Take 1—Lisa Gentner
Born on June 19, 1945, Aung San Suu Kyi, is a powerhouse in the movement toward democracy in the country of Myanmar (formerly Burma). The daughter of liberation movement leader Aung San, Suu Kyi is best known for her nonviolent opposition to the military leaders who have forcefully controlled her country since 1962.
Raised in Burma, Suu Kyi was only two years old when her father was assassinated. Her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, began to forge her own path to promote social change while Suu Kyi attended high school in New Delhi, before enrolling in Lady Shri Ram College. Suu Kyi continued her studies, earning a BA in philosophy, politics, and economics at St. Hugh’s College in Oxford.
On January 1, 1972, Suu Kyi married Michael Aris, a historian and lecturer, in a Buddhist ceremony, later joining him in Bhutan where he served as head of the department of translation and tutored the royal family. Together, they raised two sons, Alexander Aris and Dannian Kim Arundel Aris, who both become Tibetan monks. While raising her children, Suu Kyi began to write, publishing a biography on her father entitled Aung San and various travel books.
By July 1988, Myanmar was a country of unrest, with mass uprisings and thousands of civilians slaughtered by the Myanmar junta. The following month, Suu Kyi began her political career, addressing an open letter to the Myanmar government requesting the right to form an independent committee for the purpose of overseeing the development of multi-party elections. In that same month, Suu Kyi gave her first public speech to several hundred thousand people outside Shwedagon Pagado, calling for a democratic government. In a speech given in Yangon on August 26, 1988, Suu Kyi was noted as saying, “I could not as my father’s daughter remain indifferent to all that was going on.”
In September of that same year, Suu Kyi became the founder and elected secretary- general of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which had a platform of nonviolence and civil disobedience. At the same time, the Myanmar military formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), placing stronger restrictions on public gatherings in an effort to deter political campaigning. Suu Kyi defied the ban and continued touring the country, speaking to large audiences. On April 5, 1989, while on one such trip in the Irrawaddy Delta, Aung San Suu Kyi was confronted by Tatmadaw soldiers yet walked undeterred toward the army as they took aim, pointing their rifles in her direction.
On July 20, 1989, Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest without trial or charge. She would remain under house arrest for six years, with the majority of the time spent in forced solitary confinement. Though her actions were stifled, Suu Kyi continued to effect change in Myanmar.
In 1990, the NLD won the general election with a landslide victory of 82 percent of the votes. Suu Kyi was awarded the 1990 Rafto Human Rights Prize and in 1991 became a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Suu Kyi used the USD 1.3 million prize money to form a health and education trust for the people of Myanmar.
Upon her release in 1995, Suu Kyi’s movements continued to be monitored. Her New York Times best seller Freedom from Fear, in which she speaks to the value of democracy and peaceful resistance, was published that same year.
Between 1989 and 2010, Suu Kyi spent almost fifteen years in and out of house arrest. Suu Kyi’s sacrifices in the name of democracy were intensely realized when, in 1991, she was unable to travel to London to sit with her dying husband, whom she had not seen in four years, for fear that the Myanmar government would exile her from returning.
Suu Kyi was overwhelmingly elected as Myanmar’s president in 2015, but was prohibited from taking office due to her two sons’ foreign nationality. Instead, she was officially deemed the state counsellor. It was during her reign as state counsellor, in 2017, that Suu Kyi would face public ridicule and controversy for staying silent while thousands of Rohingya Muslims were raped and killed by the Myanmar military in apparent retaliation after several police officers were attacked. Although Suu Kyi’s followers were quick to emphasize the difficulty in governing a multi-ethnic country with a history of junta rule, it was Suu Kyi’s dismissal of the allegations against the Myanmar military, in which she called the complaints an “incomplete and misleading factual picture of the situation” that brought the most shame to her legacy.
In 2020, when the NLD was once more shown to be the irrefutable victor in the presidential election, the junta called for the arrest of Suu Kyi and other members of the NLD. In February 2021, the Myanmar army seized power from the NLD, citing voter fraud. As of today, Suu Kyi remains in military custody facing charges that could keep her behind bars for the rest of her life, and the 76-year-old “Lady,” as she is dubbed, continues to fight for democracy as Myanmar continues to be in unrest.
Take 2—Eric Clough
Aung San Suu Kyi was born on the June 19, 1945, in Rangoon (now Yangon), Burma (now Myanmar). She is the daughter of the well-known liberation movement leader—turned martyr—Aung San (whom she was named after). Though only two years old when her father, the de facto prime minister at the time, was assassinated, Aung San Suu Kyi displayed a similar resistance to oppression. After leaving the country to study abroad, she eventually returned to Myanmar in 1988, going on to lead the opposition to the military régime, which had ruled the nation since 1962. However, rather than staging forceful resistance, she—having been influenced by US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and India’s Mahatma Gandhi—employed exclusively nonviolent tactics. Additionally, she was one of the founders and the eventual leading member of the National League for Democracy (NLD). Her demand was for the régime to transfer power over to the people, making way for a developed, balanced, and democratic society. Due to her anti-establishment stance and public backing, she was arrested in 1989. One year later, while still incarcerated, the NLD went on to win a clear victory in the national election, but were prevented from taking power by the ruling military generals, who, in addition to refusing to release Aung San Suu Kyi, prevented the legislative body from confirming the win, and subsequently making arrests of prominent members of the opposition party.
Aung San Suu Kyi was held nearly fifteen years in detention, between her initial arrest in 1989 and her final release in 2010. During her time incarcerated, she became a symbol for greater nonviolent resistance, outside the bounds of her own nation; she even earned the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991. The defining quality of her influence both while incarcerated and after her eventual release was that of nonviolent rhetoric. Without stooping to the violence that her oppressors were guilty of employing, she was able to maintain popularity across the political divide in her nation as well as around the world. By using nonviolent rhetoric to communicate with her people and the world at large, she was able to evoke great change on the national scale, by way of international nonviolent pressures, laid on by like-minded democratic nations. In 2015, still holding steadfast behind her nonviolent mantle, Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory in the national election; however, due to the fact that she had given birth to two children who were foreign nationals (during her time studying abroad), she was not permitted to accept the title “president.” Rather than fighting this newfound exhibition of repression, she opted to allow her counterpart to accept the position, while she was given the title “state counsellor,” though it was clear that she was Myanmar’s de facto leader, similar to the status of her father decades prior. In 2020, having maintained her nonviolent rhetorical roots, and after a continued pledge to reduce political corruption and ethnic mistreatment, the NLD once again won a landslide victory. Nevertheless, similarly to the incident in 1990, the still powerful military elite staged a coup d’état—declaring the election corrupt and arresting Aung San Suu Kyi once again. Since that time, she has been using her rhetorical platform to garner support for the people of Myanmar around the world, by way of her continued “example of the power of the powerless” (“Aung San Suu Kyi”).
- “Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Democracy Icon Who Fell from Grace.” BBC News, 6 Dec. 2021.