|Aung San Suu Kyi, Wikimedia Commons|
An outstanding example of the power of the powerless, said her supporters. Aung San Suu Kyi was also known as The Steel Orchid or The Star of Burma
Aung San Suu Kyi was only two years old when her father, General Aung San, was assassinated in July, 1947, just six months before Burma gained independence from UK rule. In 1960, she went to India with her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, who was the British ambassador to Delhi, and four years later she travelled to the United Kingdom to study philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University. Here she met her husband, an academic, Michael Aris.
Pro-Democracy Protests by Students
The couple settled down to raise their two young sons in England, but then, in 1988, Suu Kyi received news that her mother was dying, and so she returned to Rangoon to be with her. This was a time of severe political unrest and there was a revolt among students and office-workers against the harsh military regime's dictator General Ne Win. Ms Suu Kyi was traumatised as she sat with her mother in the hospital by the constant movement of stretchers transporting badly-bleeding and wounded people. TV news footage at that time shows fierce, relentless fighting in the streets, so brutal that it is difficult to watch.
Negotiating with the Junta
As the daughter of a national hero, Suu Kyi was invited to lead the National League for Democracy. A film about her life depicted her reading a biography of Gandhi, an early indication that her entire philosophy was one of non-aggression and of devotion to Buddhist principles and concepts. This is a stance she has upheld consistently whatever the provocation. She became, according to the BBC, an "international symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression." Suu Kyi handled her campaign with poise, intelligence and dignity; nevertheless, while she was speaking to the people, the military were removing them as fast as they could, and taking them away in trucks to be interrogated or tortured.
Victory - then a Cruel Blow
Her election victory in 1991 was swiftly quashed by the Junta but she had already been placed under house arrest. This was a difficult time, a painful time that she filled with study and exercise. At the ceremony on 10 December 1991, where his mother was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while still under house arrest, her son Alexander Aris spoke of her struggle against oppression in the face of terrible odds: “We must also remember that the lonely struggle taking place in a heavily guarded compound in Rangoon is part of the much larger struggle, worldwide, for the emancipation of the human spirit from political tyranny and psychological subjection.”
From 1989 to November, 2010, a period of twenty-one years, Suu Kyi spent fifteen years under house arrest. At one point, all of her colleagues were arrested and Suu Kyi went on hunger strike to try to persuade the authorities to treat them well. Michael acted as negotiator to try to achieve an uneasy agreement with the Burmese military, and he subsequently managed to convince his wife to take some nourishment, since she only had a day or two left to live.
Death of Michael Aris
Michael's visit to Suu Kyi at Christmas, 1995 was the last time the couple ever met. Sometime later, in 1998, Michael discovered he was suffering from prostate cancer and had little time to live. He was unable to obtain a visa to visit to be with his wife one last time, and gradually his health deteriorated, while Suu Kyi agonised because she could not risk leaving Burma to be with him. She knew the military would never allow her to return, and there was still too much work to be done. To her great anguish and sorrow, Michael died without her, in a hospice, on his 53rd birthday on 27 March 1999.
A Beautiful and Terrible Film about Suu Kyi's Struggle - The Lady
The personal struggles of Ms. Suu Kyi and her devoted husband and sons were beautifully documented in the film The Lady. The film was produced and directed by Luc Besson, and the screenplay was by Rebecca Frayn. Michelle Yeoh played Ms. Suu Kyi opposite David Thewlis as husband, Michael Aris. Jonathan Woodhouse and Jonathan Raggett played sons Alexander and Kim. The film showed how, for the sake of the people, Suu Kyi sacrificed her own and her family's personal happiness, but always with their brave and generous co-operation and encouragement.
Honouring a Great Lady
In 2007, the Government of Canada made Ms. Suu Kyi an Honorary Citizen, and she has the distinction of being one person out of only five to receive that honour.
Ms. Suu Kyi's life and work has also been used in the U.K. to inspire the Brighton Festival, 2011, while the winner herself has been granted the Freedom of the City of Brighton and Hove, an accolade which, according to the article in the Argus, has delighted her. Council Leader Mary Mears said: "This is something that is given very rarely as it is one of the highest honours any city can give to somebody. For the Festival to have her as director is amazing."
Power that Corrupts
Although Suu Kyi is now General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, Burma's government remains one of the most oppressive and cruel regimes in the world where torture, rape and corruption continue to rage throughout the country. "It is not power that corrupts but fear," said Suu Kyi in one of her speeches. "Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."
· http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11685977 Accessed 28 February 2012.
· The Lady (film) Duke of York Picturehouse, Brighton, UK. Film viewed 28 February 2012.
· http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/toronto-film-review-lady-234193Accessed 28 Febuary 2012.
· "Aung San Suu Kyi granted freedom of Brighton and Hove" The Argus, 9 May 2011. Accessed 28 February 2012.