Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday pledged to keep up her struggle for democracy as she finally delivered her Nobel Peace Prize speech, 21 years after winning the award while under house arrest.
After a year that has seen sweeping changes in her Southeast Asian homeland, Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to work for national reconciliation, but also pointed to remaining political prisoners and continued ethnic strife in her country.
“My party, the National League for Democracy, and I stand ready and willing to play any role in the process of national reconciliation,” she said, delivering her speech in Oslo for the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.
Wearing a flower in her hair, a sarong and a purple silk scarf, she looked emotional as she received a thunderous standing ovation in the cavernous Oslo City Hall, packed with dignitaries, royals and Burmese exiles.
The veteran activist also said she encouraged “cautious optimism” in her country’s transition from military rule toward democracy under the quasi-civilian government of Burmese President Thein Sein.
“If I advocate cautious optimism it is not because I do not have faith in the future, but because I do not want to encourage blind faith,” she said.
Although the government has signed ceasefires with scores of ethnic rebel groups, she pointed to continued bloodshed — conflict with the northern Kachin Independence Army and communal unrest between Buddhists and a Muslim minority.
“Hostilities have not ceased in the far north. To the west, communal violence resulting in arson and murder were taking place just several days before I started out on the journey that has brought me here today,” she said.
When Aung San Suu Kyi won the honor in 1991, she could not accept it in person, fearing she would be blocked from returning to the country, also called Burma, where “The Lady” had become a potent symbol of non-violent defiance.
Her husband, Michael Aris, and their two sons, Kim and Alexander, accepted the award on her behalf. When her husband died of cancer in 1999, Aung San Suu Kyi could not be by his side, again fearing she would not be allowed to come home.
Aung San Suu Kyi — who has campaigned since 1988 for democracy in Myanmar — said that “often during my days of house arrest it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world.”
“For me receiving the Nobel Peace Prize means personally extending my concerns for democracy and human rights beyond national borders,” Aung San Suu Kyi said. “The Nobel Peace Prize opened up a door in my heart.”
This week, back in Europe for the first time in 24 years, Western supporters and Burmese exiles are cheering her along a whirlwind tour that started in Switzerland and will also take her to Britain, Ireland and France.
In Norway, she has been greeted with flowers and songs by jubilant Burmese, many with her party’s Fighting Peacock flag painted on their faces.
Aung San Suu Kyi called for the release of the country’s remaining political prisoners, warning of the risk that “the unknown ones will be forgotten.”