When the New Statesman asked me to submit a nomination for a poll of “heroes of our time” a few months ago, Aung San Suu Kyi was my instant choice. I visited her at her home in Rangoon a few years ago and she is one of the most inspirational people I have ever had the privilege to meet. She has enormous grace, serenity and humanity, and her determination never to leave her country until democracy is restored has earned her the admiration and respect of all those who believe the human spirit can overcome evil.
Her personal suffering includes being refused the right to see her children and callously denied the chance to see her beloved husband, Michael, before he died of cancer. Yet she puts such personal agony second to the needs of her country, rejecting the regime’s pressure for her to join her family in exile abroad. Suu Kyi simply says: “My life is the cause for democracy and I am linked to everybody else in that cause. I cannot just think of me.”
But the international community has let Aung San Suu Kyi and her people down badly. As I write, the EU is engaging outrageously with the regime for the first time. Led by the Finnish EU presidency, the Council of Ministers has agreed to grant a visa for one of the generals to attend an EU-Asia summit. Meanwhile, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) has issued a pathetically watered-down statement merely calling for “tangible progress” on democratic reforms.
Suu Kyi’s parting words to me were a plea for us to use our liberty to ensure that the Burmese people can secure theirs. So far, her pleas go unheeded by international leaders. But even as world attention focuses on other global crises, we cannot let the terrible suffering of Burma be forgotten. That is why recognition of the heroic qualities of Suu Kyi matter so much.
Glenys Kinnock MEP is a patron of the Burma Campaign UK