“They Call It Myanmar”

Roger Ebert quips, “The British Renamed it Burma.” It’s a new documentary secretly filmed by Robert Lieberman over two years in the country isolated by a repressive regime.

Big changes happening in Burma

Monks protest in Burma, 2007

The pace of events in Burma is absolutely astonishing, given the historic intransigence of the regime there. The country’s been run into the ground, impervious to international isolation, yet at last big changes are happening. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited the country in December. The government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Karen National Union, one of the armed ethnic rebel groups. Senator Mitch McConnell, who has long taken a special interest, just returned from a trip to Burma and is said to have had an emotional meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi. Parliamentary elections will be held in April, and Suu Kyi will be allowed to participate. And the US last week awarded the Burmese probably the biggest carrot offered so far for good behavior–normalized relations between our two countries.

What brought this on? Possibly the election of new president Thein Sein last April. Here’s the first interview with him by a foreign journalist.

The Lady: New film dramatizes life of Burma’s Daw Suu

I’m pleased to hear that The Lady, a new biopic by Luc Besson about cool hero Aung San Su Kyi, is making the rounds of film festivals and cities in limited release. Shambala Sun has a review here.

Burma may be among the world’s most repressive regimes, but it has almost always flown under the radar of American consciousness. The “Saffron Revolution” of 2007, when monks joined anti-government protests, is a notable exception. Southeast Asia isn’t the hotspot that the Mideast is, and drawing neighboring China into conflict over Burma’s natural resources isn’t a strategy that the US can afford. Besides, Western nations have generally “done the right thing” by isolating Burma for its leaders’ appalling treatment of its people.

Aung San Suu Kyi, often called The Lady, stands out among leaders of conscience for the extent of her personal sacrifice and practice of non-aggression. She isn’t the household name that some Nobel Peace Prize winners are, since she has been under house arrest for 15 of the last 22 years and is unable to leave the country to promote its cause. Although she was released from house arrest last year and just this month met with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, there’s no way of knowing if the party she presides over, the National League for Democracy, will ever take control.

A dramatization of ASSK’s inspiring life story is some ways overdue. Yet with some signs of change there, this film is very timely and build of foundation of familiarity with Burma’s situation that will prove beneficial, whenever a critical moment arises.

Update: The US release of the film is scheduled for February 17, 2012.

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Cool Hero of the Day: Aung San Suu Kyi – Cool Revolution

Cool Hero of the Day: Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition party in Burma, received U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her home in Rangoon on December 1 and 2. Some concessions by the brutal Burmese regime–a release of political prisoners and more tolerance for free speech and assembly–may have prompted Clinton’s visit, the first by a Secretary of State in 50 years. “The U.S. wants to a be a partner with Burma as we work with you toward democratization,” she said.

Suu Kyi was released from house arrest a year ago following elections widely regarded as rigged in favor of the ruling regime.

For years Suu Kyi has advocated the policy of isolation and sanctions against Burma which Western nations have adopted. With this new U.S. overture, she seems cautiously open to changing that stance. “If we move forward together I am confident there will be no turning back on the road to democracy,” she said. “We are not on that road yet, but we hope to get there as soon as possible with the help and understanding of our friends.”

Suu Kyi has every reason to be cautious when it comes to the ruling generals’ intentions. Raised mostly abroad after the assassination of her father, General Aung San, she returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother. The visit coincided with the student uprising referred to as 8-8-88 for its remarkable date. The brutal crackdown on the students moved her to stay in Burma and devote herself to the cause of Burma’s liberation from military dictatorship. Her political party, the National League for Democracy, won elections by a landslide in 1990, in spite of the regime’s interference. The generals have tried to mitigate her influence ever since.

She hasn’t been able to leave Burma for fear of not being able to return. She never saw her husband again; he died of cancer in 1999. She last saw her two children in 2000. She spent years under house arrest, with short releases, only to be confined again under trumped-up charges.

She has been inspired by the nonviolent campaigns of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to achieve democratic freedoms for the Burmese people. Like Gandhi, she has dampened conflict between feuding ethnic groups. Her Buddhist beliefs strongly influence her worldview:

I am a believing Buddhist, so I am sure the teachings of Buddhism do affect the way I think. But more than that, I would state that when I started out in politics, in this movement for democracy, I always started out with the idea that this should be a process that would bring greater happiness, greater harmony and greater peace to our nation. And this cannot be done if you are going to be bound by anger and by desire for revenge.

She began practicing meditation regularly under house arrest:

I don’t know if [meditation] has been a process of self-discovery as much as one of spiritual strengthening…. But meditation has helped to strengthen me spiritually in order to follow the right path. Also, for me, meditation is part of a way of life because what you do when you meditate is to learn to control your mind through developing awareness. This awareness carries on into everyday life. For me, that’s one of the most practical benefits of meditation—my sense of awareness has become heightened. I’m now much less inclined to do things carelessly and unconsciously.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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