Freedom from fear



Oscar Abello

On the eighth day of the eighth month in 1988, students in Burma began a mass uprising for democracy after the resignation of the socialist dictator General Ne Win. The movement spread across the country and brought millions of Burmese subjects to call for their own citizenship. The military disagreed and reportedly killed roughly 3,000 people in an attempt to halt the movement.

Meanwhile, in the capital city Rangoon, the daughter of an assassinated Burmese leader was taking care of her ailing mother, a former Burmese ambassador to India. The daughter was 43 years old, an alumna of Oxford University and had returned from a visiting fellowship in India. With politics in her blood and democracy on her mind, she quickly emerged as the leader of the pro-democracy movement.

On the 27th day of December, her mother died. The funeral procession gathered thousands of supporters, and it became more than a celebration of a life; it became a mass calling for a new life of democracy.

By July of 1989, the daughter, with the movement behind her, became too much of a threat to the on-going military dictatorship. They placed her under house arrest, a sentence that was imposed in 11 of the next 18 years. She was offered freedom if she left the country and never returned, but she refused. Even when her husband was on his deathbed in England, she would not leave for fear that the government would not let her return.

Her name is Aung San Suu Kyi, and she received the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, among other awards, for her steadfast call for peaceful resistance against oppression.

Recently, international headlines have reported that Buddhist monks in Burma have started to march peacefully again. They are resisting the military rule that changed the official name of the country to Myanmar, in addition to moving the capital to another city, far from the cultural and economic center of Rangoon.

Last Saturday, while students were participating in the Day of Service, the monks were still marching. They stopped briefly at the house of Suu Kyi, which is usually not allowed by the military forces guarding the premises. At least 100,000 people had joined the monks in their march. From a balcony overlooking the masses, reporters said, Suu Kyi cried.

Nations around the world have called for her freedom. She never calls for her own. Suu Kyi remains devoted to the fact that she will never be free until her people are free with her. She calls only for the freedom of Burma.

The riots gained initial traction because of the government’s sudden decision to double the cost of fuel, making life harder for people and businesses. The price hike is on top of an estimated 21 percent rate of inflation – mainly caused by a government-controlled economy, providing more reason to call for an open and democratic government to go along with an open and free society. Freedom, to Burma, means, above all, the freedom from fear.

“It is not power that corrupts, but fear,” wrote Suu Kyi in an acceptance speech for the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. “Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Many countries have much to learn from Burma’s struggle for democracy. Considering how fear corrupts us all, we might re-examine such issues as the war on terror, off-shoring, immigration and domestic poverty. Is our nation truly free if it still fears certain individuals abroad, outsiders who want to live in its society or even people within the society itself?

One brave woman dares to answer: We’re not free.


Oscar Abello is a senior economics major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]