What is freedom ?

by Gillian Pritchett on November 13, 2010

I was delighted to learn that Aung San Suu Kyi had been released after spending much of the past 20 years either in prison or under house arrest. This photo was taken earlier today (November 13th) as she greeted wellwishers and supporters.

I travelled through Burma in the late 90’s and freaked my parents by attending a rally in front of her house in Rangoon. I remember she came to the gate – exactly the one you can see in the photo to the right – she stood on a box so that she could reach over the gate – a demure lady in blue with a flower in her hair, speaking in the most beautiful voice that made me think of fluttering butterflies – so fragile, so beautiful. The rally was attended by many many people , men and women, young and old. I have the slide photos in storage somewhere.

My backpacking trip through Burma left me with a love for this beautiful country and a great respect for its people and an abiding interest in what would happen. It was a country without infrastructure, people living with no running water, no toilets and yet having an impressively high literacy rate. Today it is almost certainly in an even worse state – I suspect facing economic destitution.

Aung San Suu Kyi fascinated me more and more as the years went by – forcing me to ask myself whether she was right to abandon her husband (who died of cancer several years ago) and her two sons who are now grown men with children of their own – children she has ever seen –  in order to fight for democracy for her country. I’ve often asked myself if it is possible to love one’s country so much that you give up your life, your career, your marriage, your children.

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Francis Sejersted, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, concluded his Award Ceremony speech as follows:

However, we must also face up to the likelihood that this will not be the last occasion on which a Peace Prize Laureate is unable to attend. Let that remind us that in a world such as ours, peace and reconciliation cannot be achieved once and for all. We will never be able to lower our standards. On the contrary, a better world demands even greater vigilance of us, still greater fearlessness, and the ability to develop in ourselves the “profound simplicity” of which this year’s Laureate has spoken. This applies to all of us as individuals, but must apply especially to those in positions of power and authority. Show humility and show fearlessness – like Aung San Suu Kyi. The result may be a better world to live in.

I’ve just re-read the acceptance speech by her then 18 year old son Alexander – sadly so little of his hopes for change in Burma have been realised. If you want to read that speech (and I hope you will) here’s the link.

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