GIVING HER NOBEL Lecture 21 years after she was honoured with the peace prize, Burmese pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi said that the award made the road she had chosen “a less lonely path to follow”.
She said she has been trying to remember exactly how she felt after hearing about the award back in 1991 while she was still under house arrest.
“I think, I can no longer be sure, it was something like: ‘Oh, so they’ve decided to give it to me.’ It did not seem quite real because in a sense I did not feel myself to be quite real at that time.”
Often during my days of house arrest it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world. There was the house which was my world, there was the world of others who also were not free but who were together in prison as a community, and there was the world of the free; each was a different planet pursuing its own separate course in an indifferent universe.
The Nobel Peace Prize did bring her back from the “isolated area” in which she lived and “more importantly”, it had drawn the attention of the world to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma, she added. “We were not going to be forgotten”.
Commenting on the current situation in her country, Suu Kyi believes that democracy campaigners’ endeavours are “beginning to bear fruit”.
“There have been changes in a positive direction; steps towards democratisation have been taken. 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 explained.
Before continuing to speak of my country, may I speak out for our prisoners of conscience. There still remain such prisoners in Burma. It is to be feared that because the best known detainees have been released, the remainder, the unknown ones, will be forgotten. I am standing here because I was once a prisoner of conscience. As you look at me and listen to me, please remember the often repeated truth that one prisoner of conscience is one too many.
“Those who have not yet been freed, those who have not yet been given access to the benefits of justice in my country number much more than one,” she continued after a round of applause. “Please remember them and do whatever is possible to effect their earliest, unconditional release.”
During her speech she said that when she joined the democracy movement, it never occurred to her that she may be the recipient of any prize or honour. ”The prize we were working for was a free, secure and just society where our people might be able to realize their full potential.”
Suu Kyi was released in 2010 and left her country for the first time in over two decades last month. She is due to travel to Dublin on Monday as part of a two-week trip which will also see her visit the UK, Switzerland and France.
Her son Alexander accepted the award on her behalf in 1991 as she feared that Burmese authorities would not allow her back into the country if she left.