Friday, November 19, 2010

Freedom from fear

November 18, 2010

It was hard not to be moved both by the demeanour of Aung San Suu Kyi when she was freed from house arrest in Yangon on November 13th, and by the popular reaction to her freedom. Her grace, courage and good humour seem undiminished. Meanwhile, the thousands who flocked to her gate demolished the myth that she is no longer central to Myanmar’s politics. Yet in the euphoria of the moment, it was easy to forget that those politics, too, are in essence unchanged. The foundations for the optimism she herself professes seem flimsy.

Since she was first locked up in 1989, Miss Suu Kyi has twice before been “freed”, only for it to become apparent that she had in effect simply been moved into a larger prison, so strict were the limits on her activities. This time she emerges into a changed world. Until this week she had, for instance, never used a mobile phone or surfed the internet. The political landscape in Myanmar is also altered, even if the first elections for 20 years, held on November 7th, were designed to strengthen the grip on power of the ruling junta, whose party has claimed a massive victory.