Three Cheers for the Lady

November 14, 2010

Almost everyone’s got something to say about the release today from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi including David Cameron, U2 and me.

I’ve been to this checkpoint just down the road from Aung San Suu Kyi’s house a few times. But the first time I was in Yangon / Rangoon in 1995 the checkpoint was not there because The Lady was ‘enjoying’ one of her brief spells of relative (but very limited) freedom and on a Sunday afternoon in December we took a taxi from Schwedagon Pagoda and wandered up the street to join a crowd of a couple of thousand in the street outside her house.   Aung San Suu Kyi appeared as she has done today at her front gate (though on a higher step, more of her was visible) and spoke to those assembled to hear her, with obvious humour and charm.

Squatting beside the road I met a man who explained that his shaking was a result of vitamin deficiencies endured during his time in prison. He pointed at the (not so) secret policeman taking photographs of all present and said that he feared the government not one jot.  He knew already the worst that they could do to him and he believed that if they came for him again he would endure again or die trying. He was absolutely confident that however long it took there would come a day when the Burmese people would be free.

That day is not today.

Today Aung San Suu Kyi is not free.  She’s just less captive.

The 2000 political prisoners still locked up remain as captive as ever.

For the ordinary Burmese people, excited as they may be by the events of today, their pre-occupation will remain the challenge of their daily lives; the release of Aung San Suu Kyi does nothing about the rising price of rice or of a bus ride. It does nothing about the intermittent electricity supply, nothing about the limited healthcare and education, nothing about the lack of opportunity to make the most of your talents.

It’s unlikely, but something very extraordinary and unexpected could happen in the next few hours or days; Aung San Suu Kyi is someone very extraordinary. If she has it in her to take to the streets and can have the impact she had in 1988 anything might be possible. But it will take a hell of a lot to shift the (now elected, haha) China-backed military government and I wouldn’t hold your breath.

I’m hoping that people don’t see today’s great news, as a problem solved and that there’s nothing more to do, because this is not a Mandela moment, this is not a short walk to freedom.  There’s a long way further still to go.

Bono knows that.

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