San Suu Kyi
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.
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.
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.
From the hills outside Mandalay, Burma’s second city, the vista resembles a postcard of Asian serenity. Monks climb stone steps to a hillside shrine, where local men and women leave offerings of flowers and fruit. But the placid scene conceals one of the most repressive states in the world--a state that the Obama administration has decided may be more worthy of American friendship than American threats. For more than four decades, Burma’s junta has persecuted its population.