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What it takes
Aung San Aung San Suu Kyi's father was assassinated in 1947 when she was 2 years old. Burma was a British colony and General Aung San had signed an agreement which would lead to Burma's independence. He was assassinated along with six other members of his cabinet. Aung San Suu Kyi says that, although she barely knew her father, he remains a guiding force in her life:
"Politics is seen as a duty and as a destiny…You just have to follow that …If you're lucky enough to also have a personal life that is a bonus but you have a role that you have to play, because you have been born into a particular circumstance, into a particular family. That is not a western view but it is a view that many people have of themselves and of their functions in life .. If that is your fate and that is your role, it is a responsibility that is given to you. and you cannot just avoid it. I think that many people understand that it is your fate and it is your destiny and you have to follow it."
She then lived with her mother, Burma's Ambassador to India until going to Oxford University at the age of 19.
In Oxford, Aung San Suu Kyi married and had two children. She returned to Burma in 1988 to look after her dying mother. At the time of her arrival there was much political unrest and pro-democracy protests. Several thousand people were killed. In August Aung San Suu Kyi made her first speech in Rangoon to many thousands calling for peaceful change. At the time she talked to the BBC:
"There have been long processions marching into town very orderly, very disciplined and all calling for democracy it's really very exhilarating. I'm sure that all the same heads of government realise that this is a very united movement of people and that it would be very foolish if they were to try to crack down."
In September there was a military takeover and Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest. In 1990 the Generals who were now in charge called elections. Even though Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest, the National League for Democracy party won in eighty percent of the constituencies. The military dictatorship refused to step down and responded by arresting more than 200 MPs. Aung San Suu Kyi was to remain a prisoner in her own home for six years.
In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace prize - the Nobel Committee described her non-violent struggle for democracy in Burma as one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades. The Burmese military said that they would release her if she gave up politics and left the country. But she was not willing to do this and told her family in England that her destiny was with Burma. In 1995 she was freed from house arrest and told the BBC what the experience had been like:
"I was more angry than depressed.. I've had my low points but after some time I hardly had them any more. I think it was the first few years that were more difficult - before I'd adjusted.. After about 1990/91 I thought well Nelson Mandela took 27 years, I can do the same if necessary.."
Aung San Suu Kyi had spent time meditating, reading and listening to the radio whilst under house arrest. She thought it was critical to remain free in her own mind - her beliefs and principles untouched…
"I've never thought of myself as lonely and in fact I've often thought I'm quite free because I was free up there so I felt free. I always felt free because they have not been able to do anything to what really mattered - my mind, my principles, what I believed in they were not able to touch that - so I was free."
Aung San Suu Kyi has had to sacrifice her family life in order to follow her destiny. She left behind her husband and two children and her husband was only allowed to visit her for a very limited time while she was under house arrest. In 1995 she was asked whether, like Nelson Mandela, she had found the hardest thing about imprisonment was separation from her family:
"Exactly I felt same way about my sons, not so much about my husband - he was grown up he could take care of himself, he was a man. But my sons were very young, my youngest was only 12 when I was first put under house arrest and I felt that very deeply..."
In 1999 Michael Aris, Aung San Suu Kyi's husband, was very sick with cancer. The Burmese government encouraged her to visit him but she was faced with the dilemma that if she went, she might never be able to return. In March he died without having seen his wife.
"For me real freedom is freedom from fear and unless you can live free from fear you cannot live a dignified human life. It's not possible if you're always having to think what will somebody do to me if I say this, what will somebody do to my family if I do that, that's not the sort of life I want to live and that was not the sort of life I want my people to live. So yes it's the idea of real freedom which comes from inside and once you're free inside and once you feel that I can accept whatever happens to me so long as I'm working for something that is right, then I think you are free."
Haleh Afshar, Professor of Politics and Women's Studies at York University summarises the difficulties Aung San Suu Kyi has had to face:
"Very often politics makes impossible demands of women and frequently those demands mean choosing between your family and the cause you're fighting for. Men never have to make that choice… and sometimes as in this case the choice is an impossible one in the sense that the children if they stay with Aung San Aung San Suu Kyi will be actually in danger.. So there was no way that Aung San Aung San Suu Kyi could keep her children and her resistance, she actually had to accept the parting and that is extremely difficult and takes the kind of commitment and the kind of vision that very few women can allow themselves to have."
Aung San Suu Kyi's words are taken from interviews with the BBC over the last thirteen years. In 1995 even as she celebrated her release from house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi realised that she was still some way from achieving her goals:
"This is not yet the end, there's a long way to go and the way might be very, very hard so please stand by, don't think this is the end, don't think we're there home and dry we've got a long way to go yet"
In 2000 she remains Secretary General of the National League for Democracy in Burma, the focus of opposition to the government.
In early September 2000, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, was once again placed under house arrest in Rangoon after being forcibly returned to her home following a week-long roadside protest outside the capital.
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