlike that of the underprivileged. In the matter of power and privilege the difference between the haves and the have-nots is not merely quantitative, for it has far-reaching psychological and ideological implications. And many "economic" concerns are seldom just that, since they are tied up with questions of power and privilege. The problem of poverty provides an example of the inadequacy of a purely economic approach to a human situation. Even those who take a down-to-earth view of basic human needs agree that:

"... whatever doctors, nutritionists, and other scientists may say about the objective conditions of deprivation, how the poor themselves perceive their deprivation is also relevant." [9]

The alleviation of poverty thus entails setting in motion processes which can change the perceptions of all those concerned. Here power and privilege come into play:

"The poor are powerless and have no voice. Power is the responsibility of expressing and imposing one's will in a given social relationship, in the face of any resistance. The poor are incapable of either imposing, coercing or, in many cases, having any influence at all." [10]

It is not enough merely to provide the poor with material assistance. They have to be sufficiently empowered to change their perception of themselves as helpless and ineffectual in an uncaring world.

The question of empowerment is central to both culture and development. It decides who has the means of imposing on a nation or society their view of what constitutes culture and development and who determines what practical measures can be taken in the name of culture and development. The more totalitarian a system the more power will be concentrated in the hands of the ruling elite and the more culture and development will be used to serve narrow interests. Culture has been defined as "the most recent, the most highly developed means of promoting the security and continuity of life". [11]

Culture thus defined is dynamic and broad, the emphasis is on its flexible, non-compelling qualities. But when it is bent to serve narrow interests it becomes static and rigid, its exclusive aspects come to the fore and it assumes coercive overtones. The "national culture" can become a bizarre graft of carefully selected historical incidents and distorted social values intended to justify the policies and actions of those in power.[12] At the same time development is likely to be seen in the now outmoded sense of economic growth. Statistics, often unverifiable, are reeled off to prove the success of official measures.

Many authoritarian governments wish to appear in the forefront of modern progress but are reluctant to institute genuine change. Such governments tend to claim that they are taking a uniquely national or indigenous path towards a political system in keeping with the times. In the decades immediately after the Second World War socialism was the popular option. But increasingly since the 1980s democracy has gained ground. The focus on a national or indigenous way to socialism or democracy has:

"... the effect of stressing cultural continuity as both process and goals; this in turn obviates the necessity of defining either democracy or socialism in institutionally or procedurally specific terms; and finally, it elevates the existing political elite to the indispensable position of final arbiter and interpreter of what does or does not contribute to the preservation of cultural integrity". [13]

It is often in the name of cultural integrity as well as social stability and national security that democratic reforms based on human rights are resisted by authoritarian governments. It is insinuated that some of the worst ills of western society are the result of democracy, which is seen as the progenitor of unbridled freedom and selfish individualism. It is claimed, usually without adequate evidence, that democratic values and human rights run counter to the national culture, and therefore to be beneficial they need to be modified -- perhaps to the extent that they are barely recognizable. The people are said to be as yet unfit for democracy, therefore an indefinite length of time has to pass before democratic reforms can be instituted.

The first form of attack is often based on the premise, so universally accepted that it is seldom challenged or even noticed, that the United States of America is the supreme example of democratic culture. What tends to be overlooked is that although the USA is certainly the most important representative of democratic culture, it also represents many other cultures, often intricately enmeshed. Among these are the "I-want- it-all" consumer culture, megacity culture, superpower culture, frontier culture, immigrant culture. There is also a strong media culture which constantly exposes the myriad problems of American society, from large ssues such as street violence and drug abuse to the matrimonial difficulties of minor celebrities. Many of the worst ills of American society, increasingly to be found in varying degrees in other developed countries, can be traced not to the democratic legacy but to the demands of modern materialism. Gross individualism and cut- throat morality arise when political and intellectual freedoms are curbed on the one hand, while on the other, fierce economic competitiveness is encouraged by making material success the measure of prestige and progress. The result is a society where cultural and human values are set aside and money value reigns supreme. No political or social system is perfect. But could such a powerful and powerfully diverse nation as the United States have been prevented from disintegrating if it had not been sustained by democratic institutions guaranteed by a constitution based on the assumption that man's capacity for reason and justice makes free government possible and that his capacity for passion and injustices makes it necessary? [14]

It is precisely because of the cultural diversity of the world that it is necessary for different nations and peoples to agree on those basic human values which will act as a unifying factor. When democracy and human rights are said to run counter to non- western culture, such culture is usually defined narrowly and presented as monolithic. In fact the values that democracy and human rights seek to promote can be found in many cultures. Human beings the world over need freedom and security that they may be able to realize their full potential. The longing for a form of governance that provides security without destroying freedom goes back a long way.[15] Support for the desirability of strong government and dictatorship can also be found in all cultures, both eastern and western: the desire to dominate and the tendency to adulate the powerful are also common human traits arising out of a desire for security. A nation may choose a system that leaves the protection of the freedom and security of the many dependent on the inclinations of the empowered few; or it may choose institutions and practices that will sufficiently empower individuals and organizations to protect their own freedom and security. The choice will decide how far a nation will progress along the road to peace and human development. [16]

Many of the countries in the third world now striving for meaningful development are multiracial societies where there is one dominant racial group and a number -- sometimes a large number -- of smaller groups: foreign, religious or ethnic minorities. As poverty can no longer be defined satisfactorily in terms of basic economic needs, "minority" can no longer be defined merely in terms of numbers. For example, it has been noted in a study of minorities in Burmese history that:

"In the process of nation-building ... the notion of minority in urma changed, as one group defines itself as a nation those outside the group become minorities ... There were, of course, minorities in traditional Burma -- people close to the power elite who considered themselves superior and people estranged from the power elite who were considered inferior. These criteria for establishing majorities (who might in fact be a small portion of the population as, say, white people in South Africa today) were not based on race or even ethnic group, but on access to power. Minorities, thus, are those people with poor access to power." [17]

Once again, as in the case of poverty, it is ultimately a question of empowerment. The provision of basic material needs is not sufficient to make minority groups and indigenous peoples feel they are truly part of the greater national entity. For that they have to be confident that they too have an active role to play in shaping the destiny of the state that demands their allegiance. Poverty degrades a whole society and threatens its stability while ethnic conflict and minority discontent are two of the greatest threats to both internal and regional peace. And when the dispossessed "minority" is in fact an overwhelming majority, as happens in countries where power is concentrated in the hands of the few, the threat to peace and stability is ever present even if unperceived.

The Commission for a New Asia notes that:

" ... the most rapid economic transformation is most likely to succeed within the context of international peace and internal political stability, in the presence of social tranquillity, public order and an enlightened and strong government; and in the absence of societal turbulence and disorder." [18]

This comment highlights the link between economic, political and social concerns. But there is a danger that it could be interpreted to imply that peace, stability and public order are desirable only as conditions for facilitating economic transformation rather than as ends in themselves. Such an interpretation would distort the very meaning of peace and security. It could also be used to justify strong, even if unenlightened, government and any authoritarian measures such as a government may take in the name of public order. [19]

If material betterment, which is but a means to human happiness, is sought in ways that wound the human spirit, it can in the long run only lead to greater human suffering. The vast possibilities that a market economy can open to developing countries can be realized only if economic reforms are undertaken within a framework that recognizes human needs. The Human Development Report makes the point that markets should serve people instead of people serving markets. Further:

"... both state and market should be guided by the people. The two should work in tandem, and people should be sufficiently empowered to exert effective control over both." [20]

Again we come back to empowerment. It decides how widespread will be the benefit of actions taken in the name of culture and development. And this in turn will decide the extent of the contribution such actions can make to genuine peace and stability. Democracy as a political system which aims at empowering the people is essential if sustained human development, which is "development of the people for the people by the people", is to be achieved. Thus it has been rightly said that:

"National governments must find new ways of enabling their people to participate more in government and to allow them much greater influence on the decisions that affect their lives. Unless this is done, and done in time, the irresistible tide of peoples rising aspirations will inevitably clash with inflexible systems, leading to anarchy and chaos. A rapid democratic transition and a strengthening of the institutions of civil society are the only appropriate responses". [21]

The argument that it took long years for the first democratic governments to develop in the west is not a valid excuse for African and Asian countries to drag their feet over democratic reform. The history of the world shows that peoples and societies do not have to pass through a fixed series of stages in the course of development. Moreover, latecomers should be able to capitalize on the experiences of the pioneers and avoid the mistakes and obstacles that impeded early progress. The idea of "making haste slowly" is sometimes used to give backwardness the appearance of measured progress. But in a fast developing world too much emphasis on "slowly" can be a recipe for disaster.

There will be as many kinds of democracies as there are nations which accept it as a form of government. No single type of "western democracy" exists; nor is democracy limited to a mere handful of forms such as the American, British, French or Swiss. Each democratic country will have its own individual character- istics. With the spread of democracy to Eastern Europe the variety in the democratic style of government will increase. Similarly there cannot be one form of Asian democracy; in each country the democracy system will develop a character that accords with its social, cultural and economic needs. But the basic requirement of a genuine democracy is that the people should be sufficiently empowered to be able to participate significantly in the governance of their country. The thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are aimed at such empowerment. Without these rights democratic institutions will be but empty shells incapable of reflecting the aspirations of the people and unable to withstand the encroachment of authoritarianism.

The democracy process provides for political and social change without violence. The democracy tradition of free discussion and debate allows for the settlement of differences without resort to armed conflict. The culture of democracy and human rights promotes diversity and dynamism without disintegration; it is indivisible from the culture of development and the culture of peace. It is only by giving firm support to movements that seek to empower the people through democratic means that the United Nations and its agencies will truly be able to promote the culture of peace and the culture of development.

Let me in conclusion summarize my argument. The true development of human beings involves much more than mere economic growth. At its heart there must be a sense of empowerment and inner fulfillment. This alone will ensure that human and cultural values remain paramount in a world where political leadership is often synonymous with tyranny and the rule of a narrow elite. People's participation in social and political transformation is the central issue of our time. This can only be achieved through the establishment of societies which place human worth above power, and liberation above control. In this paradigm, development requires democracy, the genuine empowerment of the people. When this is achieved, culture and development will naturally coalesce to create an environment in which all are valued, and every kind of human potential can be realised. The alleviation of poverty involves processes which change the way in which the poor perceive themselves and the world. Mere material assistance is not enough; the poor must have the sense that they themselves can shape their own future. Most totalitarian regimes fear change, but the longer they put off genuine democratic reform the more likely it is that even their positive contributions will be vitiated: the success of national policies depends on the willing participation of the people. Democratic values and human rights, it is sometimes claimed, run counter to "national" culture, and all too often the people at large are seen as "unfit" for government. Nothing can be further from the truth. The challenge we now face is for the different nations and peoples of the world to agree on a basic set of human values, which will serve as a unifying force in the development of a genuine global community. True economic transformation can then take place in the context of international peace and internal political stability. A rapid democratic transition and strengthening of the institutions of civil society are the sine qua non for this development. Only then will we be able to look to a future where human beings are valued for what they are rather than for what they produce. If the UN and its agencies wish to assist this development they must support these movements which seek to empower the people, movements which are founded on democracy, and which will one day ensure a culture of peace and of development.'

+ November 21, 1994 address to WCCD in Manila


[1] "Draft Preliminary Outline of the World Report on Culture and Development". UNESCO, CCD-III/94/Doc. 2, Paris, 7 Feb. 1994, p.16.

[2] It has been pointed out that the idea of growth not as an end in itself but as a performance test of development was put forward by economists as early as the 1950s; Paul Streeten et al., "First Things First: Meeting Basic Human Needs in the Developing Countries", Oxford, 1982 edn.

[3] Francois Perroux, "A New Concept of Development", UNESCO, Paris, 1983, p. 2.

[4] Ibid., p. 180.

[5] "Growth normally means quantifiable measure of a society's overall level of production or incomes such as GNP or GDP per capita, while development involves qualitative aspects of a society's advancement such as under- and un-employment, income distribution pattern, housing situation, nutritional level, sanitary condition, etc." UNDP Selected Sectoral Reviews: [Burma] December 1988, p. 333.

[6] Human Development Report 1993, UNDP, Oxford, 1993, p. 1. [7] "Towards A New Asia", A Report of the Commission for A New Asia, 1994, p. 39.

[8] "The logic of an economy governed by solvency and by profit, subject to the increasing value attached to capital and to the power of those who command it is to reject as 'non-economic' everything which cannot be immediately translated into quantities and prices in market terms": Paul-Marc Henry (ed.), "Poverty, Progress and Development", London, 1991, p. 30.

[9] Streeten et al., "First Things First", p.19.

[10] Henry (ed.), "Poverty, Progress and Development". p. 34.

[11] The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, 1993 edn., vol. 16, p. 874.

[12] Edward Said comments that governments in general use culture as a means of promoting nationalism: "To launder the cultural past and repaint it in garish nationalist colors that irradiate the whole society is now so much a fact of contemporary life as to be considered natural". See Edward Said, "Nationalism, Human Rights, and Interpretation", in Barbara Johnson (ed.), "Freedom and Interpretation": The Oxford Amnesty Lectures, 1992, New York, 1993, p. 191.

[13] Harry M. Scoble and Laurie S. Wiseberg (eds.), "Access to Justice: Human Rights Struggles in South East Asia", London, 1985, p. 57.

[14] See Clinton Rossiter's introduction to Hamilton, Madison and Jay, "The Federalist Papers", Chicago, 1961. I owe thanks to Lady Patricia Gore-Booth for the original quotation on which Rossiter presumably based his words: "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary", from Reinhold Niebuhr's foreword to his "Children of Light and Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of its Traditional Defence", London, 1945.

[15] "The best government is that which governs least" are the words of a westerner, John L. O'Sullivan, but more than a thousand years before O'Sullivan was born it was already written in the Lao Tzu, A Chinese classic, that "the best of all rulers is but a shadowy presence to his subjects". The notion that "In a nation the people are the most important, the State is next and the rulers the least important" is to be found not in the works of a modern western political theorist but in that of Mencius.

[16] Ehran Naraghi has shown in his memoirs, "From Palace to Prison: Inside the Iranian Revolution", London, 1994, that a critical attitude towards the monarch, decentralization of power and divisions of responsibilities were part of oriental tadition. His fascinating conversations with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi throw into relief the dangers of cultural and development policies divorced from the aspirations of the people.

[17] Ronald D. Renard, "Minorities in Burmese History", in K.M. de Silva et al. (eds.), "Ethnic Conflict in Buddhist Societies: Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma", London, 1988, p. 79.

[18] "Towards New Asia", p. 40.

[19] "Practically any human behaviour can be, and historically has been, rationalized as threatening to damage the security of the nation": Scoble and Wiseberg (eds.), "Access to Justice", p. 58.

[20] Human Development Report 1993, p. 53.

[21] Ibid., p. 5. Scoble and Wiseberg (eds.), "Access to Justice", p. 5, point out the difference between fundamental reform that "involves a redistribution of power, a broadening of participation and influence in the making of authoritative decisions" and contingent reform that "involves a sharing of the benefits of power holding, or the uses of power, in order to avoid the sharing of power itself".

typehost's picture

'When I was told that I had been invited to deliver the Joyce Pearce Memorial Lecture for 1993, I felt very honoured. I also felt warmed by all that I had heard about Miss Pearce's Ockenden Venture, especially from Patricia Gore-Booth and her late husband Paul, dearly-loved friends who taught me much about kindness and caring. The thought that the lecture would be held under the auspices of Queen Elizabeth House gave me particular pleasure. It is a place where I have spent many fruitful hours attending seminars and lectures and meeting people from different parts of the world. Those hours now appear to me suffused in Oxford tranquility and reason and good fellowship. So I would like to thank the Refugee Studies Programme and the Committee of the Annual Joyce Pearce Memorial Lecture for more than just the invitation. I would also like to thank them for the delightful recollections conjured up by their invitation.

As Joyce Pearce put so much of her life and talents into her work for refugees, I wondered whether the lecture should not be related to refugee issues. But I felt very reluctant to take up a topic with which the audience is probably well acquainted while I am not.

Then it occurred to me that the Burmese expression for refugee is dukkha-the, "one who has to bear dukkha, suffering". In that sense, none of us can avoid knowing what it is to be a refugee. The refuge we all seek is protection from forces which wrench us away from the security and comfort, physical and mental, which give dignity and meaning to human existence.

The answer as to how such protection might be provided can be found only when the destructive forces have been identified. Well-publicised catastrophes that rock the sensibilities of the world have small beginnings, barely discernible from the private and contained forms of distress which make up the normal quota of everyday suffering. No man-made disaster suddenly bursts forth from the earth like warring armies sprung from dragon's teeth. After all, even in the myth the dragon's teeth were procured and sown by a man for reasons quite unrelated to innocent zoological or agricultural pursuits. Calamities which are not the result of purely natural phenomena usually have their origins, distant and obscure though they may be in common human failings.

But how common need those failings be? In a world which no longer accepts that "common" germs and diseases should be left unchecked to take their toll of the weak and defenceless, it would not be inappropriate to ask if more attention should be paid to correcting "common" attitudes and values that pose a far more lethal threat to humankind. It is my thoughts on some of these attitudes and values, which seem to be regarded as inevitable in an increasingly materialistic world, that I would like to communicate to you on this occasion.

The end of the cold war has been represented as a signal for shifting the emphasis of national and international concern from ideology and politics to economics and trade. But it is open to debate whether policies heavily, if not wholly, influenced by economic considerations will make of the much bruited "New World Order" an era of progress and harmony such as is longed for by peoples and nations weary of conflict and suffering.

As the twentieth century draws to a close, it has become obvious that material yardsticks alone cannot serve as an adequate measure of human well-being. Even as basic an issue as poverty has to be reexamined to take into account the psychological sense of deprivation that makes people feel poor. Such a "modern" concept of poverty is nothing new to the Burmese who have always used the word hsinye to indicate not only an insufficiency of material goods but also physical discomfort and distress of mind -- to be poor is to suffer from a paucity of those mental and spiritual as well as material resources that make a human being feel fulfilled and give life a meaning beyond mere existence. It follows as a matter of course that chantha, the converse of hsinye, denotes not only material prosperity but also bodily ease and general felicity. One speaks of chantha of the mind and of the body and one would wish to be possessed of both.

It is widely accepted, if not too often articulated, that governments and international agencies should limit their efforts to the elimination of the more obvious forms of suffering rather than take on a task so uncertain, so abstruse and so susceptible to varying interpretations, as the promotion of happiness. Many believe that policies and legislations aimed at establishing minimum standards with regard to wages, health care, working conditions, housing and education (in the formal, very limited sense of the word) are the most that can reasonably be expected from institutions as a contribution towards human well-being. There seems to be an underlying assumption that amelioration in material conditions would eventually bring in its wake an improvement in social attitudes, philosophical values and ethical standards. The Burmese saying "Morality (sila) can be upheld only when the stomach is full" is our version of a widely held sentiment that cuts across cultural boundaries. Brecht's "Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral" (First comes fodder, then come morals) also springs to mind.

But such axioms are hardly a faithful reflection of what actually goes on in human society. While it is undeniable that many have been driven to immorality and crime by the need to survive, it is equally evident that the possession of a significant surplus of material goods has never been a guarantee against covetousness, rapacity and the infinite variety of vice and pain that spring from such passions. Indeed it could be argued that the unrelenting compulsion of those who already have much to acquire even more has generated greater injustice, immorality and wretchedness than the cumulative effect of the struggle of the severely underprivileged to better their lot.

Given that man's greed can be a pit as bottomless as his stomach and that a psychological sense of deprivation can persist beyond the point where basic needs have been adequately met, it can hardly be expected that an increase in material prosperity alone would ensure even a decline in economic strife, let alone a mitigation of those myriad other forces that spawn earthly misery.

The teachings of Buddhism which delve into the various causes of suffering identify greed as lust -- the passion for indulging an intemperate appetite -- as the first of the Ten Impurities that stand in the way of a tranquil, wholesome state of mind. On the other hand much value is attached to liberality or generosity which heads such lists as the Ten Perfections of the Buddha, the Ten Virtues which should be practised, and the Ten Duties of Kings. This emphasis on liberality should not be regarded as a facile endorsement of alms-giving based on canny calculation of possible benefits in the way of worldly prestige or otherworldly rewards. It is a recognition of the crucial importance of the liberal, generous spirit as an effective antidote to greed as well as a fount of virtues which engender happiness and harmony. The late Sayadaw Ashin Janaka Bivamsa of the famous Mahagandhrun monastery at Amarapura taught that liberality without morality cannot really be pure. An act of charity committed for the sake of earning praise or prestige or a place in a heavenly abode he held to be tantamount to an act of greed.

Loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity Buddhists see as "divine" states of mind which help to alleviate suffering and to spread happiness among all beings. The greatest obstacle to these noble emotions is not so much hatred, anger or ill will as the rigid state that comes of a prolonged and unwavering concentration on narrow self-interest. Hatred, anger or ill-will which arises from wrongs suffered, from misunderstanding or from fear and envy may yet be appeased if there is sufficient generosity of spirit to permit forbearance, forgiveness and reconciliation. But it would be impossible to maintain ore restore harmony when contention is rooted in the visceral inability of protagonists to concede that the other party has an equal claim to justice, sympathy and consideration. Hardness, selfishness and narrowness belong with greed, just as kindness, understanding and vision belong with true generosity.

The act of willingly subtracting from one's own limited store of the good and the agreeable for the sake of adding to that of others reflects the understanding that individual happiness needs a base broader than the mere satisfaction of selfish passions. From there, it is not such a large step to the realization that respecting the susceptibilities and rights of others is as important as defending one's own susceptibilities and rights if civilized society is to be safeguarded. But the desirability of redressing imbalances which spoil the harmony of human relationships -- the ultimate foundation for global peace and security -- is not always appreciated. Buddhism and other religious and ethical systems, however, have long recognised and sought to correct this prejudice in favour of the self. A Jewish scholar commenting on the Torah wrote: "In morals, holiness negatively demanded resistance to every urge of nature which made self-serving the essence of human life; and positively, submission to an ethic which placed service to others at the centre of its system." [1]

It would be naive to expect that all men could be expected to place service to others before service to the self. But with sufficient resolve on the part of governments and institutions that influence public opinion and set international standards of behaviour, a greater proportion of the world's population could be made to realize that self-interest (whether as an individual, a community or a nation) cannot be divorced entirely from the interests of others. Instead of assuming that material progress will bring an improvement in social, political and ethical standards, should it not be considered that an active promotion of appropriate social, political and ethical values might not only aid material progress but also help to ensure that its results are wisely and happily distributed? "Wealth enough to keep misery away and a heart wise enough to use it" was described as the "greatest good" by Aeschylus who lived in an age when, after decades of war, revolution and tyrannies, Athenian democracy in its morning freshness was beginning to prove itself as a system wonderfully suited to free, thinking men.[2]

A narrowly focused materialism that seeks to block out all considerations apparently irrelevant to one's own well-being finally blocks out what is in fact most relevant. Discussing the "culture of contentment" which poses a challenge to the social and economic future of the United States of America, Professor John Kenneth Galbraith has pointed out that the fortunate and the favoured are so preoccupied with immediate comfort and contentment they have ceased to contemplate or respond to their own longer-term well-being. "And this is not only in the capitalist world, as it is still called: a deeper and more general human instinct is here involved", he wrote[3] the instinct to opt for narrow, short-term benefits can present a significant threat to the continued prosperity of a rich, industrialized state shored up by strongly established institutions, how much more of a threat might it be to nations which have but recently embarked, rather unsteadily, on the grand adventure of free market economics and democratic politics? And it would surely be of the utmost danger to those societies still hovering on the edge of liberty and justice, still dominated by a minority well content with its monopoly on economic and political power.

In newly emergent democracies many who have been disappointed in their expectations of immediate material betterment have sought to work out their frustrations by subscribing to outmoded and obscure conspiracy theories that foster prejudice, paranoia and violence. The search for scapegoats is essentially an abnegation of responsibility: it indicates an inability to assess honestly and intelligently the true nature of the problems which lie at the root of social and economic difficulties and a lack of resolve in grappling with them. The valuation of achievement in predominantly material terms implies a limited and limiting view of human society, denying it many of the qualities that make it more than a conglomerate of egoistic consumer-gatherers who have advanced little beyond the prehistoric instinct for survival.

It is perfectly natural that all people should wish for a secure refuge. It is unfortunate that in spite of strong evidence to the contrary, so many still act as though security would be guaranteed if they fortified themselves with an abundance of material possessions. The greatest threats to global security today come not from the economic deficiencies of the poorest nations but from religious, racial (or tribal) and political dissensions raging in those regions where principles and practices which could reconcile the diverse instincts and aspirations of mankind have been ignored, repressed or distorted.

Man-made disasters are made by dominant individuals and cliques which refuse to move beyond the autistic confines of partisan interest. An eminent development economist has observed that the best defence against famine is an accountable government. It makes little political or economic sense to give aid without trying to address the circumstances that render aid ineffectual. No amount of material goods and technological know-how will compensate for human irresponsibility and viciousness.

Developed and developing nations alike suffer as a result of policies removed from a framework of values which uphold minimum standards of justice and tolerance. The rapidity with which the old Soviet Union splintered into new states, many of them stamped with a fierce racial assertiveness, illustrates that decades of authoritarian rule may have achieved uniformity and obedience but could not achieve long-term harmony or stability. Nor did the material benefits enjoyed under the relatively successful post- totalitarian state[4] Yugoslavia succeed in dissipating the psychological impress of brooding historical experiences which have now led to some of the worst religious and ethnic violence the Balkans has ever witnessed. Peace, stability and unity cannot be bought or coerced: they have to be nurtured by promoting sensitivity to human needs and respect for the rights and opinions of others. Diversity and dissent need not inhibit the emergence of strong, stable societies, but inflexibility, narrowness and unadulterated materialism can prevent healthy growth. And when attitudes have been allowed to harden to the point that otherness becomes a sufficient reason for nullifying a person's claim to be treated as a fellow human being, the trappings of modern civilization crumble with frightening speed.

In the most troubled areas of the world, reserves of tolerance and compassion disappear, security becomes non-existent and creature comforts are reduced to a minimum -- but stockpiles of weapons abound. As a system of values this is totally mad. By the time it is accepted that the only way out of an impasse of hats, bloodshed and social and economic chaos created by men is for those men to get together to find a peaceful solution through dialogue and compromise, it is usually no longer easy to restore sanity. Those who have been conditioned by systems which make a mockery of the law by legalizing injustices and which attack the very foundations of harmony by perpetuating social, political and economic imbalances cannot adjust quickly -- if at all -- to the concept of a fair settlement which places general well-being and justice above partisan advantage.

During the cold war the iniquities of ruthless governments and armed groups were condoned for ideological reasons. The results have been far from happy. Although there is greater emphasis in justice and human rights today, there are still ardent advocates in favour of giving priority to political and economic expediency -- increasingly the latter. It is the cold argument: achieve economic success and all else will follow. But even long-affluent societies are plagued by formidable social ills which have provided deep anxieties about the future. And newly-rich nations appear to be spending a significant portion of their wealth on arms and armies. Clearly there is no inherent link between greater prosperity and greater security and peace. Both prosperity and peace -- or even the expectation of greater peace. Both prosperity and peace are necessary for the happiness of mankind, the one to alleviate suffering, the other to promote tranquility. Only policies which place equal importance on both will make a truly richer world, one in which men can enjoy "chantha" of the body and of the mind. The drive for economic progress needs to be tempered by an awareness of the dangers of greed and selfishness which so easily lead to narrowness and inhumanity. If peoples and nations cultivate a generous spirit that welcomes the happiness of others as an enhancement of the self, many seemingly insoluble problems would prove less intractable.

Those who have worked with refugees are in the best position to know that when people have been stripped of all their material supports there only remain to sustain them the values of their cultural and spiritual inheritance. A tradition of sharing instilled by age-old beliefs in the joy of giving and the sanctity of compassion will move a homeless destitute to press a portion of his meagre rations on strangers with all the grace and delight of one who has ample riches to dispense. On the other hand, predatory traits honed by a long-established habit of yielding to "every urge of nature which made self-serving the essence of human life" will lead men to plunder fellow-sufferers of their last pathetic possessions. And of course the great majority of the world's refugees are seeking sanctuary from situations rendered untenable by a dearth of humanity and wisdom.

The dream of a society ruled by loving kindness, reason and justice is a dream as old as civilized man. Does it have to be an impossible dream? Karl Popper, explaining his abiding optimism in so troubled a world as ours, said that the darkness had always been there but the light was new. Because it is new it has to be tended with care and diligence. It is true that even the smallest light cannot he extinguished by all the darkness in the world, because darkness is wholly negative. It is merely an absence of light. But a small light cannot dispel acres of encircling gloom. It needs to grow stronger, to shed its brightness further and further. And people need to accustom their eyes to the light to see it as a benediction rather than a pain, to learn to love it. We are so much in need of a brighter world which will offer adequate refuge to all its inhabitants.

+ Towards A True Refuge by Aung San Suu Kyi [Honorary Fellow of St Hugh's College, Nobel Peace Laureate]:
+ The Joyce Pearce Memorial Lecture - Refugee Studies Programme: University of Oxford (19 May 1993):


[1] Isidore Epstein, Judaism: A Historical Presentation (Harmondsworth, 1959), p.23.

[2] The quotation is from Agamemnon, 378-9, translated in Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way (New York, 3rd ed. 1964), p. 51

[3] John Kenneth Galbraith, The Culture of Contentment (London, 1992), pp. 6-7.

[4] I use "post-totalitarian state" in the sense given to it by Vaclav Havel in his essay on "The Power of the Powerless"(1979), when he applies the term to the neo-totalitarianism so the now-dissolved Soviet bloc and the forms of state repression found there which are markedly different from those obtaining in classical dictatorships. See Vaclav Havel et al., The Power of the Powerless: Citizens against the State in Central-Eastern Europe, ed. John Keane (New York, 1985).

typehost's picture

"The following is the English translation prepared by the author of the speech she delivered in Burmese to a mass rally on the open ground west of the great Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon on 26 August 1988. Of the approximately one thousand public addresses she calculated she had given throughout the length and breadth of Burma between August 1988 and July 1989, this was the first and the only one for which she had prepared text to hand. Two days earlier she had made a brief appearance in front of the Rangoon General Hospital, the main focus of popular demonstra­tions at the time, in order to announce her intention to address the rally and to call for discipline and unity.

'Reverend monks and people! This public rally is aimed at informing the whole world of the will of the people. Therefore at this mass rally the people should be disciplined and united to demonstrate the very fact that they are a people who can be disciplined and united. Our purpose is to show that the entire people entertain the keenest desire for a multi-party democratic system of government.

It is the students who have paved the way to the present situation where it is possible to hold such a rally. The occasion has been made possible because the recent demonstrations have been spearheaded by the students and even more because they have shown their willingness to sacrifice their lives. I therefore request you all to observe a minute's silence in order to show our deepest respect for those students who have lost their lives and, even more, in order to share the merit of their deeds among all of us. So while doing this please keep perfect silence for the duration of one minute.

I believe that all the people who have assembled here have without exception come with the unshakeable desire to strive for and win a multi-party democratic system. In order to arrive at this objective, all the people should march unitedly in a discip­lined manner towards the goal of democracy.

In this connection I would like to explain the part I have played in this movement. This is needed because a fair number of people are not very well acquainted with my personal history. It is only natural and right that those who do not know me would like to know some facts.

A number of people are saying that since I have spent most of my time abroad and am married to a foreigner I could not be familiar with the ramifications of this country's politics. I wish to speak from this platform very frankly and openly to the people. It is true that I have lived abroad. It is also true that I am married to a foreigner. These facts have never interfered and will never interfere with or lessen my love and devotion for my country by any measure or degree.

Another thing which some people have been saying is that I know nothing of Burmese politics. The trouble is that I know too much. My family knows best how complicated and tricky Burmese politics can be and how much my father had to suffer on this account. He expended much mental and physical effort in the cause of Burma's politics without personal gain. That is why my father said that once Burma's independence was gained he would not want to take part in the kind of power politics that would follow.

Since my father had no such desire I too have always wanted to place myself at a distance from this kind of politics. Because of that I have kept away from politics. Some might then ask why, if I wished to stay out of politics, should I now be involved in this movement. The answer is that the present crisis is the concern of the entire nation. I could not as my father's daughter remain indifferent to all that was going on. This national crisis could in fact be called the second struggle for national independence.

This great struggle has arisen from the intense and deep desire of the people for a fully democratic parliamentary system of government. I would like to read to you something my father said about democracy.

We must make democracy the popular creed. We must try to build up a free Burma in accordance with such a creed. If we should fail to do this, our people are bound to suffer. If democracy should fail the world cannot stand back and just look on, and therefore Burma would one day, like Japan and Germany, be despised. Democracy is the only ideology which is consistent with freedom. It is also an ideology that promotes and strengthens peace. It is therefore the only ideology we should aim for.

That is what my father said. It is the reason why I am participating in this struggle for freedom and democracy in the footsteps and traditions of my father. To achieve democracy the people should be united. That is very clear. It is a very plain fact. If there is no unity of purpose we shall be unable to achieve anything at all. If the people are disunited, no ideology or form of government can bring much benefit to the country. This must be firmly fixed in the minds of the people. If there is no discipline, no system can succeed. Therefore our people should always be united and disciplined.

While I am talking about the need for unity I would like to say one thing. Some may not like what I am going to say. But I believe that my duty is to tell the people what I believe to be true. Therefore I shall speak my mind. If my words meet with your approval, please support me. If they are not acceptable, it cannot be helped. I am only doing what I believe to be right. What I wish to say is that at this time there is a certain amount of dissension between the people and the army. This rift can lead to future dangers. The present armed forces of Burma were created and nurtured by my father. It is not simply a matter of words to say that my father built up the armed forces. It is a fact. There are papers written in my father's own hand where he lays out in detail how the army should be organized and built up. So what objectives did my father have for the armed forces? Let me read to you one of them:

The armed forces are meant for this nation and this people, and it should be such a force having the honour and respect of the people. If instead the armed forces should come to be hated by the people, then the aims with which this army has been built up would have been in vain.

Let me speak frankly. I feel strong attachment for the armed forces. Not only were they built up by my father, as a child I was cared for by his soldiers. At the same time I am also aware of the great love and affection which the people have for my father. I am grateful for this love and affection. I would therefore not wish to see any splits and struggles between the army which my father built up and the people who love my father so much. May I also from this platform ask the personnel of the armed forces to reciprocate this kind of understanding and sympathy? May I appeal to the armed forces to become a force in which the people can place their trust and reliance. May the armed forces become one which will uphold the honour and dignity of our country.

For their part the people should try to forget what has already taken place, and I would like to appeal to them not to lose their affection for the army. We shall reach our goal of a strong and lasting Union only if we are all able to go forward in unity. We have not yet achieved this goal. Let us not be disunited. Therefore let us resolve to march forward in unity towards our cherished goal. In doing so please use peaceful means. If a people or a nation can reach their objectives by disciplined and peaceful means, it would be a most honourable and admirable achieve­ment.

I have a few things to say about the students who have been at the forefront of this nationwide movement. The students are most able. They have already demonstrated their physical courage. I believe that they will now go on to demonstrate their moral and mental ability. May I appeal to the students to continue to march forward with the same kind of unity and resolve? At this moment there are a number of student groups. I would like these groups to come together as a unified body. I understand that they are soon going to call a conference for this purpose. Should this occasion arise may I pray that it will result in an entire cohesion and unity of the students.

Some students have asked me which politicians are standing behind me. They are apprehensive that such politicians might manipulate me and then take over the students. I am happy that the students have been so open and honest with me. Young people are frank and free from deviousness. I answered them truthfully. There are no politicans behind me. What I am trying to do is to help achieve the democratic system of government which the people want. For the achievement of this system, there are some veteran politicians who wish to help me in various ways. I have told such politicians that if their object is to obtain positions of political power for themselves, I would not support them in any way. Should these politicians try to obtain positions of political power I promise in front of this assembly of people that I myself will not hesitate to denounce them.

There is a sort of gulf between the older and younger genera­tions. This gulf will have to be bridged. There is the feeling that the older and younger generations are quite apart from each other. This is something that should not happen. Whether young or old the entire people should be united.

The strength of the people is growing day by day. Such growing strength has to be controlled by discipline. Undisciplined strength or strength which is not in keeping with right principles can never lead to a beneficial fruition. It could lead to danger for many. Therefore please continue to use our strength in accordance with rightful principles. At this juncture when the people's strength is almost at is peak we should take extreme care not to oppress the weaker side. That is the kind of evil practice which would cause the people to lose their dignity and honour. The people should demonstrate clearly and distinctly their capacity to forgive.

If we are to examine what it is that we all desire, that is what the people really want at this time, the answer is multi-party democracy. We want to get rid of the one-party system. The President, Dr Maung Maung, has said that he is calling an emergency party congress to decide whether there should be a national referendum. So far as I am concerned I do not think it is necessary to have this referendum. The entire nation's desires and aspirations are very clear. There can be no doubt that everybody wants a multi-party democratic system of government. It is the duty of the present government to bring about such a system as soon as possible.

For the people's part they should continue to demonstrate for this through peaceful and disciplined means. May I emphasize again that we have not yet arrived at our cherished goal. Please think in advance of what should be done to bring about a firmly established Union. Please think of the country's future. Unless we consider the future of our country, the changes that are coming into being may not be able to achieve much benefit for the country. My father said there is a great need for the people to be disciplined and this cannot be repeated too often.

We do not need to have a referendum. What we do need is a multi-party system. It should be introduced as quickly as possible by means of free and fair elections. Conditions necessary for the holding of free and fair elections should be created throughout the country. The people have lost their confidence in the govern­ment of the day. If the holding of free and fair elections requires an interim government, such a forerunner should be created.

The main objective is not to have either the present form of government, nor an interim government, nor to have some other new government, but to have a government that can bring about a strong and prosperous Union of Burma. Please do not lose sight of the main objectives, nor forget the future welfare of the country. Should we lose sight of these, present victories will change to future failures.

What stage have we reached now? Well, our cherished aim is clearly within sight. Let us march forward together towards that goal. Let no divisions creep in. It is important that divisions of opinion should not arise among the students. There should be a complete restraint on creating such divisions. Therefore should differences arise between them now the country's future unity will be jeopardized.

While I am on the subject of unity may I speak for a while on the union of states of which Burma is composed. The different peoples of Burma should also remain united. The majority people of course remain the Burmese. They must strive with ever-increas­ing efforts to live in this accord and amity. Because the Burmese people form the biggest majority, they should make the greatest efforts to live in this accord and amity and to achieve that much needed unity and friendship among national racial groups.

Those who have the greater strength should show restraint and tolerance towards those who have less strength. Here I wish to say one thing regarding those people who are supporting the one-party system. The fact is many members of the Lanzin Party (Burma Socialist Programme Party) have themselves lost faith and confidence in their party. Such party members should resign from the Lanzin Party. They should hand in their party cards.

However, those who continue as members of the Lanzin Party out of conviction should not be molested. Democracy is an ideology that allows everyone to stand up according to his beliefs. They should not be threatened or endangered. Each one should go forward towards his own goal. Do not because of your greater strength be vengeful towards those who are of weaker strength.

We have gone far beyond the intended time, so I must cut this short. The final remark I wish to make is for our rally to maintain unity and discipline. Our strength should be used for the cause of what is right. Only by observing these requirements shall we be able to find our goal.

May the entire people be united and disciplined. May our people always do what is in complete accord with rightful prin­ciples. May the people be free from all harm.

To conclude I would like to reiterate our emphatic demands and protests, namely that we have no desire at all for a referendum, that the one-party system should be dismantled, that a multi­party system of government should be established, and we call for free and fair elections to be arranged as quickly as possible. These are our demands.'
+ Speech to a Mass Rally at the Shwedagon Pagoda - Aung San Suu Kyi - (26 August 1988):

typehost's picture

'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. Most Burmese are familiar with the four a-gati, the four kinds of corruption. Chanda-gati, corruption induced by desire, is deviation from the right path in pursuit of bribes or for the sake of those one loves. Dosa-gati is taking the wrong path to spite those against whom one bears ill will, and moga-gati is aberration due to ignorance. But perhaps the worst of the four is bhaya-gati, for not only does bhaya, fear, stifle and slowly destroy all sense of right and wrong, it so often lies at the root of the other three kinds of corruption.

Just as chanda-gati, when not the result of sheer avarice, can be caused by fear of want or fear of losing the goodwill of those one loves, so fear of being surpassed, humiliated or injured in some way can provide the impetus for ill will. And it would be difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth unfettered by fear. With so close a relationship between fear and corruption it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms becomes deeply entrenched.

Public dissatisfaction with economic hardships has been seen as the chief cause of the movement for democracy in Burma, sparked off by the student demonstrations 1988. It is true that years of incoherent policies, inept official measures, burgeoning inflation and falling real income had turned the country into an economic shambles. But it was more than the difficulties of eking out a barely acceptable standard of living that had eroded the patience of a traditionally good-natured, quiescent people -- it was also the humiliation of a way of life disfigured by corruption and fear. The students were protesting not just against the death of their comrades but against the denial of their right to life by a totalitarian regime which deprived the present of meaningfulness and held out not hope for the future. And because the students' protests articulated the frustrations of the people at large, the demonstrations quickly grew into a nationwide movement. Some of its keenest supporters were businessmen who had developed the skills and the contacts necessary not only to survive but to prosper within the system. But their affluence offered them no genuine sense of security of fulfillment, and they could not but see that if they and their fellow citizens, regardless of economic status, were to achieve a worthwhile existence, an accountable administration was at least a necessary if not a sufficient condition. The people of Burma had wearied of a precarious state of passive apprehension where they were 'as water in the cupped hands' of the powers that be.

Emerald cool we may be
As water in cupped hands
But oh that we might be
As splinters of glass
In cupped hands.

Glass splinters, the smallest with its sharp, glinting power to defend itself against hands that try to crush, could only be seen as a vivid symbol of the spark of courage that is an essential attribute of those who would free themselves from the grip of oppression. Bogyoke Aung San regarded himself as a revolutionary and searched tirelessly for answers to the problems that beset Burma during her times of trial.

He exhorted the people to develop courage: 'Don't just depend on the courage and intrepidity of others. Each and every one of you must make sacrifices to become a hero possessed of courage and intrepidity. Then only shall we all be able to enjoy true freedom.'

The effort necessary to remain uncorrupted in an environment where fear is an integral part of everyday existence is not immediately apparent to those fortunate enough to live in states governed by the rule of law. Just laws do not merely prevent corruption by meting out impartial punishment to offenders. They also help to create a society in which people can fulfil the basic requirements necessary for the preservation of human dignity without recourse to corrupt practices.

Where there are no such laws, the burden of upholding the principles of justice and common decency falls on the ordinary people. It is the cumulative effect on their sustained effort and steady endurance which will change a nation where reason and conscience are warped by fear into one where legal rules exist to promote man's desire for harmony and justice while restraining the less desirable destructive traits in his nature.

In an age when immense technological advances have created lethal weapons which could be, and are, used by the powerful and the unprincipled to dominate the weak and the helpless, there is a compelling need for a closer relationship between politics and ethics at both the national and international levels. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations proclaims that 'every individual and every organ of society' should strive to promote the basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings regardless of race, nationality or religion are entitled. but as long as there are governments whose authority is founded on coercion rather than on the mandate of the people, and interest groups which place short-term profits above longterm peace and prosperity, concerted international action to protect and promote human rights will remain at best a partially realized struggle. There will continue to be arenas of struggle where victims of oppression have to draw on their own inner resources to defend their inalienable rights as members of the human family.

The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit, born of an intellectual conviction of the need for change in those mental attitudes and values which shape the course of a nations development. A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration. It is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear.

Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying. So free men are the oppressed who go on trying and who in the process make themselves fit to bear the responsibility and to uphold the disciplines which will maintain a free society. Among the basic freedoms to which men aspire that their lives might be full and uncramped, freedom from fear stands out as both a means and an end. A people who would build a nation in which strong, democratic institutions are firmly established as a guarantee against state-induced power must first learn to liberate their own minds from apathy and fear.

Always one to practice what he preached, Aung San himself constantly demonstrated courage -- not just the physical sort but the kind that enabled him to speak the truth, to stand by his word, to accept criticism, to admit his faults, to correct his mistakes, to respect the opposition, to parley with the enemy and to let people be the judge of his worthiness as a leader. It is for such moral courage that he will always be loved and respected in Burma -- not merely as a warrior hero but as the inspiration and conscience of the nation. The words used by Jawaharal Nehru to describe Mahatma Gandhi could well be applied to Aung San: 'The essence of his teaching was fearlessness and truth, and action allied to these, always keeping the welfare of the masses in view.'

Gandhi, the great apostle of non-violence, and Aung San, the founder of a national army, were very different personalities, but as there is an inevitable sameness about the challenges of authoritarian rule anywhere at any time, so there is a similarity in the intrinsic qualities of those who rise up to meet the challenge. Nehru, who considered the instillation of courage in the people of India one of Gandhi's greatest achievements, was a political modernist, but he assessed the needs for a twentieth-century movement for independence, he found himself looking back to the philosophy of ancient India: 'The greatest gift for an individual nation . . . was abhaya, fearlessness, not merely bodily courage but absence of fear from the mind.'

Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavor, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one's actions, courage that could be described as 'grace under pressure' -- grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.

Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property of means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man's self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.

The wellspring of courage and endurance in the face of unbridled power is generally a firm belief in the sanctity of ethical principles combined with a historical sense that despite all set-backs the condition of man is set on an ultimate course for both spiritual and material advancement. It is his capacity for self-improvement and self-redemption which most distinguishes man from mere brute. At the root of human responsibility is the concept of perfection, the urge to achieve it, the intelligence to find a path towards it, and the will to follow that path if not to the end at least the distance needed to rise above individual limitations and environmental impediments. It is man's vision of a world fit for rational, civilized humanity which leads him to dare and to suffer to build societies free from want and fear. Concepts such as truth, justice, and compassion cannot be dismissed as trite when these are often the only bulwarks which stand against ruthless power.'

+ Aung San Suu Kyi. Freedom from Fear. NY: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1991. (pp. 180-185)

*The following was first release for publication by the editor to commemorate the European Parliament's award to Aung San Suu Kyi of the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The award ceremony took place in her absence at Strasbourg on 10 July 1991. In the same week the essay appeared in full or in part in The Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times, the Far East Economic Review, the Bangkok Post, the Times of India and in the German, Norwegian and Icelandic press.*

Back to Top