Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, Addresses the Clinton Global Initiative in New York today, live via satellite from Yangon. CREDIT: CGI
(HN, September 21, 2011) - Two of the world's famous freedom fighters sat face-to-face this morning in New York City - or as was as close as possible under the circumstances.
Live on stage in New York, in front of a packed plenary on the second day of the Clinton Global Summit, was Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
A world away, via satellite and sitting comfortably in her home on the banks of Inya Lake in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) was the renowned opposition leader in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Aung San Suu Kyi.
The fact that technology could link these two Nobel Peace Prize winners is, in these times, unremarkable. What was astonishing was that the Burmese military regime allowed Suu Kyi's conversation to take place, uncensored.
It's not clear what type of diplomatic handywork or meaneuvering went on behind closed doors by former US President Clinton, the host of the meeting, to get the Burmese generals to agree to the broadcast. But for a man who has rescued stranded celebrity journalists from North Korea, and has accomplished other seemingly impossible feats, this may have been received as just another challenge.
The broadcast was billed as Suu Kyi's first live conversation since her release in 2009.
Little wonder the atmosphere in the hall was nothing less than euphoric. Tutu, who made no secret of his admiration for his colleague a world away, appeared smitten and almost child-like at her elegant and articulate responses.
It was a rare site.
As moderator Charlie Rose pointed out more than once, audience members were witness to “something going on here, mutual admiration society and more”.
But the humorous banter did not hide the seriousness of the issue at hand. At issues was the struggle for freedom of a nation, a topic which very few around the world seem to know very little about.
Despite her long and painful incarceration, Suu Kyi sounded very optimistic about Myanmar’s future, especially that of its youth. She was confident of the possibility of change, citing that when she was freed in 2009, there were many, many more youth out to greet her than at any of the previous times, she had seen. “That showed me that some change was going on within the people”, she said.
To Suu Kyi, awareness of the situation for the Myanmar people, and for the whole world, was one of the most important elements of bringing change. “If the world wants to help Burma, the world needs to know what is going on in Burma”, she said. “ We would like the world to keep an eye on what is happening here”.
Responding to a question on whether neighbours, India and China. can do more to help the political situation in Myanmar, Suu Kyi was adamant that people must first listen to the voices of ordinary Burmese, to what the people want. Then they can help Burma.
“We have always been good neighbors, but times have changed and to continue to be good neighbors certain policies will have to change”, she said.
Unfortunately, Myanmar is still far away from uprisings like the Arab Spring. In answering Rose’s question about the use of social media, Suu Kyi pointed out that Myanmar has no where near the media access that participants in the Arab Spring had. Young people in Myanmar need to be better prepared to face the modern world starting with education.
“I could never have been speaking to you like this seven years ago”, she said. Not letting fear sap her energy all these years, Suu Kyi has remained a controlled and passionate fighter for the cause. A fighter, that fellow fighter Tutu, looks forward to seeing inaugurated as head of the government, when he visits Myanmar in the future.
When you stand out in a crowd it is only because you are standing on the shoulders of others," said Tutu.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chairman of The Elders, could hardly hide his excitement sharing the stage today with Aung San Suu Kyi. CREDIT: CGI