News / Asia

Burmese Democracy Leader Reveals Thoughts on Politics, Love and Life

Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gestures as she offers yellow robes to Buddhist monks in front of the National League for Democracy party's headquarters in Rangoon, Dec. 8, 2010.
Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gestures as she offers yellow robes to Buddhist monks in front of the National League for Democracy party's headquarters in Rangoon, Dec. 8, 2010.

Burma’s military government has long tried to silence pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, detaining her for 15 of the past 21 years. Since her latest arrest in 2003, she was largely cut-off from the outside world, passing rare messages only through intermediaries. But after her release from house arrest last month, she has been speaking out.

In an interview with VOA after her release last month, the Nobel Peace laureate discusses why she became a politician, whether economic sanctions are affecting her country, what to do about Burma’s brain drain and how she defines love.

How did you feel in 2007 when you heard that Buddhist monks were leading anti-government protests?

"I was almost sure from the first day that it was going to end in violence, so I was very worried. It was a question of when, rather than whether, it would happen or not. And it happened."

How did you feel about the violent crackdown?

"It made me feel very sad, but I was prepared for it. I felt from the very beginning that this was not going to end well, and the authorities were not going to react in any other way except the usual crackdown."

So you didn’t expect the demonstrations to bring about any sort of real change?

"Not immediate change, but I think it did create a change in the minds of lots of people. And that’s what is really important. It’s when you change the minds of people that you change the destiny of a nation. I think many people who at one time had felt that politics were not really their concern were so deeply shocked by the way in which the monks had been suppressed."

The U.S. and E.U. have supported the reformers in your country by imposing sanctions.  This has become a controversial topic.

"I want to clarify the situation because some people are using sanctions as an excuse for the economic mess that’s going on in this country.  Most economic organizations and some economists say that the main problem is economic policy that the present regime has imposed, and unless the economic policies change, Burma is not going to take off and become another 'Asian tiger'.”

How can Burma’s economic problems be solved?

"The economic policies of the nation are very much part of the whole political set up.  Unless that can change, unless people in government are prepared to change, they’re not going to change."

A generation has grown up afraid to express opinions. Many young people are rejecting politics altogether.  What can your party do to avoid a leadership vacuum once the older generation passes from the scene?

"It’s not true that all the young people who are capable of taking on the work after the older ones have moved out of the country. There are many young people inside the country now who are active and they’re alert and they’re eager to learn and who may not know as much as their contemporaries abroad because they have not been given the opportunity. But still they are learning and they’re eager to learn. We have to work at keeping some of those who are best educated from leaving the country out of frustration. But some of them will stay."

What obstacles are faced by people who choose to stay in the country?

"[There are] so many obstacles! I think I can hardly enumerate them in one sitting! The obstacles would be different depending on the way in which you choose to go about your work. It really depends on what you are doing. You may try to do what you’re doing as a professional – as a medical professional or as a legal professional. So, I don’t think I can enumerate all of the obstacles."

What obstacles are faced by medical professionals, for example?

"A lot of good doctors go abroad because they don’t have the opportunity to practice satisfactorily in this country.  To begin with, they don’t have the latest medical equipment and feel cut off from new breakthroughs. Then, of course, there are the hospitals. A great majority of them are poorly staffed and poorly equipped. There are some new, private nursing homes which are very good. But very, very few compared to the rest of the hospitals in the country.  Very few doctors working in this country can get into those private institutions. And then there are all kinds of unnecessary rules and regulations which make it necessary to bribe your way through simple processes which really shouldn’t take much time at all."

So corruption is a big obstacle?

"Corruption is certainly a big obstacle. I’m just wondering whether we couldn’t find a stronger word than 'obstacle'.”

How can the NLD [National League for Democracy] help to create change in the face of all of these obstacles?

"We do everything we can.  For example, we have our own humanitarian projects because we don’t want to just sit back and tell people, “You can help yourself.”  We have to show them they can help themselves.  Like our HIV project, and like our legal aid committee, and like our prisoners aid committee.  We used to have a child nutrition project. There are other projects, for example, digging wells, and so on. We do these things to show people that they can do things for themselves.  You don’t all have to depend on the official sitting in the government offices to do it for you. And this is one of the practical ways we teach them by doing it ourselves. We just can’t sit and tell them to go out and help themselves, we have to show them it can be done."

People have said your latest release by the military government was a public relations stunt.

"When I’m free it means I can do more work. So, whether or not it’s a PR stunt, I don’t think the release of any prisoner of any kind should be criticized for whatever reason, unless, of course, the prisoner has made some sort of deal with the authorities. That would not be good."

There are few women in positions of power in the current regime.  How important is it to include women in the democratic process?

"I think it’s important to include women in all walks of life in our society, and the society of any nation."

You’ve said you didn’t intend to be a politician but once you were imprisoned it made you political.

"Yes, I think turning you into a political prisoner politicizes you tremendously. That becomes your life. Because you’re a political prisoner, politics becomes your life. They really shouldn’t put people in prison if they want them to stay away from politics."

In what way do you think this has been your destiny, coming from your family?

"Well I don’t believe in destiny in that way. I keep telling our people—you know, the Burmese people talk about karma—I keep reminding them karma simply means “doing.”  You create your own karma as you go along the way by doing, by deeds."

There are quite a few female political figures that seem to have inherited the desire to serve their countries from their fathers. Is that true for you?

"I’ve always looked on my father as my leader as well as my father, a political leader in whom I believe because I’ve studied his life, his works and his political thoughts."

You seem to have maintained a sense of humor despite the hardships you’ve experienced.

"I hope so!"

How important is your sense of humor to you, and what’s your favorite joke?

"It’s just a part of me. I suppose I see so much happening to so many people that I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously and to see whatever difficulties I may have to face with a humorous eye. Life is what you make of it. And I see that there is a lot about life that’s good.  And there’s a lot about life that’s not so good.  But you have to learn to be a bit detached.  Perhaps that’s got a lot to do with it. I have a certain sense of detachment and if you can be slightly detached from what’s happening around you, you can always see the funny side of things. I can’t remember what my favorite joke is because I’m always telling jokes and I have friends who like telling jokes as well. I suppose I attract that sort of people. And when we sit around working, even when we are working very seriously, there’s always a lot of laughter, which is nice."

You are often isolated from your loved ones.  What does love mean to you?

"I have a very practical way of looking at love. If you really love somebody you have to do what you can to make that person’s life easier. Happier. There’s no use saying, “I love you, I love you,” and then some people who love each other seem to really make each other quite miserable. And that doesn’t seem to be like love at all."

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid