Copyright © 1997 Alan Clements.All rights reserved.
"We are still prisoners in our own country"
ALAN CLEMENTS: Your father--Aung San--is perhaps the mostfamous man in Burma's long history. His name today, over fifty yearsafter his death, still evokes awe in the people. He was a spiritual seeker,a heroic freedom fighter and a great statesman. And when you enteredyour nation's struggle for democracy on 26 August 1988, you announcedin your speech, delivered at the Shwedagon Pagoda and attended bymore than half a million people, that you were "participating in thisstruggle for freedom ... in the footsteps and traditions of my father." Youhave also said, "When I honor my father, I honor all those who stand forpolitical integrity in Burma." Daw Suu, it is here that I would like tobegin to explore your story and try to understand what moves you to strugglefor your people's freedom. What does political integrity mean to you?
AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Political integrity means just plain honesty inpolitics. One of the most important things is never to deceive the people.Any politician who deceives the people either for the sake of his partyor because he imagines it's for the sake of the people, is lacking inpolitical integrity.
AC: What about SLORC's "political integrity"?
ASSK: Well... (laughs) sometimes one wonders whether they actuallyknow what political integrity means, because they've deceived thepeople repeatedly. They've made promises which have not been kept.
AC: Like not honoring the results of their "free and fair" elections in 1990in which your party, the NLD [National League for Democracy], won alandslide victory? What has been the SLORC's officialexplanation of why they have not honored the results?
ASSK: There has not been a real explanation. But you can see SLORChas not let the elected representatives play any meaningful role in thedrawing up of the new constitution. In the National Convention nobody isallowed to speak freely. The NLD has not even been allowed to protestagainst undemocratic working procedures. That is why we decided tostay away from the convention until a meaningful dialogue has beensuccessfully initiated.
AC: In examining the crisis in Burma it is so easy to focus on the vastdivisions between those struggling for democracy--the NLD--and the onesoppressing democracy--SLORC. Perhaps it's a premature question, butare there actual places of goodwill and trust between both sides--areaswhere you find some sense of genuine connection?
ASSK: I would like to think there are but we have not been given anopportunity to find out. This is why we say that dialogue is so important.How can we find out if there are places where we can meet, issues onwhich we can work together, unless we talk to each other? But I heard arather shocking report about an interview of one of the SLORC ministersby a foreign journalist. The minister said, "You can do anything withmoney. If you hold a ten dollar note above a grave, a hand will come outand reach for it. And if you held out a hundred dollar note, the wholebody would come out." That seems to indicate that they have no principleswhatsoever. If they think that everyone can be purchased with money,that's a shocking revelation.
AC: Sounds like a sociopathic fantasy...
ASSK: Well...one wonders, why? Why are they like that? I do notthink they're interested in the why. There is a phrase the authoritieslike to use: "We don't want to hear about a leaking water bottle. Weonly want the water." That means, just do what we tell you, with noexcuses. All we want are results. That's a very strange attitude.
AC: How would you define the collective psychology of SLORC?
ASSK: My impression of them as a whole is that they do not know whatcommunication means. They don't communicate, either with thepeople or with the opposition. And I wonder whether they evencommunicate with each other. If everybody in SLORC shares thisminister's attitude, that money is what decides everything, then I have thisrather unhappy image of them simply shoving dollar bills at each other.
AC: Is it fair to say that the regime--SLORC--are Buddhists?
ASSK: I would not like to comment on other people's religious inclinations.It's not for me to say who is Buddhist or who is not. But I must say thatsome of their actions are not consonant with Buddhist teachings.
AC: For example?
ASSK: There's so little loving-kindness and compassion in what they say, inwhat they write and what they do. That's totally removed from theBuddhist way.
AC: Removed from people?
ASSK: Yes. This is the problem with a lot of authoritarian regimes, they getfurther and further away from the people. They create their own isolationbecause they frighten everybody, including their own subordinates, whofeel unable to say anything that would be unacceptable.
AC: Yes, I've noticed that. Back in 1990, when I was in the jungle along theThai-Burma border, I witnessed SLORC's "ethnic cleansing" campaignagainst the Karens, and to an extent against the Mons and Shans, as wellas their attempt to exterminate the armed democracy forces based in thehills near Mannerplaw. At that time I interviewed a SLORC commanderwho had been captured after a fire-fight...
ASSK: How did they treat him?
AC: Humanely. This, I can testify to. Not only the SLORC officer but alsothe privates who had been captured. But I asked this commander, "Whyare you killing your own people?" He brought out of his pocket a picture ofhimself as a monk and said, "I don't like killing, but if I don't kill, Iwill be killed." He then started to cry. His tears looked real...
ASSK: Why did he enter the army if he was so against killing? Was therenothing else he could do?
AC: I asked that same question to a group of young SLORC conscriptswho were being held in the stockade; "Why do you kill?" And they replied,"If we don't kill we're killed." Then I asked what you asked me: "But whydid you enter the army?" They all said the same thing: "if we don't join thearmy our families are abused. We have no money, there's no other sourceof income, there's no work, it's the only way we can give money to ourparents, otherwise they can't eat."
ASSK:; Yes, I have heard that in some parts of the country there is a lot offorced conscription--they do force villages to produce a certain number ofconscripts for the army.
AC: Thousands of Burmese students have fled the country as well ashundreds of thousands of refugees from the time of SLORC's coup in1988. Obviously, you're here in Rangoon struggling with your people fordemocracy but what about all those other disenfranchised people living insqualor, many of them weakened by starvation, or dying of disease? Whatare your feelings about those citizens of the nation?
ASSK: It is so they can come back that we're fighting for democracy inthis country. Where will they come back to if we can't make this placesafe for them? The people need a country where they can feel safe.
AC: What are your feelings specifically towards the young students?
ASSK: We have said from the very beginning that the NLD will neverdisown students who are fighting for democracy, even though they havechosen to take up arms and we have chosen the way of non-violence.Because we are not in a position to guarantee their security, we do nothave the right to demand that they do what we want them to do. We lookforward to the day when we can work together again.
AC: Many peace settlements are occurring around the world--in the MiddleEast, in the former Yugoslavia, possibly in Northern Ireland and of course,the miracle that's occurring in South Africa. SLORC has a preciousopportunity to follow suit--a reconciliation couldoccur. Now, you have repeatedly called for dialogue, but what is it that'spreventing SLORC from saying "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, let's say hello,have lunch together, and see where it goes from there?"
ASSK: This is exactly what I meant when I said they do not know how tocommunicate. I think they're afraid of dialogue. I think to this day, theydo not and cannot understand what dialogue means. They do not know thatit's a process that is honorable, that it can lead to happiness foreverybody--including themselves. I think they still see dialogue as eithersome kind of competition in which they might lose or as a great concessionwhich would disgrace them.
AC: It sounds like fear. What do you think this fear is rooted in?
ASSK: When you really think about it, fear is rooted in insecurity andinsecurity is rooted in lack of metta [loving-kindness]. If there's a lackof metta, it may be a lack in yourself, or in those around you, so you feelinsecure. And insecurity leads to fear.
AC: In South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is leading the Council forTruth and Reconciliation. Already, the former Defense Minister under theapartheid regime has been indicted for his complicity in the murder ofthirteen people while in power. Now, if we were to put ourselves in theminds of some of SCORC's main players--I would think that fearwould be a legitimate concern. In other words, they have good reason tobe insecure. Won't the people seek revenge after democracy is won?
ASSK: I think here they [SLORC] underestimate both the people and us asa movement for democracy. Obviously, there is some hatred among thepeople, especially among those who have suffered. However, we areconfident that we can control this hatred. But there is no hate among theleaders of the NLD. The authorities find this difficult to understand. Thereare many in SLORC who feel strongly against Uncle U Kyi Maung,Uncle U Tin U, and even U Win Htein [Aung San Suu Kyi's personal assistantwho spent six years in Insein Prison and was re-arrested on 21 May 1996],because they are ex-military men who are actively involved in thedemocratic process.
I think SLORC's reading of the situation is this: if these men, whothemselves were in the military, are opposing them, they must be doing soout of vindictiveness. I do not think it occurs to them that these ex-militaryofficers are supporting the democracy movement because they believe incertain principles. It goes back to what I just told you about waving adollar note above a grave: people who think that anybody can be bought,that human minds and hearts are mere commodities subject to the laws ofsupply and demand, such people would not be able to understand otherhuman beings who work for a cause and are prepared to sacrificethemselves for that cause.
Mind you, none of these people we are talking about have done wellout of joining the movement. They've suffered and their families havesuffered, but they're still going on. And it's not as though they areunaware that they could be subjected to even more suffering.
AC: When and if "genuine dialogue" begins between you and SLORC,what would be the first item of discussion?
ASSK: Well, if we got to the dialogue table, the first thing I would like tosay is, "You tell us what you have to say." I would like to listen to themfirst. Why are you so angry with us? What is it that you object to? Ofcourse, they may say, we object to your criticisms. But we've alwayspointed out that we've been very careful not to attack anybody personally.But criticize we have to, that is part of our duty. Otherwise how can wehold our heads up as a political party that represents the interests of thepeople? We have to point out whatever is against the interests of thepeople. If we know that something is detrimental to the good of the peopleand we don't say anything about it, that would be sheer cowardice.
AC: Many peace settlements have been brokered by middle people, amediator or intermediary. Have you ever thought about offering that asan option?
ASSK: We don't need an intermediary because we're always prepared toopen dialogue at any time.
AC: Is Ne Win [Burma's "retired" dictator] really the person you want toopen a dialogue with?
ASSK: I don't know...I really don't know. That is what some people say.But I have no hard evidence either for or against the theory that he isstill the power behind the throne.
AC: When you call for dialogue, are you calling for a dialogue with NeWin or with SLORC?
ASSK: We're calling for a dialogue with SLORC. But if we had absoluteproof that he's behind everything that SLORC is doing, then perhaps wewould decide to seek dialogue with him.
AC: Yesterday, before your public talk began, a Rangoon Universitystudent asked me bluntly: "Should Burma's democracy movement engagein an armed struggle rather than continuing in a non-violent way?"
I told him I would ask you the question.
ASSK: I do not believe in an armed struggle because it will perpetrate thetradition that he who is best at wielding arms, wields power. Even if thedemocracy movement were to succeed through force of arms, it wouldleave in the minds of the people the idea that whoever has greater armedmight wins in the end. That will not help democracy.
AC: Daw Suu, how effective is non-violence in the modern world, andmore specifically, with regimes that seem devoid of sensitivity or anysense of moral shame and conscience?
ASSK: Non-violence means positive action. You have to work forwhatever you want. You don't just sit there doing nothing and hope to getwhat you want. It just means that the methods you use are not violentones. Some people think that non-violence is passiveness. It's not so.
AC: Let me ask the question in another way. In your country there werenumerous brave young men and women who literally faced the bullets andbayonets, in their willingness to be non-violently active, yourselfincluded. And the results left at least 3,000 dead.Do you ever have doubts about the effectiveness of non-violent politicalactivism in the face of armed aggression?
ASSK: No, I don't have any doubts about it. I know that it is often theslower way and I understand why our young people feel that non-violencewill not work, especially when the authorities in Burma are prepared totalk to insurgent groups but not to an organization like the NLD whichcarries no arms. That makes a lot of people feel that the only way youcan get anywhere is by bearing arms. But I cannot encourage that kind ofattitude. Because if we do, we will be perpetuating a cycle of violencethat will never come to an end.
AC: It's a matter of debate, but politics and religion are usuallysegregated issues. In Burma today, the large portion of monks and nuns seespiritual freedom and socio-political freedom as separate areas. But in truth,dhamma and politics are rooted in the same issue--freedom.
ASSK: Indeed, but this is not unique to Burma. Everywhere you'll find thisdrive to separate the secular from the spiritual. In other Buddhistcountries you'll find the same thing--in Thailand, Sri Lanka, in MahayanaBuddhist countries, in Christian countries, almost everywhere inthe world. I think some people find it embarrassing and impracticalto think of the spiritual and political life as one. I do not see them asseparate. In democracies there is always a drive to separate the spiritualfrom the secular, but it is not actually required to separate them. Whereasin many dictatorships, you'll find that there is an official policy to keeppolitics and religion apart, in case I suppose, it is used to upset thestatus quo.
AC: The Burmese monk U Wisara, who died years ago while in prison,after 143 days of a hunger strike, was an outstanding example of politicallymotivated non-violent protest. Indeed, Burma has a long history of monksand nuns being actively engaged in political areas when it concerns thewelfare of the people. However, I wonder about today. With the crisis atsuch a critical moment, do you think that the Sangha--the order ofmonks and nuns--can play a greater role in supporting the democracymovement? After all, it's their freedom too.
ASSK: Well, there are a lot of monks and nuns who have played a verycourageous role in our movement for democracy. Of course, I would liketo see everybody taking a much more significant role in the movement,not just monks and nuns. After all, there is nothing in democracy that anyBuddhist could object to. I think that monks and nuns, like everybody else,have a duty to promote what is good and desirable. And I do think theycould be more attractive. In fact, they should help as far as they can. I dobelieve in "engaged Buddhism," to use a modern term.
AC: How might they be more effective?
ASSK: Simply by preaching democratic principles, by encouragingeverybody to work for democracy and human rights, and by trying topersuade the authorities to begin dialogue. It would be a great help ifevery monk and nun in the country were to say, "What we want to see isdialogue." After all, that is the way of the Buddha. He encouraged theSangha to talk to each other. He said, "You can't live like dumb animals.And if you have offended each other, you expiate your sins and offensesby confessing them and apologizing."
AC: What do you think is preventing the Sangha from saying to thoseSLORC generals who visit their monasteries, "What we want to see isdialogue?"
ASSK: I don't know. I do not think there is anything in the Vinaya[monastic discipline] that says that monks should not talk about suchthings, or is there? I do not know. You're more familiar with the Vinayathan I am because you were a monk. Is there anything that says that youcannot say such things?
AC: I don't know of any rule that says you can't tell the truth. Butperhaps, there's some blind separation going on...
ASSK: I see...
AC: I know that you occasionally pay your respects to the VenerableSayadaw U Pandita at his monastery, here in Rangoon. May I ask you toshare some aspect of his teachings that you have found helpful?
ASSK: I remember everything he has taught me. The most importantof which was that you can never be too mindful. He said you canhave too much panna--wisdom--or too much viriya--effort; but you cannotoverdo mindfulness. I have been very mindful of that (laughing)throughout these last seven years,
Also, he advised me to concentrate on saying things that willbring about reconciliation. And that what I should say should betruthful, beneficial, and sweet to the ears of the listener. He saidthat according to the Buddha's teachings, there were two kinds ofspeech: one which was truthful, beneficial and acceptable; and theother which was truthful, beneficial but unacceptable, that is to saythat does not please the listener.
AC: Throughout my years of lecturing on both Buddhism and Burma'sstruggle for democracy, I've encountered many people who wish to labelyou in heroic terms. Even the recent Vanity Fair interview with you wasentitled on the cover as "Burma's Saint Joan"...
ASSK: Good heavens, I hope not.
AC: Which raises my question. In strictly Buddhist terms, I have heardyou referred to as a female Bodhisattva--a being striving for theattainment of Buddhahood--the perfection of wisdom, compassion andlove, with the intention of assisting others to attain freedom.
ASSK: Oh, for goodness' sake, I'm nowhere near such a state. And I'mamazed that people think I could be anything like that. I would love tobecome a Bodhisattva one day, if I thought I was capable of such heights.I have to say that I am one of those people who strive for self-improvement,but I'm not one who has made, or thought of myself as fit tomake a Bodhisattva vow. I do try to be good (laughs). This is the way mymother brought me up. She emphasized the goodness of good, so tospeak. I'm not saying that I succeed all the time but I do try. I have aterrible temper. I will say that I don't get as angry now as I used to.Meditation helped a lot. But when I think somebody has been hypocriticalor unjust, I have to confess that I still get very angry. I don't mindignorance; I don't mind sincere mistakes; but what makes me really angryis hypocrisy. So, I have to develop awareness. When I get really angry, Ihave to be aware that I'm angry--I watch myself being angry. And I say tomyself, well, I'm angry, I'm angry, I've got to control this anger. And thatbrings it under control to a certain extent.
AC: Is it ironic that you're dealing with one of the world's mosthypocritical regimes?
ASSK: But you know, I have never felt vindictive towards SLORC. Ofcourse, I have been very angry at some of the things they've done. But atthe same time I can sense their uneasiness--their lack of confidence ingood, as it were. And I think it must be very sad not to believe in good. Itmust be awkward to be the sort of person who only believes in dollar bills.
AC: How do you perceive their uneasiness? Is it a sense of moral shameor moral conscience in them?
ASSK: I'm not talking about moral shame or moral conscience. I do notknow if all of them have it. I have sadly learned that there are people whodo not have a moral conscience. All I'm saying is that I think there mustbe a lot of insecurity in people who can only believe in dollar bills.
AC: When you speak to your people who gather in front of your house onweekends, do you in fact speak to SLORC, trying to appeal to that placein them that might make them pause and reflect on their actions? Or areyou just speaking to your people?
ASSK: I'm talking to the people, really. Sometimes, of course, I'm alsotalking to SLORC, because a lot of the issues that I address are so closelylinked to what the authorities are doing throughout the country. Butbasically I'm addressing people and I do think of SLORC as people. Theydo not always think of us, who oppose them, as people. They think of usas objects to be crushed, or obstacles to be removed. But I see them verymuch as people.
AC: During the last month I've spoken with a lot of Burmese people inmarkets, shops, vendors on the street, and construction workers. I'veasked them how they feel about the conditions of their country underSLORC. Almost everyone says that they are afraid of SLORC's wrath;afraid of retribution; afraid that if they speak out they'll pay for it withimprisonment. So in time, I've come to appreciate the importance of your words,"Fear is a habit; I'm not afraid." But is that true, Daw Suu, are you not afraid?
ASSK: I am afraid. I'm afraid of doing the wrong thing that mightbring harm to others. But of course, this is something I've had to learn tocope with. I do worry for them though.
AC: Several thousand people attend your weekend talks in front of yourhouse. Three students were recently arrested and sentenced to two-yearprison terms...
ASSK: Yes. But one must ask why the USDA [Union SolidarityDevelopment Association], which is supposed to be a social welfareorganization but is in fact used by SLORC as its political arm, besidesdisrupting the activities of the NLD, is having enormous rallies whichpeople are forced to attend.
AC: U Kyi Maung was telling me about this. Are people fined if they don'tattend these SLORC-instigated rallies to chant slogans in support of theirNational Convention?
ASSK: Yes. I had a letter from somebody from Monywa saying that theywere made to attend this rally. And every household that could not send amember had to give fifty kyats. For poor people these days, fifty kyats isa lot of money.
AC: How poor is poor in the countryside?
ASSK: You don't have to go to the rural areas...just go out to a satellitetownship like Hlaingthayar [near Rangoon] and take a look. They can'tafford to have two meals of rice a day. Some can't even afford to haveone. So they are forced to drink rice water instead of eating rice.
On the other hand, some have gotten very rich in Burma--rich as theyhave never been before. This is an aspect of life today that disturbs mevery much--the gap between the rich and the poor has gotten so wide.You must know that there are restaurants and hotels in which peoplethrow away tens of thousands of kyats a night [the official bank rate is 6kyats to $1]. And at the same time there are people who have to drinkwho have to drink rice water to survive.
AC: I know that 80 percent of Burma's population live in the rural areas,and most are farmers. What are their conditions like?
ASSK: The peasants are really suffering. Farmers have told us that theyhave been forced to eat boiled bananas because they don't have rice toeat. If they can't grow enough rice to provide the quota they [are forced]to sell to the government, then they have to buy rice on the open marketand sell it to the government at a loss because the government buys at afixed price which is lower than the market price. And farmers who refuseto grow the second crop of rice have their land confiscated. The onlyreason why they refuse to sow a second crop is because they lose somuch on it. Not only do they lose what little profits they've made on thefirst crop but they end up with huge debts. Yet the authorities insist thatthey must grow a second crop.
You see, when people start deceiving others, in the end they deceivethemselves as well. And the authorities seem to imagine that if they makepeople grow two crops of rice they will get twice the amount of rice toexport, without considering the fact that the second crop of rice may wellaffect the next crop.
AC: Does torture still go on in Burma's prisons? And do you haveevidence for this?
ASSK: Yes, torture goes on in all the prisons of Burma. And yes, I do haveevidence of this. But it is more important to try to understand thementality of torturers than just to concentrate on what kind of torture goeson, if you want to improve the situation.
AC: How many political prisoners are still being detained by SLORC?
ASSK: I think it's in the four figures. We can't be certain because we arenot even certain how many political prisoners there are in each of theprisons of Burma. The prisoners themselves do not know everybody whois there. They are kept apart.
AC: There is a lot of pent-up anger among some people in this countrytowards the SLORC. When and if your struggle for democracy succeeds,and perhaps you assume a major leadership role in a democraticBurma, can you guarantee that SLORC will not face criminal charges?
ASSK: I will never make any personal guarantees. I will never speak as anindividual about such things. It is only for the NLD to speak as anorganization--a group that represents the people. But I do believe thattruth and reconciliation go together. Once the truth has been admitted,forgiveness is far more possible. Denying the truth will not bring aboutforgiveness, neither will it dissipate the anger in those who have suffered.
AC: Could you envision a Truth and Reconciliation Council in Burma aftershe gains her freedom?
ASSK: I think in every country which has undergone the kind of traumaticexperience that we have had in Burma, there will be a need for truth andreconciliation. I don't think that people will really thirst for vengeanceonce they have been given access to the truth. But the fact that they aredenied access to the truth simply stokes the anger and hatred in them.That their sufferings have not been acknowledged makes people angry.That is one of the great differences between SLORC and ourselves. Wedo not think that there is anything wrong with saying we made a mistakeand that we are sorry.
AC: Are there listening devices in your house?
ASSK: Perhaps there are, I don't know.
AC: Does it concern you?
ASSK: No, not particularly. Because I'm not saying anything that isunderhand. Whatever I say to you, I dare to say to them, if they wouldlike to come to listen to me.
AC: Is your telephone tapped?
ASSK: Oh yes, probably. If it is not I would have to accuse them ofinefficiency (laughing), It should be tapped. If not, I would have tocomplain to General Khin Nyunt [SLORC's Military Intelligence Chief]and say your people are really not doing their job properly.
AC: What does it feel like to be under such scrutiny all the time?
ASSK: I don't think of it. Most people I speak to on the telephone are justfriends and we don't really have anything particularly important to say toeach other. You say hello, how are you, I'm so happy to be able to speakto you. Then there are people ringing up for appointments. And my familyrings me every week. But it's just, how's everybody, how are they gettingon, what are your plans, can you get this for me, can you send me that(laughing)--that sort of thing. Nothing that I mind the MilitaryIntelligence personnel hearing.
AC: So you feel no pressure whatsoever from all the unseen eyes, atapped telephone, the Military Intelligence men everywhere, and ofcourse, that ever present threat of re-arrest--nothing at all?
ASSK: I'm not aware of this pressure all the time. But sometimes, ofcourse, I am. For example, somebody from America, whom I had not metfor years, rang up. His brother had been in Rangoon recently, and hestarted talking about his brother's meetings with some people in thegovernment. I said, "You do realize that my telephone is tapped. Do youintend that everything you say be heard by the MI?" And he said, "Oh,yes, yes." But he hung up pretty quickly after that, so it was quite obviousthat it had not entered his head that my telephone would be tapped. Onsuch occasions, I am aware of my unusual circumstances.
AC: Are measures taken by your colleagues for your security?
ASSK: You see the students who are outside at the gate, on duty as itwere. They don't have weapons or anything like that. We screen peoplewho come in to see me. I don't see everybody who says they want to seeme. Apart from that, what else are we supposed to do?
AC: Well, you're dealing with a rather violent regime. Has SLORC eitherdirectly or indirectly ever verbally threatened your life?
ASSK: You do hear the authorities saying "We'll crush all these elementswho oppose whatever we are trying to do," and so on and so forth. Onehears that sort of thing all the time.
AC: Soon after Nelson Mandela was released after his imprisonment, theinternational media began labeling you "the world's most famous politicalprisoner." May I ask your comments about that?
ASSK: I'm not one of those people who think that labels are that important.Recently somebody asked if I felt that I had less moral authority now thatI was free. I found it a very strange question. If your only influencedepends on you being a prisoner, then you have not much to speak of.
AC: So despite your years of detention, you never felt like a prisoner?
ASSK: No, I have never felt like a prisoner because I was not in prison. Ibelieve that some people who have been in prison also did not feel likeprisoners. I remember Uncle U Kyi Maung saying that sometimes he usedto think to himself when he was in prison: "If my wife knew how free Ifeel, she'd be furious." (laughing) And just yesterday, somebodyinterviewing me for a television program asked, "How does it feel to befree? How different do you feel?" I said, "But I don't feel any different."He asked, "How is your life different?" I said, "in practical terms my lifeis different, of course. I see so many people; I have so much more work todo. But I do not feel at all different." I don't think he believed me.
AC: U Tin U told me that being imprisoned for his love of freedom wasone of the most dignified fruits of his life. But he seems to be quite happyto be out and about again. Was it the same for you? Were you happy toreconnect to life and intimate relationships?
ASSK: I never felt cut off from life. I listened to the radio many times aday, I read a lot, I felt in touch with what was going on in the world. But,of course, I was very happy to meet my friends again.
AC: But Daw Suu, you were cut off from life in a fundamental way. Youwere cut off from your family, your husband, your children, your people.Cut off from your freedom of movement, of expression.
ASSK: I missed my family, particularly my sons. I missed not having thechance to look after them--to be with them. But, I did not feel cut off fromlife. Basically, I felt that being under house arrest was just part of myjob--I was doing my work.
AC: You have been at the physical mercy of the authorities ever sinceyou entered your people's struggle for democracy. But has SLORCever captured you inside--emotionally or mentally?
ASSK: No, and I think this is because I have never learned to hatethem. If I had, I would have really been at their mercy. Have you reada book called Middlemarch by George Eliot? There was a charactercalled Dr. Lydgate, whose marriage turned out to be a disappointment. Iremember a remark about him, something to the effect that what he wasafraid of was that he might no longer be able to love his wife who hadbeen a disappointment to him. When I first read this remark I found itrather puzzling. It shows that I was very immature at that time. Myattitude was--shouldn't he have been more afraid that she might havestopped loving him? But now I understand why he felt like that. If he hadstopped loving his wife, he would have been entirely defeated. His wholelife would have been a disappointment. But what she did and how she feltwas something quite different. I've always felt that if I had really startedhating my captors, hating the SLORC and the army, I would have defeatedmyself.
This brings to mind another interviewer who said that he did notbelieve that I was not frightened all those years under house arrest. Hethought that at times I must have been petrified. I found that a veryamazing attitude. Why should I have been frightened? If I had really beenso frightened I would have packed up and left, because they wouldalways have given me the opportunity to leave. I'm not sure a Buddhistwould have asked this question. Buddhists in general would haveunderstood that isolation is not something to be frightened of. People askme why I was not frightened of them. Was it because I was not awarethat they could do whatever they wanted to me? I was fully aware ofthat. I think it was because I did not hate them and you cannot really befrightened of people you do not hate. Hate and fear go hand-in-hand.
AC: Your country's prisons are filled with prisoners of conscience. Perhapscopies of this book will be smuggled into the prisons. What might you sayto those men and women?
ASSK: They're an inspiration to me. I'm proud of them. They shouldnever lose faith in the power of truth. And they should keep in mindwhat Shcharansky once said, "Nobody can humiliate you but yourself."Keep strong.
AC: One final question. Daw Suu, back in 1989, days before you wereplaced under house arrest, you made the statement: "Let the world knowthat we are prisoners in our own country." It has been a few months sincethe time of your release. Has anything really changed?
ASSK: The world knows better that we are still prisoners in our owncountry.