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.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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5 things Labour has blamed for the Copeland by-election defeat

Other than Labour, of course. 

In the early hours of Friday morning, Labour activists in Copeland received a crushing blow, when they lost a long-held constituency to the Tories

As the news sank in, everyone from the leadership down began sharing their views on what went wrong. 

Some Labour MPs who had done the door knock rounds acknowledged voters felt the party was divided, and were confused about its leadership.

But others had more imaginative reasons for defeat:

1. Tony Blair

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told Radio 4’s Today programme that: “I don’t think it’s about individuals”. But he then laid into Tony Blair, saying: “We can’t have a circumstance again where a week before the by-election a former leader of the party attacks the party itself.”

2. Marginal seats

In a flurry of tweets, shadow Justice secretary Richard Burgon wanted everyone to know that Copeland was a marginal seat and always had been since it was created in 1983.

Which might be true, but most commentators were rather more struck by the fact Labour MPs had managed to overcome that marginality and represent the area for eighty years. 

3. The nuclear industry

In response to the defeat, Corbyn loyalist Paul Flynn tweeted: “Copeland MP is pro-nuclear right winger. No change there.” He added that Copeland was a “unique pro-nuclear seat”. 

In fact, when The New Statesman visited Copeland, we found residents far more concerned about the jobs the nuclear industry provides than any evangelical fervour for splitting atoms.

4. The political establishment

Addressing journalists the day after the defeat, Corbyn said voters were “let down by the political establishment”. So let down, they voted for the party of government.

He also blamed the “corporate controlled media”. 

5. Brexit

Corbyn's erstwhile rival Owen Smith tweeted that the defeat was "more evidence of the electoral foolhardiness of Labour chasing Brexiteers down the rabbit hole". It's certainly the case that Brexit hasn't been kind to Labour's share of the vote in Remain-voting by-elections like Richmond. But more than 56 per cent of Cumbrians voted Leave, and in Copeland the percentage was the highest, at 62 per cent. That's an awful lot of Brexiteers not to chase...

I'm a mole, innit.