AsiaViews, Edition: 34/VII/November2010
Burma's pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi spoke to Irrawaddy editor Aung Zaw soon after her release from house arrest on Nov. 13. In this exclusive interview, she discussed her position on the military regime, her future political activities and her views on the political situation in Burma after the Nov. 7 election. She also emphasized the need for her supporters to continue working towards the goal of achieving democracy, and urged young Burmese in particular to remain actively engaged in politics.
Question: You are now free after seven years of house arrest. Over the past few days, you've had a chance to speak to the people and see the outside world. What do you think has changed?
Answer: The first thing I noticed was that there were many more young people in the crowd that welcomed me. Many of them were using cell phones. They were taking photographs with their phones, which I had never experienced before. There was no such thing ten years ago, but it has become quite widespread these days. I think there are more communication lines than before. It is important.
I don't see much significant change in the city. Perhaps that's because I haven't been to many parts of the city, since I am not the kind of person who is always on the street. There is not much difference.
Q: Are the Burmese people poorer now than before?
A: They looked poor, but those who came to greet me and give their support were very happy and smiling. I am very thankful to them. I could really feel their warmth.
Q: Some say your release is just a matter of transferring you from a smaller prison to a bigger one. Do you feel that way?
A: I don't see it that way. I always consider myself free because my mind is free. With my own ideology and beliefs, I am walking on the path that I have chosen. I have never felt that I wasn't free. Even when I was officially released, I felt the same?I didn't feel that I was not free before. Of course, I now have much more work to do. I have been able to see and feel the changes in person. In fact, my inner mind remains the same.
Q: Many people say your release one week after the election was just an attempt by the military regime to divert people's attention from the polls. What do you think about that?
A: I can't say exactly. It's possible. Since the election is over now, people don't need to focus on it anymore. That's why they are paying more attention to me. [Laughs]
Q: Soon after your release, you said you wanted to meet with the leaders of the military regime to help bring about national reconciliation in the country. However, the junta leaders don't seem to want to talk to you. Since you first entered Burmese politics in 1988, the regime has repeatedly stated that it has never wanted your presence. It has been 22 years now. Why do you think they still don't want to speak with you, even though you have offered dialogue with them on numerous occasions.
A: I think we have a different understanding of the main purpose of dialogue and its real meaning and essence. In my opinion, dialogue is not a debate to make one side lose and the other win. One side says what it wants, and so does the other. If there are disagreements, a negotiation should be carried out. Dialogue must be a win-win situation for both parties. I have said this to them before, but they don't seem to understand it. I am not sure if they don't understand it or if they don't believe it. Perhaps its because in the military, there is no such thing as a negotiated settlement.
This is something I really need to give a lot of thought to.
Q: You met with senior leaders of the military, including Snr-Gen Than Shwe and Gen Khin Nyunt, in 1994, 1995 and around 2000. Were your conversations with them fruitful?
A: Yes, we met, but I can't say that we had a true dialogue. I can say that real discussions took place when I met with Col Tin Hlaing, Maj-Gen Kyaw Win and Brig-Gen Than Htun after the Depayin incident. However, what we discussed has never actually been implemented.
Q: They are not in office anymore. Neither is Gen Khin Nyunt. Some are serving lengthy prison terms. What do think about them? Did you think that they were the ones who might be able to bridge the gap between you and the military? Do you plan to see them again?
A: I think they did the best they could. Whenever I spoke with them, I always noticed that they raised good points. That's why I never thought that I was always right. I always felt friendly toward them. Perhaps they felt the same about me.
Q: I heard they became very respectful toward you. How did you feel about that?
A: They treated me well. Whenever I meet with officers responsible for my security these days, they treat me well, too. I don't know what they are thinking in their minds, but from what I can tell from my side, they have treated me well and I am thankful to them. I also want to be friends with them. As I told the people in front of my party's office on Sunday, I want [the military leaders] to treat everybody the way they treat me.
Q: Do you think that in the future you will have a chance to go to Naypyidaw and meet Snr-Gen Than Shwe?
A: I don't think that way. I think of how I am going to make it happen. I am not sure if you have heard that Gandhi was very fond of a Christian hymn, even though he was a follower of Hinduism. The name of the song is ?Lead, Kindly Light.? It says, ?I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.? Gandhi believed that, and so do I. I will do my best to walk, step by step. If I am on the right track, I will reach the right place. I don't want to try to imagine something very distant. For me, hope is the desire to try. I believe I can only hope for something if I have tried to achieve it. I will continue to make an effort with this belief in mind.
Q: There has been speculation, within the country and outside, including even in the UN, that there is a prospect of substantial dialogue between you and senior military leaders. What do you think about this?
A: It's not wrong to think that might be possible. I have sometimes thought about what I might say if I had a chance to meet with them. Not often, though.
But it's something I must be prepared for, because it wouldn't look good if I didn't know what to say if I was invited to take part in a dialogue. So I don't mind if people say that this is something that might happen. But sometimes I wanted to laugh a bit at some of the speculation I heard, some of which was quite funny.
Q: Can you recall anything that struck you as particularly funny?
A: I won't elaborate, but some things people said seemed a bit funny and ambitious to me. Sometimes people said these things because they wanted to see changes for the better in the country. But some have had quite pessimistic and radical views, such as that the situation will never get any better. In fact, things sometimes turn out very differently from what we expect. We must always be ready and prepared for whatever happens.
Q: So do you know what you will say to Snr-Gen Than Shwe if you meet him again?
A: It depends on the situation. Whatever I say will depend on the circumstances and the reason for our meeting.
Q: Some have expressed the view that the military cannot be excluded from Burmese politics. The new Constitution guarantees the military a dominant role in future politics. What do you think about the military and its political role?
A: No one should be excluded from politics, since it is related to everyone. However, it is important to have the correct relationship to politics.
Q: We have heard that there are some in the military who support you and the democracy movement. What is your message to army officers and their families and others in the military who want to see change?
A: If they want change, they have to make it happen. As I said earlier, I don't believe in just imagining how things might be better. If we hope for something, we must strive to achieve it.
Q: The election was neither free nor fair. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) appears to have won, although the results have not yet been announced. It will soon form a new government. Some in the international community think that this will herald a new political landscape in Burma. How will you face this situation?
A: I don't know what people mean when they talk about a new political landscape. Are they referring to the new Parliament? In any case, there are always some who participate in politics inside Parliament, and others who are involved in politics outside Parliament. We will be in the latter category. Since we have some experience with how they [the USDP] engage in political activities, we will use various means to carry out our political activities outside the Parliament.
Q: Before the election was held, some members of the international community, particularly in Europe, said that taking part in it was the only option for the opposition. Now that it is over, however, those who backed the election have been embarrassed by the way it was carried out by the regime. It didn't happen as they expected. What would you like to say to these people?
A: Perhaps this was a good lesson for them. [Laughs]
Q: The international community has welcomed your release. The US government has said it will continue its existing policy on Burma, combining sanctions and engagement. What kind of pressure do you think the international community should exercise on the Burmese regime, and what kind of relationship should it have with the junta? What would you like to say to China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)?
A: I want Asean and China to have close relations with us. I want them to know that we are not people they can't deal with. I think the fact that sanctions remain in effect is related to what you said earlier?the new political landscape. I think they are waiting to see if this really is a new landscape or not.
Q: The exiled Burmese community is becoming larger and larger. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese have left their country illegally, most of them from the younger generation. You have often spoken about the importance of education and helping the young to realize their potential.
What are your plans for young people living inside and outside the country? What is your message to them?
A: The reason I want to have contact with young people living outside Burma is to promote the importance of education. They?especially those living in Western countries?have many more educational opportunities than young people living in Burma. That's why I want them to have contact with each other. I don't want young people living overseas to forget those remaining inside. I don't think they will forget. Many of them have been involved in blogging and other Internet-related activities, so I don't think they have forgotten the situation inside their country. I think they will believe in their strength and continue to stand for their people.
Q: When you were freed in the past, Burma's ethnic communities were largely silent. This time, however, they have given you their strong support. You are also in favor of a second Panglong Conference. How do you feel about the response to your release by the ethnic nationalities.
A: I am very happy, not because of their support for me, but because of the way they are becoming more united. This will lead to greater unity in the future.
By: Aung Zaw
The Irrawaddy 20 November 2010 photo: Aung San Suu Kyi, centers, appears at the gate of her Rangoon home on Nov. 13 to speak to her supporters soon after her release from more than seven years of house arrest. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)