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Daw Suu's Letter from Burma #3

Mainichi Daily News, Monday, April 7, 1997


Letter from Burma (No. 3) By Aung San Suu Kyi

	Summer in Burma is the months of March and April, when the temperature
creeps up steadily, sapping strength and snapping tempers.  The air is
redolent with the scent of jasmines and mango trees begin to put forth tiny
green fruit, hard and sour, best eaten with a dip of salty fish sauce and
hot powdered chillies.  Summer is also the time when we start preparing for
our New Year which takes place in mid-April and those who believe in
astrology, which is to say the majority of the Burmese people, study
predictions for the coming 12 months.
	Last year, I wrote of the way in which the authorities took steps to
prevent the National League for Democracy (NLD) from carrying out Buddhist
ceremonies in accordance with our New Year traditions.  The result was that
a ceremony for paying respect to elders planned by members of our party had
to take place in the middle of the street near a cross roads.  Writing of
this episode I concluded that "it seemed like an omen that the NLD would not
lack public attention during the coming year."  Looking back, this remark
seems remarkably prophetic, a prediction that would do any astrologer
credit.  Over the past year we have received an inordinate amount of
attention from the authorities as well as from the media and the public.
	Hardly a day goes by without an article or two in the state-controlled
newspapers vilifying me or other leaders of the NLD or the supposed
activities of the party.  Every time there is a sign of public unrest or
opposition to the military government, or a controversial incident, or an
undesirable situation of any kind, it is promptly attributed by the
authorities to the NLD.  Rising prices, student demonstrations, a bomb going
off in the inner sanctum of a sacred relic, communal conflict, even an
attack on NLD leaders by hooligans obviously operating in collaboration with
official security forces, the authorities do not hesitate to point an
insinuating finger at our party.  The government either has an extremely
high regard for our abilities or has ceased to be concerned with the truth
in its obsessive desire to attack the democratic opposition.
	Summer in Burma is not a gentle season of balmy breezes and soft sunshine.
It is a harsh season when the heat beats down on a drained and desiccated
land.  It is also a season for riots and revolutions, perhaps because
people's tolerance wears thin when the temperature starts to soar.
	And this makes it the season for focusing on the NLD.
	The most significant events this summer so far have taken place in
Mandalay.  Burma is a land of rumor.  A country where there is no freedom of
expression becomes a land of rumor, a society where the merest wisp of what
appears to be news of national importance is grasped with desperation by a
people starved of information.  Sometimes there is little substance to the
whispered stories and the tea shop talk that spread around town as quickly
as one acquaintance can catch the eye and capture the ear of another.  But
sometimes there is solid fact behind what at first appears to be just a
piece of frothy gossip.
	The first intimation that something was amiss in the last bastion of the
Burmese monarchy came when rumors of strange happenings at the Mahamyatmuni
Shrine began to trickle down to Rangoon.  It was said that the breast of the
sacred image had been riven in two.   While people were still debating on
such a possibility and the implications of so distressing an omen, word came
out that the monks of Mandalay were making an enquiry into a large crack --
some said a gaping hole -- that had appeared in the thick gold with which
devotees had encrusted the image over the centuries.  Fast on the heels of
the news about the enquiry we heard that monks in Mandalay had ransacked
mosques because a Buddhist girl was assaulted by a Muslim man.
	Traditionally, Buddhists and Muslims in Mandalay have maintained harmonious
relations and this sudden eruption of hostilities was a surprise to many.
But it was no surprise when we heard there had been attempts by the
authorities to place the communal tensions at the door of the NLD.
According to an official Information Sheet, "it is very much regretful to
learn that some elements who are bent on creating unrest in the country
exploited the situation and managed to agitate some of the Buddhist
religious communities in Mandalay to attack Muslim communities and some
mosques.  On the surface, it seems like a religious clash but it is actually
very much politically motivated."  I quite agree that the communal conflicts
were probably orchestrated by those with political motives of some kind but
I can say with absolute confidence and a clean conscience that the NLD has
nothing to do with dirty politics of that ilk.
	Although generally referred to as "the opposition," the NLD is the party
that has received the mandate of the people of Burma through free and fair
elections, and we have a status to uphold as well as a responsibility to
resist injustice and tyranny and all moves aimed at obstructing a strong
united democratic movement.
	Summer is a season when the spirit of resistance seems to revive in the
full glare of the sun.  Resistance ... a term evocative of grit and
determination, risk and sacrifice.  Every society which has felt the rough
yoke of injustice will understand the need to cultivate that part of human
nature that refused to accept meekly whatever oppressors and fate might
decide to dole out.
	27 March 1945 was the day when Burma rose up in resistance against fascist
military rule.  This year once again we celebrated the spirit of justified
resistance by recalling the events of more than half a century ago when the
people of our country decided unitedly that it was time to put an end of a
cruel, unjust system.  Among the members of the NLD today, there are
veterans of the independence movement, people who entered politics as young
students demonstrating against colonial rule and who went on to fight for
freedom enter on the civilian front or as soldiers in the Burma Independence
Army of the Patriotic Burmese Forces, precursors of the present day armed
forces of Burma.  That these men, no longer young but still firm of purpose,
are with us today in the struggle to gain for our people the full rights due
to citizens of an independent nation is a matter of great pride for our
party and a source of inspiration for our people.  But it is also a matter
of shame for our country that there is still a need for the generation that
fought for independence to continue to labor for the nation of their dreams.
At this time of their lives they should have the right to look back on their
achievements with calm satisfaction as they watch their grandchildren grow
to adulthood in an ordered, prosperous society.
	Political resistance has become so very much a part of our everyday
existence that on summer nights while I like awake waiting for the cool
breeze to come up from the lake, I sometimes wonder what it would be like
for members of the NLD once there is no longer a need to exercise the spirit
of resistance with grinding perseverance.  Will they be completely taken up
with the task of reconciliation and reconstruction? or will they suddenly
feel the vacuum of a lack of dangerous challenge and acquire a burning
desire to conquer unscaled mountain peaks and plumb unexplored ocean depths
to mop their excess energy?  After so many years of constant peril, it would
be a pleasure to see our people indulging in such relatively safe activities.

* * * * * * * *

(This series of "Letter from Burma" appears in the Mainichi Daily News on
the first Monday of each month.  The Japanese translation of the column
appears in the Mainichi Shimbun on the same day.)