AUNG SAN SUU KYI FINALLY DELIVERED HER NOBEL ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
(Oslo) Let’s face it. You can’t be objective about Aung San Suu Kyi. The woman is rightfully considered a goddamn saint, one who is flanked by Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama in the Super Trifecta of today’s iconic political heroes.
This past weekend marked Suu Kyi’s first trip to Europe in 24 years—and her second outside Burma, where she was either imprisoned or under house arrest for more than 15 years following the National League for Democracy’s (the party for which she serves as general secretary) parliamentary victory in 1990. Since then the ruling military junta in Burma has granted her travel privileges, but Suu Kyi remained in Rangoon, fearing once out of the country she would never be permitted to return. Even when her husband, Michael Aris, was dying in London, The Lady, as she was called by supporters who dared not speak her name, stayed put, continuing her non-violent struggle for democratic reform that earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. And this is precisely why she—and I—traveled to Oslo. After all these years, she is finally delivering her acceptance speech (her children accepted the award and the more than one million dollars that went with it on her behalf 21 years ago).
When VICE approved this assignment, I immediately began reaching out to Suu Kyi seeking a one-on-one interview. But e-grams and calls to her party were never answered. Even diplomats from Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were still in the dark about her itinerary less than a week before her arrival in Norway. Suu Kyi may be the only superstar around who doesn’t have a sophisticated PR machine behind her. In some ways it’s refreshing. It will be interesting to watch how long it will last.
When Suu Kyi was finally released in November 2010 the world’s press and leaders from around the globe hightailed it to her door, anxious to hear from her directly if Burma was serious about political reform. Economic sanctions were slowly lifted, and in April’s by-election, Suu Kyi and some 40 other members of the NLP handily won seats in the country’s parliament. With the sanctions disappearing, investors began serious prospecting. But Suu Kyi said Burma’s most critical need was establishing a mandatory system of secondary school education for its mostly rural and uneducated population. And that’s what she pointed out last month to The World Economic Forum in Bangkok, adding democratic reforms should be viewed with “healthy skepticism.” She welcomed investment but warned about possible corruption and stressed, in her view, that investment equals jobs. And jobs for many. In the past, she explained, only Burma’s elite profited from the infusion of foreign capital.