In Burma, the proudest thing people say of Aung San Suu Kyi, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, is that she is her father's daughter.
Her father, Aung San, leader of the movement to free Burma, first from Japan, then from Britain, was assassinated, along with nine members of his shadow cabinet and three others, on July 12, 1946, when she was 2 years old. He always expected to make whatever sacrifice his devotion to his country required. His daughter is the same. She has been under house arrest in Yangon (Rangoon) since July 1989.
The military junta said she could go to Oslo to claim her award -- and the million-dollar check that goes with it -- on the understanding she could not come back. She may have been tempted, but it was not a close decision. She told her oppressors she would accept an exit on condition she be given 15 minutes of air time to address the country, be allowed to walk to the airport, nine miles from her home, with everyone permitted to walk with her or watch her, and that all political prisoners be released. The answer, of course, was no.
Aung San Suu Kyi obviously has inherited her father's qualities of honesty and simplicity. She is also a remarkably accomplished person. Her old friend, Usha Narayanan, a Burmese married to K.R. Narayanan, former Indian ambassador here, speaks of her prowess as cook, pianist and writer. Her book, "Freedom From Fear," edited by her British husband, Michael Aris, has just been published.
The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize has brought no change in her status; that is, as far as anyone knows. She is denied all contact with the outside world -- and with her husband, a visiting professor at Harvard, and her two teenage sons -- by the odious Burmese government, which calls itself SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) and calls the nation Myanmar.
The Nobel is noble because it rewards losers as well as winners. Those who strive get the pat on the back as much as those who achieve. The prize committee encourages people who are far from their goals, people like the Dalai Lama, still in exile, or two obscure Irishwomen, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, who founded a peace movement in their native country that died aborning.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a failure in the sense that she is still locked up. But in the political career she took up late in life (she is 47) she has had a spectacular, although stifled, success. In the elections that SLORC was finally forced to hold on May 27, 1990, her party, the National League for Democracy, won 80 percent of the vote, with 392 of the 485 members of Parliament winning seats. The junta ignored the outcome. Scores of newly elected representatives were jailed, scores more driven into exile.
Aung San Suu Kyi's followers have organized a provisional government. Their local spokesman and ambassador to the U.N. is Bilal Raschid, a U.S. citizen and an architect who lives in Arlington. He says the Nobel Peace Prize has helped fix the world's eyes on the most prominent hostage still held. President Bush has made no direct comment, but elsewhere she has been the subject of a vast outpouring of sympathy and indignation. The United Nations passed a unanimous resolution condemning her detention. Asian neighbors have been noncommittal. China, ever ready to promote profitable mischief, has sold $1.2 billion worth of arms to the junta to defend itself against its people.
The Nobel helps, says the ambassador of India, Abid Hussain. "When you have a closed society, a repressive government, the only weapon you have is CNN."
Aung San Suu Kyi spent her childhood in India, where her mother was ambassador of the democratic government Burma enjoyed during a respite between occupation and military dictatorship. She imbibed the teachings of Gandhi. She developed her bent for philosophy, which she later studied at Oxford. Her thesis is that it is not power which corrupts, but the fear of losing it that grips possessors, and that it is the fear of power which corrupts victims. She has proposed negotiations with the colonels, promised them forgiveness.
She was living happily in England in 1988 when her mother fell ill. Aung San Suu Kyi flew to her side. Her return coincided with the student protests. Thousands of Burmese were shot by the military; one massacre took place outside the U.S. Embassy. Aung San Suu Kyi wrote a letter to the junta.
Finally, in August, she began to speak in public. Because of her name, people flocked to hear her. They followed her because she is an impassioned orator and a charismatic leader. She is, as the Burmese say, her father's daughter. Students protested in Yangon on Dec. 10, the day her son Alexander accepted the award in her name, for all Burmese.