Seeking Change With ‘Strong’ Spirit: Conversation with Aung San Suu Kyi
In a program broadcast on April 22, Aung San Suu Kyi calls for talks between Burma’s government and the democratic opposition, discusses the importance of preserving the languages and literature of Burma’s ethnic groups, and expresses concern for Burmese refugees living in camps.
Q: I am a student at the University of Maryland in the United States. What do you think will happen in this world in the coming new year? What will happen in Burma? What will you and the NLD [National League for Democracy] do in the new year? I would also like to listen to your new year’s message for the people of Burma.
A: I can really only answer your questions regarding what the NLD will be doing and what I would like for the people of Burma. I do not have the ability to know what will happen in the world. The NLD will continue to work in activities that will benefit our political future, such as work for democracy and human rights, and also in social activities that will benefit the people of Burma.
With regard to what I would like for our people: I would like them to take steps in the new year to work toward building the type of country they would like to have, with a full sense of self-confidence based on a spirit that is strong and resolute. I would like to wish all of the people of Burma to be full of spirit and be healthy.
Q: You were detained under house arrest for many years. While you were in detention, and despite the heavy security that was placed around your house, a foreigner was able to get into your house. Consequently, you had to face several court cases. What do you think of this incident? I would also like to know the present condition of your health, since your health is very important if you intend to continue working for democracy in Burma.
A: I would have to say that I was quite surprised that a person could get through the heavy security that was placed around my house. I think that it is better not to look at the bad side of things in this matter, as I do not wish anyone to be blamed for this. My health is good, and I thank you for your concern.
Q: Now that a new government has come into power in Burma, could you tell us what kinds of efforts are being made to meet and have discussions with the government of President U Thein Sein?
A: We will let the people know as soon as possible by releasing news if and when we start to talk about and work toward such discussions. But please understand that at this moment we have not begun anything with regard to this matter.
Q: I arrived in India during the  Saffron Revolution. The NLD rejected the 2008 Constitution and objected to [proposed] elections. Additionally, they rejected the 2010 elections. Because of this, we thought that you and the NLD would object to the new government that won because of “absentee votes” and was formed by that constitution. But we heard on the question-and-answer program of an RFA broadcast that you have accepted the new government as a “fact of reality.” Could you explain what you mean by this?
A: Our NLD has for over twenty years resolutely called for discussions with the SLORC [State Law and Order Restoration Council] and its successor the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] in the interests of the country. Similarly, and aiming at national reconciliation, we will strive to work toward holding discussions with this present government, without ignoring its existence. Just as the NLD objected to the actions of the SLORC and the SPDC in the past, we will continue to appropriately object to the actions of the new government as well.
Q: Recently, United Nations forces were sent to the Ivory Coast to remove a former president who had lost elections but would not transfer power to the new president. In our country, back in the 1990 elections, you and your NLD party won those elections, and even though the military government did not transfer power to the NLD, we did not see the United Nations being sent to our country to remove the military government from power. Was this because our opposition groups were ineffective in calling for U.N. help, or because of biases in the U.N.?
A: When the NLD won the elections, I was under house arrest. As far as I know, the NLD made an effort to resolve the issue and waited to have discussions between the two sides. Now in the Ivory Coast, the former president who lost the election was removed with the help of French troops only after nearly causing a civil war and great suffering for the country and people. [In Burma], we would have had to consider whether we would want to bring about a change in government in ways that could lead to bloodshed and scars of enmity among our people. To achieve the kind of change the majority of our people want, I think we would have to opt for methods that would have the least [negative] impact on the people.
Q: I was formerly in charge of foreign affairs in the [ethnic] New Mon State Party. If ethnic literature is lost, the ethnic nationalities themselves will also fade away—just as the Pyu, Kanyan, and Thet peoples disappeared once their literature was lost. This is why I believe that ethnic literature and languages should be permitted to be taught together with the Burmese language at government schools in the ethnic states. The present military government absolutely does not have that kind of an educational policy.
A: Our NLD is of the view that we must encourage the preservation and development of ethnic languages and literature, both in terms of ethnic nationalities policy and educational policy. We also believe that it would be appropriate to teach ethnic languages in the ethnic areas as much as possible. I am neither really happy nor satisfied that I myself do not speak any ethnic language apart from Burmese. Wouldn’t it be really nice if I were to speak the Mon language now and wish you a very Happy New Year?
Q: Many Burmese refugees have been living in camps for over 20 years now, though some have been relocated to third countries by the U.N., and there is now a new generation of Burmese children who have been born in the camps. The refugees are not given permission to find work outside the camps, assistance from the U.N. is inadequate, the chances of resettlement are uncertain, and there is little hope of returning to Burma because the political situation there is unstable. On behalf of all the refugees, I would like to ask you to help in any way you can.
A: Just like you, I am also very worried and concerned for the suffering that Burmese refugees face in the refugee camps. Democracy activists have recently written an appeal to [Burma’s] President U Thein Sein, asking him to create conditions in the country that will allow Burmese people abroad—especially the refugees—to return to their homeland with a sense of peace and security. The NLD is actively involved in collecting signatures for this appeal, and I myself have signed it.
But that is for the future. For the present, we have established a democracy network where the Burmese people abroad are getting together to help the refugees as much as they can. We have also asked donor countries to provide more assistance to the refugees, and we will continue to do this. I will also get in touch with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and will discuss these matters with them, including the points you have alluded to.
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