Aung San Suu

Since taking office in March 2011, Burmese president Thein Sein has captivated international attention by releasing political prisoners, loosening press restrictions and luring world-famous democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi back into the political mainstream. Though the end-point of Burma’s democratic spring remains ambiguous, the imprimatur of “the Lady,” as she is known, has been enough to convince Western policymakers that the reforms are real.

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The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi By Peter Popham (The Experiment, 448 pp., $27.50) Aung San Suu Kyi mania is sweeping Rangoon. The paraphernalia for sale on the streets of Rangoon now includes the hitherto banned image of Aung San Suu Kyi on posters, stickers, key rings, and baseball caps.

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For a country that has experienced almost nothing but misery, abuses, and economic mismanagement since the army first took power in 1962, the scenes from Sunday’s by-elections in the new, civilian Burmese parliament seemed nothing short of miraculous. The military’s favored party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), took a paltry handful of seats. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been under arrest just two years ago, won a parliamentary seat.

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The Awakening

One evening recently in Rangoon, my friend Ko Ye (not his real name) arrived at the apartment where I was staying, brandishing the latest issue of the weekly newspaper he runs. It was, he announced with great fanfare, a landmark edition: For the first time ever, government censors had allowed him to run a photo of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s most prominent dissident, on the cover. The edition also included other previously banned topics: political analysis of U.S. relations with Burma and an article about Martin Luther King that contained the taboo phrase “human rights” in the headline.

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Ray of Light

Nearly a year ago, Burma, one of the world’s most oppressive military dictatorships, held elections that were widely regarded as a sham. Few observers figured that the new president, a former military man named Thein Sein, would be allowed or inclined to carry out substantial changes of any kind. The military, it was assumed, would continue to pull the strings.

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Aung San Suu Kyi could be forgiven for looking at the revolutions sweeping the Middle East and wondering if she could spark the same sort of upheaval in her own homeland, a country dominated by a military regime for the past four decades. After all, the Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate retains incomparable popular support, a point that all of her public appearances since her release from house arrest last November have served to underscore.

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Read the full text of Suu Kyi’s speech after her release here. Apart from her freedom, the best thing about Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest in Burma is being able to hear her again. If one feels as if her message of peaceful, democratic progress has been expressed before, it’s because it has.

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This weekend, after being kept under house arrest on and off for more than 20 years, Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi was released. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was greeted by adoring fans in Burma and a swell of positive media coverage around the world. The repressive junta that rules Burma, meanwhile, has not indicated it is willing to allow Suu Kyi to engage in activism to the extent her supporters might like: Her release has been dubbed a p.r.

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This is the most recent item in a debate about humanitarian intervention. Click here to read the previous contributions by David Rieff, Leon Wieseltier, and Michael Kazin.  I’m always suspicious of blanket arguments, even—as with David Rieff’s recent post on liberal interventionism—when made by a writer whom I greatly admire. In a nutshell, Rieff has no use for American interventions (either military or non-military) on behalf of idealistic ends.

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"Gullible Gambari"

On May 20, 2006, Ibrahim Gambari, the gregarious UN under-secretary general for political affairs, met with leaders of Burma’s military junta and their most famous political prisoner, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. It was Gambari’s first trip to Burma, and the first time in two years that the country’s secretive rulers had granted a UN official such high-level access. Gambari’s optimism was palpable: “They want to open up another chapter of relationship with the international community,” the seasoned Nigerian diplomat said in a press conference on May 24.

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