Did Aung San Suu Kyi Ever Go Outside?

(I wasn’t sure whether to post this on my regular blogroll, or under “Ruminations” – it runs the emotional gamut. I guess I’ll just file it under both.)

Last night, I went to an event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT). My jet-setting friends/gurus Eli and Therese have tried to persuade me to accompany them to club events several times, and I finally caved. My post-thesis world news hiatus needs to end, and this seemed like as good a place as any to start. The event was a screening of the film “Aung San Suu Kyi: The Choice” a BBC documentary about the confinement of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese political hero, followed by a question period with the filmmakers.

The room was full of hardened reporters.

Yaarrr. These peeps know The News.

We tried to fit in by looking suitably profound.

The Gurus doing a pretty good job of it.

Southern Belle Jacqueline and I struggled.

The film was a moving portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi. While I was aware of the basic details of her imprisonment (20 years of house arrest in Burma), I wasn’t aware that she had a family in the UK, or that the Myanmar junta would have allowed her to go to the UK (but not return to Burma afterwards). The film, while subtle, explored the choice that she made: to remain in Burma while in the UK, her sons were growing up and her husband was dying of cancer. It raised many more questions than it answered. I’m not sure that there’s any point in speculating as to whether she made the “right” choice or not, but the story did give a fuller picture of the sacrifices that she made, both for herself and on behalf of her family. While it was sad to learn that her husband died of cancer while she chose to remain in prison, it was a choice that they made together. It was far sadder to watch the intimate portrait of her sons, and to see how damaged they were by their parents’ choices. It is interesting to draw a parallel between Suu Kyi’s story and that of Benazir Bhutto. There are many similarities, but Bhutto eventually chose exile rather than house arrest. I wonder what would have happened in Burma if Suu Kyi had made a similar choice.

http://imaginepeace.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/aung_san_suu_kyi.jpg

After the film, there was a question period with the filmmakers.

Filmmaker Marc Eberle in the foreground.

It brought me back to the halcyon days of academic conferences, where the questioners always seemed more eager to display their immense knowledge of a topic rather than to ask genuine questions. In this case, however, it was less “let me show you how smart I am,” and more “let me show you how intimately acquainted I am with this particular political prisoner.” The question period went something like this:

Filmmaker: “Interestingly enough, during her house arrest, Suu Kyi rarely went outside. She would only go into the garden for photo shoots.”

Questioner: “Well, I remember when I visited her in 1988, she loved to feed the rooks in the garden using a small handful of bread, blahblahblah, so you see, she DID like to go outside.”

It was a bit disappointing, particularly after the film offered so much real food for thought. After 30 minutes or so of this, we attempted to discreetly sneak out, but you can only be so discreet when you’re sitting in the front row. Oops.

Even though I could have done without the question-period posturing, I did appreciate the film, and it gave me some real food for thought. I’m slowly emerging from world news hibernation.

4 thoughts on “Did Aung San Suu Kyi Ever Go Outside?

    • It was really interesting to get a snapshot of her personal/family life, especially as the film tried to remain unbiased about the choice that she made, and left it to viewers to draw their own conclusions.

  1. David, it is simply wrong to suggset that EU sanctions worked in Burma. The EU and US imposed sanctions on Burma for the best part of two decades. The only discernable outcomes were to impoverish to Burmese people, and to drive the country into the arms of China. Yes, they irritated the military regime, but, without the support of the front-line states, they were never more than an irritation. The constitutional change in Burma which is very welcome was always part of the regime’s game-plan, and they delivered it precisely according to their timetable. I hope that events will now take on their own momentum and we will see further reform. The EU decision to lift sanctions is a good move which may encourage reform. But that does not mean the sanctions themselves were good policy. A few years ago, a House of Lord committee asked the Government to carry out an assessment of the effects of sanctions on Burma. The Goverment refused. Surely now is the time to conduct such a review. Let’s see what an examination of the evidence shows, before you claim that sanctions worked.

What do you think? I dig discussion!

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