Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, freed by the junta from house arrest just 10 days ago, was reunited with her younger son on Tuesday after a decade-long separation during which he was repeatedly denied visas and not allowed to enter the country.
Aung San Suu Kyi reunited with her son
Kim Aris, 33, who lives in Britain, was met by his 65-year-old mother at Yangon airport after flying in from Bangkok. Tears welled up in Suu Kyi’s eyes when she first saw her son.
“I’m very glad and I’m very happy,” Suu Kyi told reporters who witnessed the reunion along with some of the dissident’s relatives, well-wishers and a gaggle of photographers.
On greeting his smiling and excited mother, Aris immediately took off his outer shirt before airport security and the public to reveal a tattoo of the flag and symbol of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy. Suu Kyi looked at it closely and smiled. The flag and symbol feature a fighting peacock and a star.
Suu Kyi slipped her arm around her son’s waist as the two posed briefly for photographers. With his mother’s arm around him, Aris told reporters he would stay in the country for about two weeks. They then left holding hands for the family’s lakeside home, where Suu Kyi had been confined by the ruling generals.
Aris arrived in the Thai capital ahead of his mother’s release but faced a prolonged wait for a visa to military-ruled Myanmar, where Suu Kyi spent much of the past 21 years locked up.
Under house arrest, the democracy champion had no telephone or Internet access and only limited contact with the outside world. It has been about 10 years since she last saw Aris or her elder son, Alexander.
The daughter of Myanmar’s assassinated independence hero General Aung San was released less than a week after the first election in 20 years, dismissed by many as a sham for cementing the military regime’s grip on power.
When her freedom was granted, crowds of jubilant supporters gathered outside her home to glimpse the charismatic activist, seen by many as the best hope for democratic change after almost five decades of army rule.
Suu Kyi’s long struggle for democracy has come at great personal sacrifice. Tuesday’s reunion underlined the personal toll of the political campaign Suu Kyi has waged during the past two decades. During that period she was detained for 15 years and only rarely allowed visitors or communication with the outside world.
She has always been free to leave Myanmar, according to her lawyers, but chose to stay because she was afraid she would be denied re-entry.
In 1991, her eldest son, Alexander Aris, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of his mother. Her late husband, Michael Aris, raised their two children in Britain. He died in 1999 at age 53, and in the final stages of his battle with prostate cancer the military junta refused him a visa to see his wife. Suu Kyi has never met her two grandchildren.
While her family supported her, she said her sons had suffered particularly badly.
“They haven’t done very well after the breakup of the family, especially after their father died, because Michael was a very good father,” she said. “Once he was no longer there, things were not as easy as they might have been.”
But she added that she always had their support: “My sons are very good to me,” she said. “They’ve been very kind and understanding all along.”
Through her lawyer Nyan Win, Suu Kyi thanked the authorities for issuing the visa to her son.
For my earlier post on the release of Suu Kyi, please go here.
Suu Kyi’s reunion with her son Kim Aris stirs up a nostalgic evocation of the Paul Simon’s song ‘Mother And Child Reunion.” So sit back and enjoy this wonderful song by Paul Simon.
Small but only in physical stature, Aung San Suu Kyi is the very embodiment of Myanmar’s long struggle for democracy. Her long struggle for democracy and freedom from repression and her immense personal sacrifices have earned her the adoration of the Burmese people and the respect of people worldwide. Apart from celebrities, I believe that she would probably be the most admired woman in the world.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Waving and smiling, the petite but indomitable Nobel Peace Prize winner walked free yesterday from the crumbling lakeside mansion where she had been held under house arrest by the military junta for 15 of the past 21 years.
As she emerged from the house, huge cheers and clapping erupted from the huge crowds of thousands of people who had gathered outside her house under the tropical sun for a glimpse of the 65-year-old dissident, known to her supporters simply as “The Lady”. Someone threw her a flower which she put in her hair.
Aung San Suu Kyi given a bouquet of flowers
Despite the risks of opposing the military regime in a country with more than 2,200 political prisoners, many supporters wore T-shirts bearing her image and the words: “We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi.” Undercover police were photographing and filming the crowds.
Although she has been sidelined and silenced by the junta – occasionally released briefly only to be put back in confinement – for many in the impoverished nation she still embodies hope of a better future.
The 65-year-old human rights activist has defied Myanmar’s authoritarian military junta with her quiet demeanor and grace. For that she has endured house arrest for most of the past two decades and, perhaps, has become the world’s most recognizable political prisoner.
She has lived quietly by herself at her disintegrating Inya Lake villa in Yangon (the former capital, also known as Rangoon), accompanied solely by two maids.
The lakesisde house at Tonpn, Burma where Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest
Before her release Saturday, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate has had little outside human contact except for visits from her doctor.
Sometimes, though, she has been able to speak over the wall of her compound to her supporters, never once giving up her crusade to break down the tyranny of dictatorship in her beloved homeland of Burma, the alternate name for Myanmar.
Suu Kyi with her sons Alexander,left, and Kim in the early 1990s
Known as the “lady” in Myanmar, Suu Kyi has been compared to former South African President Nelson Mandela, who spent a chunk of his life in jail for fighting apartheid.
In an interview with CNN, Suu Kyi, in fact, likened Myanmar’s plight to South Africa’s former brutal race-based system.
“It’s a form of apartheid,” she said. “In Africa, it was apartheid based on color. Here, it is apartheid based on ideas. It is as though those who want democracy are somehow of an alien inferior breed and this is not so.”
Aung San Suu Kyi derives her name from three relatives – “Aung San” from her father, “,Suu” from her grandmother and “Kyi” from her mother. She is frequently called Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Daw is not part of her name, but is an honorific, similar to madam, for older, revered women, literally meaning “aunt”. She is also often referred to as Daw Suu by the Burmese, and as Dr. Suu Kyi, Ms. Suu Kyi, or Mrs. Suu Kyi by the foreign media. However, like other Burmese, she has no surname.
Photo of a very young Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi was born on 19 June 1945 in Yangon. She is the third child and only daughter of General Aung San, considered to be father of modern-day Burma for his role in establishing the modern Burmese army and negotiating Burma’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. He was assassinated by his rivals in the same year.
Suu Kyi grew up with her mother, Khin Kyi, and two brothers, Aung San Lin and Aung San Oo in Rangoon. Her favourite brother Aung San Lin died at age eight, when he drowned in an ornamental lake in the grounds of the house. Her elder brother emigrated to San Diego, California, becoming a United States citizen. After Lin’s death, the family moved to a house by Inya Lake where she met people of very different backgrounds, political views and religions.
Aung San Suu Kyi aged two, with her parents and two elder brothers in 1947.
Suu Kyi was educated in Methodist English High School (now Basic Education High School No. 1 Dagon) for much of her childhood in Burma, where she was noted as having a talent for learning languages. She is a Theravada Buddhist.
Suu Kyi’s mother, Daw Khin Kyi, gained prominence as a political figure in the newly formed Burmese government. She was appointed Burmese ambassador to India and Nepal in 1960, and Suu Kyi followed her there, graduating from Lady Shri Ram College with a degree in politics in New Delhi in 1964.
Suu Kyi continued her education at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, obtaining a B.A. degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics in 1969. After graduating, she lived in New York City with a family friend and worked at the United Nations for three years, primarily on budget matters, writing daily to her future husband Dr. Michael Aris.
Suu Kyi & Michael Aris
In 1972, Aung San Suu Kyi married Aris, a scholar of Tibetan culture, living abroad in Bhutan. The following year she gave birth to their first son, Alexander Aris, in London; their second son, Kim, was born in 1977. Following this, she earned a Ph.D. at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 1985. She was elected an Honorary Fellow in 1990. For two years she was a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS) in Shimla, India. She also worked for the government of the Union of Burma.
Suu Kyi's wedding
Wedding reception after a Buddhist blessing at a family friend's London home
Suu Kyi plays with her two sons, Alexander (in the braces) and Kim
A family picnic in Grantown-on-Spey. Aung San Suu Kyi with her husband (with the beard) and two sons Alexander and Kim.
She never sought political office. Rather, leadership was bestowed upon her when she returned home in 1988 after her mother suffered a stroke. By coincidence, in the same year, the long-time leader of the Socialist ruling party, General Ne Win, stepped down, leading to mass demonstrations for democracy on 8 August 1988 (8-8-88, a day seen as auspicious), which were violently suppressed in what came to be known as the 8888 Uprising.
Aung San Suu Kyi with her hushnad, her mother and her son Alexander
Suu Kyi and her son Alexander
Influenced by both Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and by more specifically Buddhist concepts, Suu Kyi entered politics to work for democratization. On 26 August 1988, she addressed half a million people at a mass rally in front of the Shwedagon Pagoda in the capital, calling for a democratic government.
Suu Kyi speaking to her supporters
In her first public speech, she stood before a crowd of several hundred thousand people with her husband, Michael Aris, and her two sons and called for a democratic government.
“The present crisis is the concern of the entire nation,” she said. “I could not, as my father’s daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on. This national crisis could, in fact, be called the second struggle for independence.”
She won over the Burmese people.
However in September, a new military junta took power. Later the same month, Suu Kyi helped found the National League for Democracy (NLD) on 27 September with her as general secretary.
When Suu Kyi’s mother died the next year, Suu Kyi vowed that just as her parents had served the people of Burma, so, too, would she. One of her most famous speeches is the “Freedom From Fear” speech, which begins, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
She also believes fear spurs many world leaders to lose sight of their purpose. “Government leaders are amazing”, she once said. “So often it seems they are the last to know what the people want.”
She was put under house arrest on 20 July 1989. She was offered freedom if she left the country, but she refused. But even with Suu Kyi sitting behind bars, her National League for Democracy won the 1990 elections by a landslide, gaining 82 percent of the seats in parliament. Being the NLD’s candidate, Suu Kyi under normal circumstances would have assumed the office of Prime Minister. Instead, the results were nullified, and the military regime under Senior General Than Shwe refused to hand over power, prompting an international outcry. Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest at her home on University Avenue in Rangoon.
During her arrest, she was awarded the Rafto Prize and Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990, and the Nobel Peace Prize the year after. Her sons Alexander and Kim accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf. Suu Kyi used the Nobel Peace Prize’s $1.3 million prize money to establish a health and education trust for the Burmese people. In 1992 she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding by the Government of India.
Suu Kyi's husband Michael Aris with their sons Alexander and Kim at the Nobel Prize ceremony
This is a short video clip of the Nobel Prize ceremony :
Over the years, Suu Kyi has repeatedly challenged the junta and discouraged foreign investment in Myanmar.
In one incident in 1998, soldiers prevented her from leaving Yangon. But Suu Kyi refused to turn back and was detained in her minivan for almost two weeks. The ordeal left her severely dehydrated, but was typical of her almost stubborn determination.
“She is the symbol of the hope for the people of Burma. If she is out today the whole country will rise up, will follow her,” said Khin Omar of the Network for Democracy and Development.
Over the years, Suu Kyi has made it clear that she remains devoted to bringing democracy to Myanmar. Her struggle for her country has come at a high personal sacrifice: her husband, British academic Michael Aris, died in March 1999, and in the final stages of his battle with prostate cancer the junta refused him a visa to see his wife whom he had last seen in 1995. Instead, the junta encouraged Suu Kyi to join her family abroad. But she said she knew that if she left, she would never be allowed to return. She has not seen her two sons since 2000 and has never met her grandchildren.
Even before they were married, Suu Kyi had penned a letter to Aris professing her love of country. “I only ask one thing,” she wrote, “that should my people need me, you would help me to do my duty by them.”
Suu Kyi tried to break the monotony of her life by playing her piano, another passion in her life, according to the independent Irrawaddy magazine. But the piano has been broken for years and she has taken up painting to fill the void, the magazine reported. One day, maybe, people will see her canvases.
Suu Kyi has also asked her lawyers to bring her books in English and French. Last year, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was allowed to present her with his book “Globalization and Its Discontent.”
Again in 2007, people defiantly took to the streets to protest rising fuel costs. The demonstrations were seen as a direct challenge to the authority of the government.
The regime answered with a brutal crackdown. Suu Kyi’s detention was extended again and again.
Even when Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar in May 2008, Suu Kyi was not allowed to leave her house, though trees were crashing down all around her.
Her sentence was extended last year over a bizarre incident in which an American , John Yettaw, swam uninvited to her lakeside home using improvised flippers. Yettaw said he had received a message from God to do so. He was arrested, and Suu Kyi was put on trial, charged with harboring Yettaw, and was punished with another 18 months of house arrest, keeping her off the scene for the first election in 20 years.
During the trial, she was able to meet with diplomats. High on her agenda was the election that was held this week. She and her party boycotted the vote, certain that it would be a sham.
The junta has organized national conventions to debate their version of a new democratic Myanmar. The road map makes no mention of Suu Kyi.
Some fear that junta chief Than Shwe will continue to put restrictions on the freedom of his number one enemy.
General Than Shwe
But her lawyer Nyan Win has suggested she would refuse to accept any conditions on her release, as in the past when she tried in vain to leave Yangon in defiance of the regime’s orders.
Her youngest son Kim Aris, 33, arrived in Bangkok ahead of her release but it was unclear whether he would be allowed to visit his mother.
Suu Kyi’s freedom is seen by observers as an effort by the regime to tame international criticism of Sunday’s election, the first since the 1990 vote.
Little is known about her plans although her lawyer says she has expressed a desire to join Twitter to reach out to the Internet generation.
Few expect her to give up her long struggle for freedom from repression and attention is now on whether she can reunite the splintered opposition and bring about the democratic change that has eluded Myanmar for so long. She has clung to her dream of democracy, peace and freedom for Myanmar’s 50 million impoverished people.
Against all odds, Suu Kyi has held fast to her convictions. And with enormous personal sacrifices, she passionately pursues her dreams of a democratic Myanmar. I believe that one day Suu Kyi will be touted as the Mother of Myanmar.
Suu Kyi, you deserve the salute of the whole world!