When I was young, I can’t remember how young exactly, I watched the movie Beyond Rangoon with my parents. It’s a pretty typical American movie in that the protagonist is, of course, American. But I remember this one scene that used to give me chills; in fact, it still gives me chills. The protagonist stumbles upon a protest that centers around a woman I had never heard of before, Aung San Suu Kyi.
When I joined Culture War Reporters and started reading old Fame Day articles the very first person I thought of was her. The only problem was, when I started writing my article I realized that a lot of the references I had were dated. Heck, there was even a movie about her that came out last year that I didn’t even hear about (which isn’t really that surprising considering the amount of time I spend watching movies). I’ve included a trailer of the film below.
Yet despite putting this post aside for awhile I’ve constantly felt pulled back to this article because she may very well be the most inspiring woman I have yet to learn about. Let’s take a quick look at her story.
She was born in 1945. Her brother died of drowning and her father (who was a key actor in securing Myanmar’s independence from Great Britain) was assassinated while she was still a toddler. As an adult she went to university in England where she eventually met and married her husband, Michael Aris. Did I mention she volunteered in reading and companionship programs at the local hospital while doing her graduate studies? She then gave birth to her two children while living in Britain, but returned to Rangoon after her mother had a stroke in 1988.
1988 also happened to be the year that the Burma Socialist Programme Party, which was essentially a military regime, was challenged by peaceful protests. On August 8 hundreds of thousands of people marched to demand a change in government only to be massacred:
“These peaceful demonstrations were violently crushed by army troops who fired relentlessly on the unarmed crowds in Rangoon and other cities killing more than 10,000 student, civilian and Buddhist monk protesters throughout the country. Thousands were arrested.”
Later, “on August 10, soldiers deliberately fired on and killed doctors and nurses treating wounded civilians at Rangoon General Hospital.”
As you can see from the videos, Aung San Suu Kyi was not about to put up with any of that. On September 24th 1988 the National League for Democracy, was formed and Aung San Suu Kyi was appointed General Secretary. On August 26 she spoke out in defence of democracy at the Shwedagon Pagoda Monument in Rangoon to (an estimated) one million protesters. But choosing to stand up against the authoritarian regime would cost her many years of her life.
In 1990 the Burmese Dictatorship caved to international pressure and held an election. Despite banning Aung San Suu Kyi from running for the National League for Democracy, and detaining her, along with other members who were campaigning for the party, the NLD still won a staggering 82% of seats. The dictatorship, however, refused to recognize the results and hand over power.
Aung San Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest until 1995. When she was finally released she was restricted in her travel; while she was allowed to return to England to see her family she would not be allowed to return to Burma once she had left. Faced with the choice between her family and her country, Aung San Suu Kyi remained in Burma, even when her husband died of cancer in 1999. In 2000 she was placed under house arrest once again, the second term of what would eventually be more than 15 years in detention. After a few years of house arrest she would be released, but when she continually defied her travel restrictions in order to meet with her supporters she would be put under detention once again.
On November 13, 2010 she was finally released from detention. After years of attempting a peaceful entrance into Government, Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in the by-election on April 1, 2012. On July 25th 2012 she made her very first speech in parliament where she called for “laws to protect ethnic minority rights”.
After losing so much to fight for democracy in her country, Aung San Sui Kyi continues to work towards peace in Burma. While her fight has transitioned from the black and white world of a military dictatorship to the more nuanced complications of democratic politics she tirelessly works to bring good to her homeland. So here is to Aung San Suu Kyi, proof that even today there are people willing to make terrible sacrifices in order to fight against injustice.
She’s always been one of my heroines as well. What a model of courage and grace led by a relentless determination for justice. I’ll have to watch that film! Thanks for the update. (And happy marriage!)
Thanks Hannah! So far marriage is pretty great. Haha.