Friday, November 14, 2008

Where is Suu Kyi leading Burma?

The subject of Suu Kyi and Burma invites comparisons to the Dalai Lama and Tibet. Yet the case of the latter ought not be nearly as difficult as that of the former. Whereas Suu Kyi represented the majority of Burmese who elected her in 1990; the Dalai Lama speaks on behalf of a very tiny minority relative to the overall population of China. Yet, today, the followers of Suu Kyi seem to be in no less of a pickle than the Tibetans.

The plight of Burma was driven home only this week when the Burmese junta locked up dozens more activists -- including a blogger and a poet -- basically throwing away the keys.

Scott-Clark and Levy of The Guardian write that increasingly Burmese are asking if the opposition movement in Burma even has a leader today (as opposed to would-be martyr). And is she an effective leader? They write:
Suu Kyi is hallowed ground. And yet even some of her diehard supporters are now asking if the NLD and its leader have been guilty of political naivety and moral high-handedness, leaving the party and the democracy movement moribund.
The article concludes: "when it comes to leaders, some in the party are asking whether it is it time to move on from Aung San Suu Kyi."

I suspect any Burmese who only just began asking this question recently -- or still ask it -- are not terribly relevant to Burma's future direction. My own sense about this matter -- having spoken with various Burmese activists in the border regions one year ago -- is that serious strategic thinkers within the exile community had already moved on from any game of second-guessing Suu Kyi. Even by that time, events had rendered questions about Suu Kyi's leadership style largely irrelevant.

Nevertheless, Suu Kyi continues to serve Burmese as a vibrant symbol of a free and unified Burma -- very much as Queen Elizabeth is a figurehead for the UK and the Commonwealth. Having essentially consigned herself to this role, far from being seen as an obstacle, Suu Kyi is likley to continue to be regarded as an inspiration, a unifying force, and a blessing.

I am reminded of what one Burmese revolutionary told me almost exactly one year ago when I interviewed him at his hide-out in the border region:
We are all leaders. We don’t hope about leaders. We are all leaders. Whoever is doing are the leaders. They are the leaders of the future. We will find our own leaders in the fight, in the struggle. We will not hope for any leaders (to drop down) from the sky. We will find our own leaders in the fight.
They surely will.
Hat-tip New Mandala

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