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Aung San Suu Kyi on freedom and the human cost of dissent

Burmese democracy leader delivers Reith Lectures.

The freedom to make contact with other human beings with whom you may wish to share your thoughts and your hopes, your laughter and at times even your anger and indignation, is a right that should never be violated.

So said Aung San Suu Kyi, in the first of her Reith Lectures, broadcast on Radio 4 this morning.

In a moving address, she discussed the notion of dissent and her personal experience as a democracy campaigner.

While the Reith Lectures are normally delivered in person in front of a live audience, Suu Kyi's two addresses were recorded in Burma last week. The second was played at a special event at Broadcasting House last night and will be aired on Radio 4 on 5 July.

A team of BBC journalists secretly entered Burma to record Suu Kyi and smuggled the tapes out again. "It's been a tense week," wrote Gwyneth Williams, BBC Radio 4 controller, on her blog.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in the 1990 Burmese election. They were not allowed to take power and she spent 15 of the next 20 years under house arrest. She was released on 13 November 2010 but is unable to leave Burma.

She described the isolation of those who choose resistance and the toll this takes:

Human contact is one of the most basic needs that those who decide to go into, and to persevere in, the business of dissent have to be prepared to live without. In fact, living without is a huge part of the existence of dissidents. What kind of people deliberately choose to walk the path of deprivation?

Max Weber identifies three qualities of decisive importance for politicians as passion, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of proportion. The first -- passion -- he interprets as the passionate dedication to a cause. Such a passion is of crucial importance for those who engage in the most dangerous kind of politics: the politics of dissent. Such a passion has to be at the core of each and every person who makes the decision, declared or undeclared, to live in a world apart from the rest of their fellow citizens; a precarious world with its own unwritten rules and regulations, the world of dissidence.

Suu Kyi also referred to recent events in the Middle East:

In Tunis and in Burma, the deaths of two young men were the mirrors that made the people see how unbearable were the burdens of injustice and oppression they had to endure.

Do we envy the people of Tunisia and Egypt? Yes, we do envy them their quick and peaceful transitions. But more than envy is a sense of solidarity and of renewed commitment to our cause, which is the cause of all women and men who value human dignity and freedom. In our quest for freedom, we learn to be free.

You can listen to the first lecture here.