Aung San Suu Kyi (1945- ) is the leader of the movement for democracy in Burma. Her name sounds like “Owng Sahn Soo Chee”. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
In 2007, as I write this, she is under house arrest. She has been in prison or under house arrest for 11 of the past 18 years. Even when she was free in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the government still watched her closely and would not let her leave Rangoon. They would not even let her husband into Burma so he could see her one last time before he died of cancer.
The generals that run Burma will not kill her outright: her father, Aung San, is a hero to the whole country, even to the generals. In the 1940s he fought to free Burma from British and Japanese rule. He was murdered before he could become prime minister. Suu Kyi was two years old at the time.
Like her father, her courage is bottomless. Once she walked right up to a line of soldiers who all had their guns pointed at her ready to shoot.
To her the root of Burma’s troubles is not one of power and violence. They are just side effects of the deeper issue: courage and fear. Because the generals fear the people, they are violent. Because the people fear the generals they do not stand up to them strongly enough to overthrow them.
Her Buddhist faith makes up the heart of her thought, but she has also taken on Western ideas about human rights and democracy and Gandhi’s ideas about bringing change without violence.
Most of her early life was lived quietly abroad: her mother was an ambassador for Burma. Later she went to Oxford University (St Hugh’s) and then married Michael Aris, an English scholar, an expert on Tibet. They had two children.
She raised their family and continued her studies, studying the history of Burma, especially the life of her father.
They had a quiet life in England, but she warned her husband that one day she would have to return to Burma. That day came in 1988 when her mother became very sick. Suu Kyi went back to Burma to care for her.
While she was there huge protests sprang up against the government. The generals sent out their soldiers and killed thousands. She knew what she had to do.
She sent an open letter to the government, demanding a move towards free elections. She spoke at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon to hundreds of thousands. She crossed the country speaking for democracy. She became the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
The generals put her and other NLD leaders in prison and let the elections go ahead in 1990. But even with their leaders in prison, the NLD still won a huge victory. The generals never let them take power.
The generals still rule Burma to this day, but her story is not yet over.