Sunday, June 24, 2012

A 'Prisoner' For Life?

Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to the U.K has been cause for celebration. She has met the great and the good and the not so good and found time to acknowledge how important Dave Lee Travis was in keeping her spirits up during the her house arrest. It has always been a time for contemplation, argument and the start of in-house fighting by the various pro-democracy groups of ex-pat Burmese citizens resident in the U.K and Europe.

Showing a distinct similarity between themselves and the Peoples Popular Front of Judea and the Popular Peoples Front of Judea the disparate groups argument seems to be that now Aung San Suu Kyi is 'free' she should be speaking up more about conditions in Burma  rather than been feted by so many people who campaigned long and hard for her release.

I would have thought that every moment she is in the public eye people are being reminded of exactly what the situation in Burma is, nothing has changed. The country may now allow the sale of Coca Cola and be open to visits by party political leaders but basically things are exactly the same as they were before Auung San Suu Kyi was released. She recognises this herself and in her speech at Oxford University where she received an honorary Doctorate she said, "Burma is at the beginning of a road,but it’s not smooth, it’s not well made – it’s not even there yet; we will have to create it for ourselves. Too many people are expecting too much of Burma. Many people think the Burmese road is like the road I took from London to Oxford, so smooth and straight that I was almost car sick.” Even after the recent reforms that have allowed her finally to take a trip abroad, Burma is not like that, she said. “We have to make the road ourselves, inch by painful inch.”

What Suu Kyi's party, the National League For Democracy, have to do when she returns to Burma is get down to what the Americans call 'the dirty yards', an American football term for describing the running plays needed to get the crucial first down. Basics like human rights, the economy, minority group interests, ethnic tension, the role of the private sector in a military state all have to be tackled.

One of the great debates of our time, whether discussion Iraq, Pakistan or Syria has been the use of sanctions and whether applying them to Governments that are hostile to their own population actually serves any use. Of course in Iraq we saw that the impact of sanctions was the deaths of thousands of children. In Burma the impact of foreign sanctions has been to strengthen the resolve of the Junta who despite partially acknowledging that the existence of a military government is a relic of a bygone age have nevertheless also realised that Burma has suffered from the lack of overseas investment, tourism, international trade - after all every economy is dependent upon the flow of money for it to succeed.


Aung San Suu Kyi has received honours and privileges during her visit to the U.K and quite rightly so. It has been as much about sticking two fingers up at the Burmese Government as it has about acknowledging the strength of one woman's mental courage to cope with house arrest. She has herself spoken of how her imprisonment  was not that bad when compared with the conditions that many of her fellow country men and women live under.

She is an intelligent woman and one of the first things she did as part of this world tour of saying thank you was to tell business people in Bangkok that there are still dangers in everybody rushing to Burma with open cheque books and promises of investment. The middle east and far east are littered with company's and Governments that are awash with foreign money and corruption. You can have rules and regulations in place to ensure that all deals have a degree of transparency but as we know all too well in the west those rules and regulations are only as good as the ethics of the people involved in safeguarding their integrity. It was interesting to read that the Obama administration insisted on keeping several sanctions in place as 'insurance policies' when the first baby steps of American and European investment took place in May.

What she now has to live with are the expectations of those people, of her followers who throughout her time under house arrest invested so much mental and physical energy in believing that when, not if, she was released that she would lead the country into the 21st century. She will find, if she is not already finding so, that she will be as much a prisoner of expectation as she was a prisoner under house arrest for twenty four years.


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