One year ago, the world’s best-known democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in Burma, where she had spent 15 of the last 21 years. As she starts making trips outside Rangoon and meeting government officials, Ed Caesar secretly meets with her, and asks if this brutal regime has really taken steps on the road to freedom. From Dazed Digital.
Freedom means something different to Aung San Suu Kyi than it might to you or me. Imagine you had been placed under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years – would you consider yourself free? How about if, since being released in November last year, you had been placed under constant surveillance, and had your travel restricted by the ruling military government – the same government you had watched plunder your country’s natural resources for political gain, imprison political enemies, and ethnically cleanse troublesome minorities while you were powerless to influence events? How about if your English husband had died without you by his side because he was refused a visa, and you knew that if you left the country to be with him you might never have been able to return? Would you feel at liberty? Your answer, almost certainly, would be no.
Aung San Suu Kyi would politely disagree. “After I was released, people used to keep asking me, ‘What is it like to be free?’” she tells me, in her forthright, plummy English. “And it was very difficult for me to answer – I always felt free. As far as my state of mind was concerned, I didn’t feel any different… People ask me about what sacrifices I’ve made and I always answer that I’ve made no sacrifices – I’ve made choices. I don’t get angry. I wasn’t sacrificing myself for anybody. Really, it was a choice I made in accordance with what I believed.”
To most people, this might seem like inhuman stoicism. Aung San Suu Kyi, plainly, is not most people.
Our interview takes place in Rangoon in late July, in the tumbledown two-storey headquarters of the National League For Democracy, the political party Aung San Suu Kyi co-founded in 1988. Downstairs, a group of activists are listening to a lecture on political science. Upstairs, in a cool, clean office, The Lady – as she is known to her supporters – receives guests. Aung San Suu Kyi is a striking woman. Small and delicate as a sparrow, she is still, at 66, arrestingly beautiful. When we meet, she is wearing a grey, long-sleeved top with a floral print, a black skirt and no shoes. Her mahogany hair is tied back with green and white flowers. And, apart from her wide, dancing, chestnut eyes, she possesses a stillness that proves quite disarming.
This ability to project serenity is, as I would discover, a large part of her appeal. On the last day of my stay in Rangoon, I asked a young man who I knew to be a NLD supporter why he admired Aung San Suu Kyi so much. He said that when he saw her face, he felt “relaxed”. more