By Ursula Cats How many times have the people from Burma used the slogan: “Free Free Aung San Suu Kyi”? And now she is “really” free, the regime has released her, without constraints, from her fifteen years’ house arrest. In Burma people are very happy, but also around the world there is great relief. A young female student from Yangon told me today: “When Aung San Suu Kyi was released I cried. Before the future looked like a dark tunnel, but now there is a light. I think we all feel more alive again.” When I talk to the women I work with, their excitement is palpable. Aung San Suu Kyi spreads hope; she stands for unity among the people of Burma. She is seen as a strong leader who loves her people. Throughout the years her voice was silenced, but they’ve build their own ideas on the core stances of her visions. Many people are ready to work alongside Aung San Suu Kyi and are prepared to carry on, even if she would be cut off from her people again. This is in line with her wish: “I cannot do it alone. I think we all have to work together. We will have to find a way of helping each other” she said, while calling for the release of more than 2100 political prisoners still in jail (The Age, 15 November). The fact that so many political prisoners remain behind bars is one of the many reminders to the world that despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, the people in Burma are not really free.
Hence, although the step taken to release Aung San Suu Kyi is rightly celebrated, the dictatorial regime is still in charge. “It can be seen as distracting the outside world from the unfair elections that have just been held”. This is what Nang Ong (28 year old woman from Burma) tells me when we discuss Aung San Suu Kyi’s release on the phone. The regime’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won the elections. It is strongly believed that the party will not change its firm grip on the people and initiate democratic reforms in Burma. Already at Election Day, violence erupted along the Thai border. In and around the border town of Myawaddy 20.000 people had to flee to Thailand, because of severe fighting during which many houses were burned down. The clashes are believed to relate to measures taken to enforce a smooth election process. Armed forces stemming from different ethnic groups had to join the Burmese troops to guard the border under Burmese command. This has brought unrest across the militarized areas along the borders. It is also said that people were forced to vote for the regime’s party at gunpoint.
When I ask Ong what she thinks will happen with the country and Aun San Suu Kyi now, she says: “Aung San Suu Kyi cannot change things in our country in a short time, maybe over a long period. But I am afraid that she will be jailed again or that she will be killed in an attack. She has been released several times before and has often been threatened and once almost died. The regime just plays a game, they can free her whenever they like and lock her up again as easy as that”. The people of Burma are not free and so Aung San Suu Kyi is not really free either. No one knows what steps the regime will take next.
Let us therefore not forget about the circumstances that people live in both within Burma and in exile. Let us all think critically about how power systems around the world create inequality and exclusion. After this let’s take action together.
Aung San Suu Kyi is free in an unfree country.
Let’s pay tribute to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and let her and all the people of Burma know that the world stands with them in their struggle for democracy and respect for human rights.
There are still more than 2,200 political prisoners in Burma. The UN should work to facilitate negotiations between the dictatorship, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, and ethnic groups. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is not actively working to make this happen. Please sign this petition to get Ban Ki-moon to take action on Burma.
Follow the latest developments on The Irrawaddy.
Ursula Cats finished her Master’s degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology at VU University Amsterdam in June 2010. She now works for an NGO she set up in Chiang Mai, Thailand. See also her earlier post on standplaatswereld.