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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/20/08

Another 'unhappy birthday' for Aung San Suu Kyi

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Message Zaw Nay Aung

How we could free her and people of Burma under the military regime

The Burmese democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi turned 63 years old on June 19th, and spent another 'unhappy birthday' alone in her lakeside villa in Rangoon, Burma. You might not hear 'Happy Birthday' songs at her home; she would spend her birthday by doing religious deeds, meditating and thinking of her poor Burmese living under the brutal dictatorship for almost two decades. She will definitely not be happy not because of staying another year under arrest, but continually concerned about the future of her country. 

The regime's paranoid and xenophobic behaviour led hundreds or thousands of people to die unnecessarily during the recent cyclone disaster. Had Aung San Suu Kyi been in power, such a horrific situation would never have occured.

However, in reality, she will surely have to go alone for one more year unable to contribute to the emergence of a developed and democratic Burma.

It might not be a year, it might be years the Burmese junta would hold her under custody. As long as she is under custody like this, Burma will be far away from becoming a democratic country. Burma needs leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi to override the military junta for the betterment of our country.

Nevertheless, opposition activities have become controversial over the past decades.  Particularly on an occasion like this, you would be surprised to see that the supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi are celebrating her birthday by singing 'Happy Birthday' songs, enjoying different shows, having Burmese food which is only available occasionally.

But, not every exiled Burmese community can celebrate her birthday like this, only by doing whatever they can. That is the scenario you could see in an exiled Burmese community but inside the country, supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi, members of her party (NLD), students and the general public will be going to the monasteries and pagodas to pray for her freedom, remembering her unrivalled leadership to transform  Burma into a developed and democratic state.

Burma needs systematic actions and leading figures like Aung San Suu Kyi and 88' Generation Students to fight against the military regime inside the country where all the opposition activities are extremely limited and monitored. However, after the regime imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi and student leaders, the opposition actions have been slow in progress to make crucial changes in the country. 

On the other hand, exiled Burmese activists and politicians need to adopt decisive, effective and realistic targets to overcome the decades-long crisis. What you could typically hear and see on those days close to Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday is media coverage of demonstrations, petitions and other events that mark her birthday across the globe. After a month or more, Aung San Suu Kyi will be forgotten for another year till her next birthday comes.  

It is time to reflect what has been done for democratic change in Burma, what we still need to do or what we can bring in the near future. However, Burmese activists and politicians seem to be quite sensitive to any criticisms and reluctant to make changes in their strategy and attitudes.

It is time to reconsider that the campaigning techniques such as demonstrations, petitions and other 'descriptive' scenarios of struggle to achieve freedom not only for Aung San Suu Kyi but for everyone in Burma fall short.  Quite often, typical campaigning strategies do not work to bring significant changes apart from gaining moral support. Burmese activists and politicians need to focus on key elements to have a significant impact on policy changes within the international community to bring down the brutal regime as soon as possible.

In order to free Aung San Suu Kyi and everyone in Burma, innovative strategies need to be developed to overcome the challenges imposed by the regime. Crucially, typical mistakes of doing silly things such as singing 'Happy Birthday' songs and signing petitions and seeing politicians needs to be dropped. We need to analyse the current political climate of not only Burma but the whole world before we take actions such as lobbying politicians and leaders of the international community.

So far, it has been disappointing that exiled Burmese communities could not make any significant changes over the past twenty years.  It is time to question ourselves about what we can do to implement democracy in Burma in the near future, what we can do to free Aung San Suu Kyi and everyone suffering under the military ruler.

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Zaw Nay Aung is director of London-based human rights advocacy and think tank, Burma Independence Advocates.
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