June 27, 2011
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta listens to questions as he testifies at his Senate confirmation hearing to become the U.S. Secretary of Defense on Capitol Hill, Washington June 9, 2011. Source: Reuters
Alexander Gessen: She enjoyed her children and grandchildren immensely. But family is one thing and country is different.
Ekaterina Kudashkina: She was a human rights activist. Do you think that it is an in-born quality in people, or is it developed?
Alexander Gessen:I think it is both; it should be in-born in a sense, but then you need a chance for that to develop, I think.
Ekaterina Kudashkina: Now we will move on to Red Line’s final section,Face in the News. This week we are going to speak about Aung San Suu Kyi, the famous fighter for freedom and democracy of Burma.
Sergei Strokan:Why Burma? Has not the country been renamed Myanmar?
Ekaterina Kudashkina: Well, both. Officially, it is Myanmar now, after was renamed by one of its military dictators, but since Aung San Suu Kyi insists on calling her homeland Burma, I think we could honor her preference. There are two basic reasons we decided to talk about her today. One reason is that last Sunday, Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her 66th birthday.
Mira Salganik: And it was the first birthday in 20 years she celebrated out of detention.
Ekaterina Kudashkina: The other reason we chose this topic is the upcoming international broadcast early next week of her fight-for-freedom manifesto. According to the Guardian, one of her lectures was secretly recorded in Burma and brought to Europe.
Just to remind our listeners who Aung San Suu Kyi is: She has spent 21 years resisting the oppression of her people by a military dictatorship and she has been insisting on peaceful resistance – just like the U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi of India.
Mira Salganik: What happened was that after living many yeas outside Burma, she came back in 1988 because her mother was gravely ill, and she was never let out of Burma again. In 1990, the military junta that was ruling the country decided to stage a kind of election. By that time, Aung San Suu Kyi was the head of a political party called the National League for Democracy. It received 82 percent of the vote, but the vote was nullified by the junta and she was put under house arrest. The next year she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but she wasn’t allowed out of Burma, so her husband Michael Aris received the prize instead of her.
Ekaterina Kudashkina: Just like Dr. Bonner was receiving the Prize instead of Dr. Sakharov. Mira, I remember you telling me that back in 1988 she said her famous phrase: "I cannot, as my father's daughter remain indifferent to all that was going on." Who was her father?
Mira Salganik: She is the daughter of General Aung San, a legendary figure, a general and a nationalist. Aung San headed the revolt against the Japanese occupation of Burma, and triumphed, but he was assassinated six months before Burma got its independence. Nobody knows for sure who killed him. At the time of her father’s assassination, Suu Kyi was barely two years old. After the country became independent, her mother took her to Delhi where she went to the university. In 1961, Burmese diplomat U Thant was elected secretary-general of the United Nations. He brought in a team of Burmese associates and Aung San Suu Kyi was among them.
Ekaterina Kudashkina: The next year, a military junta came to power in Burma in a coup d’etat.
Mira Salganik: It was led by General Ne Win. He called his doctrine “The Burmese way to socialism.”
Sergei Strokan: General Ne Win’s “revolutionary council” nationalized or brought under government control practically everything in Burma, successfully hampering Burma’s development in the process, until it became one of the least developed nations in the world.
Mira Salganik: Ne Win has been at the helm more or less for 26 years. Burma is isolated from its neighbors; the west has imposed sanctions. Burma is a patchwork of various ethnicities, languages, religions, so the general has always had a good pretext to suppress protest movements, saying that they were a threat to the sovereignty of the country.
In 2007, there was a real revolt against the generals in Burma. It was suppressed brutally, but that revolt was joined by Buddhist monks, and that was very serious. Every male in Burma has to serve his time in a Buddhist monastery
Ekaterina Kudashkina: Anyway, I’d like to conclude this piece by quoting a recent speech by Aung San Suu Kyi. She said that whenever she was asked at the end of each stretch of house arrest how it felt to be free, she would answer that she felt no different because her mind had always been free. She said: “I have spoken out often of the inner freedom that comes out from following a course in harmony with one's conscience." And I’m sure, our listeners will find it interesting that in 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Sakharov prize - for freedom of thought.