A Woman Visionary Leader Who is Transforming a Nation
“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.”
— Freedom From Fear — Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar, formerly Burma, has been governed directly or indirectly by a male dominated military junta since March 2nd 1962, when the military led by General Ne Win took control through a coup d’état. Between the time of the military coup and 1974 the government conducted a complete take over of all economic and media activity in a soviet style nationalization they called “Burmese Way to Socialism”.
Consequently Burma remained one of the poorest countries in Asia until March of 2011 when the military was forced to cede some of its power once the State Law and Order Restoration Council put in place by General Saw Maung was dissolved. Today, the military continues to be extremely influential as top cabinet and ministry posts remain under its control, as well as the ownership or majority stakeholder position in all major industrial corporation of the country.
The Burmese Way to Socialism has been described as Marxist in its approach to government and similar to Communism in all aspects except its belief in Buddhism and superstition. Communism in its purest form on the other hand is atheist at its core, and utilizes Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels philosophy of dialectical materialism in order to explain the world and nature.
There is a certain proclivity with Communism of any type to create an organized state of gangsterism as it provides for a system in which those with the political and military power can loot, plunder and murder at will. This was the case with the extreme militaristic Burmese government under which Aung San Suu Kyi lived.
She was born on June 19th, 1945 in Rangoon. Daughter of Major General Aung San, considered Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar and who served as 5th Premier of the British Crown Colony of Burma from 1946 to 1947. Originally the founder of the Communist Party of Burma, later becoming a Social Democratic politician. He was responsible for bringing about Burma’s independence on January 4th, 1948 from British rule, but was assassinated six months before independence.
Her mother, Khin Kyi, was also a prominent political figure in the newly formed Burmese government serving as a member of parliament in the country’s first post-independence government from 1947 to 1948. Later she became Burmese ambassador to India and Nepal in 1960.
After graduating 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 of Oxford University, where she obtained a B.A degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and an M.A degree in politics in 1968. It was here where she met her future husband Dr. Michael Aris, a British historian who wrote and lectured on Bhutanese, Tibetan and Himalayan culture and history.
Although having worked for the United Nations for three years between 1968 and 1971, her fervor for public service in behalf of her country was born at an early age as a sense of an unfinished legacy following her father’s assassination. Her passion for her country’s freedom was strong enough that upon Michael Aris proposal for marriage, she accepted under the condition that if her country should ever need her, she would have to leave. A condition Dr. Aris readily accepted.
After their wedding Suu Kyi became the consummate wife. Once their two sons were born she became a doting and engrossed mother. Even after being criticized by her feminist friends, she insisted in doing all household shores, even to the point of ironing Michael Aris’ socks.
In 1988, sixteen years after her marriage, the inevitable happened. She received a call from Rangoon that her mother had had a stroke. She immediately flew home hoping that her emergency visit would at most last a couple of weeks, only to find a city in chaos and turmoil. Confrontations between the public and the military were causing massive casualties among the population. Hospitals were filled with wounded and dying pro-democracy students as well as others who had confronted the military.
Word spread quickly that the daughter of the Great General and Father of the Nation had arrived. She was immediately approached by a delegation of academics to head the democracy movement for which she agreed. Suddenly, the outstanding mother and wife found herself the head of a nation wide uprising and battle against a brutal military dictatorship.
Suu Kyi embarked on a tour of Burma, during which her popularity soared. During this time the military harassed her at every turn, and arrested and tortured many of her party members. The fear among many, including her husband back in England and all those around her was that she might be assassinated like her father. Eventually in 1989 she was placed under house arrest which came as a relief to those who worried about her, as this meant Suu Kyi would at least be kept safe.
An international campaign led by her husband Michael Aris established her as an international icon in the hopes that the military would not dare harm her. However, the military conducted a savage attack of her in the press pointing to her marriage to a foreigner coupled with sexually crude slanders and other unfounded criticisms. It was obvious that the military junta profoundly feared Aung San Suu Kyi. They feared her charisma, her pedigree and her capability for galvanizing the country in search of democratic ideals.
Suu Kyi remained under house arrest for the next five years meantime that her family stayed in England. During this time she studied the writings of Mandela and Gandhi. Learned to meditate, but more importantly wrote extensively, producing two internationally acclaimed books and collaborating in other books written about her and her struggle for freedom in Burma. During all this time, Suu Kyi could have easily driven to the airport and left Burma, but her steel will and her unbending moral compass prompted her to continue with her fight for human rights and for the plight of the people of Burma.
Between the time that Suu Kyi returned to Burma and Michael Aris death from prostate cancer in 1999, the military government only allowed him to visit his wife twice. In fact from the time she left England and 2012, the military government allowed her two sons to visit her only a handful of times. She described this period of time within the context of the six great aspects of suffering in Buddhism. The fifth of these is “to be parted from those one loves.”
But her unflinching determination to see her mission of bringing peace, human rights and democracy to her country never allowed her to succumb to the immense pressures the Burmese despotic regime placed upon her. Throughout this time she spent a total of twelve years either under house arrest or imprisoned in secret locations. On November 13, 2010 she was finally freed.
Today she is known as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or Amay Aung San Suu Kyi, two Burmese honorifics assigned to older and revered women which mean Aunt and Mother respectively. Recognized world wide as a visionary and transformational leader of unyielding character, fearless in the face of a repressive menace that threatened her life, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi continues her struggle for the Burmese people.
She has been the recipient of numerous awards, some of which are the Rafto Prize for Human Rights, Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the Nobel Peace Prize, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, International Simón Bolívar Prize for merit award, Olof Palme Prize for outstanding achievement, and the Bhagwan Mahavir World Peace
Congressional Gold Medal also for outstanding achievement.
In spite of all her political victories, the 2008 Burmese constitutional referendum allowed the military government to pass a clause created expressly for keeping Suu Kyi out of the presidency. The clause stipulates that any one with a present or past spouse of foreign origin is barred from becoming president of Burma. However, new political victories between 2010 to 2012 released Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and gave her party the National League for Democracy a majority in parliament.
Although not able to run as president, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi now holds positions as State Counsellor of Myanmar, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of the President’s Office, President of the National League for Democracy Party, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy. These titles make her a sort of Prime Minister or de facto leader of Burma.
Reforms under “The Lady”, as she is often referred to, continue in spite of the military still holding on to a quarter of the seats in parliament originally guaranteed when the 2008 Burmese constitutional referendum was passed. Since her ascension to power, life in Burma has experienced marked improvement. Its GDP grew in 2015 at an annual rate of 7.0% and 8.5% in 2014.
With the country’s transition to a democracy, U.S. sanctions continue to slowly drop. But the military is still powerful — and some U.S. sanctions have stayed in place. In spite of the military, Myanmar’s future is brighter than it has been in decades. As long as The Lady continues her struggle for the Burmese people, the best for this small Asian country is still to come.