Two days after Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi gave her Nobel speech and greeted cheering crowds in the Norweigan capital of Oslo, she was to head yesterday to the fjords of the Nordic nation for nuts-and-bolts talks on her country’s future.
The veteran activist — on her first European tour in a quarter-century after enduring years of house arrest for her freedom struggle -— has been celebrated since she started her five-nation Europe tour in Switzerland last week.
Her visit has been hailed all the more because of the rapid change in her home country, where a former military junta that held the nation for decades in an iron grip has pledged to follow a path to democracy.
Yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was scheduled to visit another human rights organization that has honored her, the Rafto Foundation based in the coastal city of Bergen, which gave her its annual award in 1990.
Her prize “for her peaceful struggle under the military dictatorship,” like the Nobel the following year, was accepted by her family, as Aung San Suu Kyi feared she would not be allowed to return to Myanmar if she left the country.
“Her visit means very, very much to us,” said the foundation’s executive director, Therese Jebsen, speaking by telephone from Bergen about Aung San Suu Kyi.
“It’s actually the greatest thing that’s happened in the history of the Rafto Foundation,” Jebsen said. “She has been part of our history for 22 years. She has been one of our most important sources of inspiration.”
Aung San Suu Kyi, after morning talks with Norweigan Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, was then due to fly to Bergen, a picturesque city with multicolored rows of wooden houses on the harborside that is known as the Gateway to the Fjords.
In closed talks at the Rafto Foundation, Aung San Suu Kyi is to meet non-government groups and a business school, who will ask how they can support development in her impoverished country as it reopens to the world, Jebsen said.
A topic of special concern will be how Myanmar goes on to manage its vast natural resources, especially oil and gas, in a way that benefits the people.
Myanmar’s political reforms — from allowing Aung San Suu Kyi’s party into mainstream politics to freeing political prisoners — have led the US, EU and others to roll back or suspend sanctions.
Some now fear a free-for-all business bonanza in the country and Aung San Suu Kyi herself has said that ethical, transparent and “human rights friendly, democracy-friendly investment is what we’re looking for.”
Jebsen said that Norway, a rare liberal democracy among the world’s big oil-producing countries, may have lessons and technical advice to help Myanmar “manage the resources in a democratic way.”
Aung San Suu Kyi, speaking about her country’s broader transformation in her Nobel speech, advocated “cautious optimism ... not because I do not have faith in the future, but because I do not want to encourage blind faith.”
After her huddle in the Rafto House for Human Rights, of which Aung San Suu Kyi is the patron, she will meet the city’s Burmese exile community at a hotel, then address a public meeting in the city center before flying back to Oslo.
Her whirlwind Europe trip — during which she fell ill in Switzerland — will also see her visit the UK, where she will address the British parliament and celebrate her 67th birthday, as well as making appearances in Ireland and France.