Azja-Pacyfik

Aung San Suu Kyi Went Abroad (adden on: 2012-07-14)

The unprecedented thaw in Burma, now called Myanmar, is well on its way. It has taken the form of top-down revolution directed by the government in Naypyidaw and the driving force of this change seems to be the new president - Thein Sein, who was sworn in on March 30, 2011. In his addresses to the nation (nations) he drew a vision of a democratic and modernizing country open to the world. We do not need to add that this vision is contrary to the image of Myanmar we have seen so far: a xenophobic, closed-off dictatorship breaking all laws.

From the four speeches laying down Thein Sein's  vision (March 30 and August 17, 2011, March 30 and June 19, 2012) emerge not only a systemic framework of the future state, but, most of all, the great tasks and challenges it is going to face. Myanmar is not going to achieve the ambitious aims it set for itself unless two basic preconditions are met: some form of agreement between the government and the opposition is reached and reconciliation with numerous minorities, some of which (e.g. Kachin and Wa) still use violence and others (Mon, Karen) are far from complete reconciliation. Recently, worrisome signals have started to come from Rakhine, an area on the Myanmar-Bangladesh borderlands, and even from the biggest union country - Shan. Unfortunately, an eruption of ethnic riots (sometimes also religious - like the Rakhine Muslim ones), that Burma has been notorious for for the last decades, is still possible. Such riots may undermine the ambitious aims that the government set and which the opposition partially shares.

According to Thein Sein "political revolution" had already taken place, now it is time for the second phase of changes - "economic revolution" (that is: privatization and allowing foreign capital to enter the country on a great scale). Both assumptions are overoptimistic. Indeed, the April 1, 2012 Hluttaw (parliament) by-elections were won by the oppositional National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader, Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi became a member of the parliament. But true democratic elections are supposedly to be held no sooner than in 2015. It is hard to say what will happen until then.

The current state of affairs, as of mid 2012, is that Myanmar is being visited by throngs of politicians from the West and the East, from Asia, Europe and the USA. The latter are sending their first ambassador to Burma in 20 years and the EU opened its embassy in Rangoon at the end of April. The country is opening up rapidly.

The two foreign trips that Aung San Suu Kyi embarked on after 24-year-long pause (15 years of which she spent in house arrest), one to Thailand and the other to Europe where she visited 5 countries: Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Great Britain and France, undoubtedly became the symbol of this "new start."

In Thailand the leader of the NLD took part in the Asian Davos Forum in Bangkok and also met with the representatives of the estimated 1,5 million Burmese Diaspora. She also visited the biggest refugee camp on the Burma-Thailand border - Mae La (one of 9 such camps). She asked the Diaspora to return to the country and foreign investors for support for her devastated and regressed Motherland.

She repeated those appeals in Europe in such distinguished circles as the Nobel Committee in Oslo (where she gave an acceptance speech 21 years after she was awarded the prize) or in front of two houses of the British parliament in Westminster Hall, which had been a privilege reserved for the heads of state (and men only until now).

As suits for icon of democracy and fight for human rights, she emphasized "national reconciliation" a return to the rule of law and democratic principles. At the same time she also emphasized (and warned) that the “country has just entered the road of change”, that nothing is definitely set, that, in other words, the government may retreat from the current reforms. That is why she sought support, understanding and involvement - political and economic. Without them the revolution that we have been witnessing in the past few months in Myanmar can be halted, unfinished. This is because, what Aung San Suu Kyi did not say but is clear nonetheless, the transition from totalitarianism, autocracy and autarky to a market economy open to the world has never been easy or free from conflicts. So there is a long and bumpy road ahead of the government and the NLD opposition.

But we can already talk about a Copernican revolution. Why? Just one example to prove this assertion. In 1999, when Aung San Suu Kyi's husband Michael Aris has passed away while she was under house arrest, she decided not to leave the country out of fear that she would never be allowed to return. And now not only did she leave and return but she also met with heads of state and with most distinguished bodies to fight on behalf of her, until now, so unfortunate country. Can we see a light at the end of the tunnel of Burma's/Myanmar's history? There is hope. Whether it comes to fruition depends on the government and the opposition in Burma, as well as on us.

Redakcja: azjapacyfik@swps.edu.pl. Wykonanie strony: Stanisław Meyer, stan.meyer@uj.edu.pl.