Suu Kyi finally on the Nobel podium

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Twenty-one years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Burmese democratic champion Aung San Suu Kyi could finally step onto the Nobel podium in Oslo on Saturday and deliver her Nobel Lecture. The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee couldn’t resist drawing attention to the inability of another prize winner to do the same: “We hope that (Chinese dissident) Liu Xiaobo will not have to wait as long as she has had to before he can come to Oslo.”

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi speaking from the Nobel podium inside the Oslo City Hall on Saturday, 21 years after she actually won the Nobel Peace Prize. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

In doing so, Thorbjørn Jagland immediately drew parallels between Liu, who remains jailed in China, and Suu Kyi’s own long struggle for democracy and human rights in her homeland that she still calls Burma. Its renaming as Myanmar by its ruling military junta, she has pointed out, was not conducted through a vote by the people.

Suu Kyi finally felt able to leave Burma and travel to Oslo, after reforms by the government led to her release from house arrest and her election this past spring to a seat in parliament. She was careful to point out in an interview with Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she was never actually barred from leaving Burma, rather she chose not to come to Oslo back in 2001 when she won the Nobel Peace Prize because “I did not feel it was right.” Now she thinks things have improved in Burma and she doesn’t fear she’ll be denied re-entry when she returns later this month. She quickly notes, however, that the country has “a long way to go” in terms of getting “the destiny of Burma … in our own hands.”

Suu Kyi told her audience inside the elaborate City Hall, with the Royal Family up front, that the changes in Burma have at least in part occurred "thanks to you," as NRK's Norwegian subtitles read. Her Nobel Lecture was broadcast live nationwide. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

In her long-awaited Nobel Lecture, the now-66-year-old Suu Kyi said that winning the Nobel Peace Prize not only brought world attention to the struggle for democracy going on in Burma, but it drew her out of the “unreal” life she was living under house arrest at the time. After being told that she’d been nominated for the prize, she said she had thought it highly “improbable” she would win. When she did, that didn’t feel real either, but it gradually sunk in and filled her with a sense of purpose.

“It made me real once again,” she said in her speech inside Oslo’s City Hall, which was carried live on national TV by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Suu Kyi claimed the prize allowed her to extend her concerns for democracy and human rights well beyond Burma’s borders. “It opened up a door in my heart,” she said.

The struggle is still going on, in some ways “just beginning,” she said. While she refrained from harshly criticizing the government in Burma that’s still controlled by the military, and repeated her claims of improvements, she stressed that the country remains plagued by ethnic tensions, severe economic problems and high unemployment. And she made it clear there are still many “prisoners of conscience” being held in Burma despite the release of those such as herself. “One prisoner of conscience is one too many,” she said, to thunderous applause from the audience.

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, shown here with Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland (left) and other committee members, received a long standing ovation after finally being able to deliver her Nobel Lecture. There was no "empty chair" at this ceremony. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Jagland, meanwhile, also continues to worry about the other Nobel Laureate, Liu, who remains a prisoner in China. “Other prize laureates who have been unable to come to Oslo to accept their medals have also earned a place in the annals of history: Carl von Ossietzky for his battle against Hitler’s Germany, Andrei Sakharov and Lech Walesa for their fight against Soviet Communism, and Liu Xiaobo for his struggle to promote human rights in China,” Jagland said in his own remarks at Saturday’s ceremony.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award the Peace Prize to Liu in 2010 has led to a nearly two-year-long diplomatic freeze between China and Norway. Furious and embarrassed Chinese authorities seem intent on punishing the Norwegian government and, most recently, even its tourism industry for the prize, even though the Nobel Committee makes its decisions independently. While the Norwegian government struggles to find ways of resolving the diplomatic stand-off, Jagland seems largely undaunted by the aftermath of the prize. The reforms in Burma and having Suu Kyi in Oslo appear to have boosted his resolve.

“Oppressive rulers who abuse (human) rights with brutal power must know that there will always be courageous individuals who will oppose them,” he said, claiming that in her isolation, Suu Kyi became “a moral leader for the whole world.”

He recalled the words of the Nobel Committee in 2001, when, in awarding to prize to Suu Kyi, its members said the prize would support people throughout the world who were striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means. “The 21-year interim has proved the committee right about this,” Jagland said.

“But it is you, Aung San Suu Kyi, who translated the committee’s words into reality,” Jagland said in his speech on Saturday. “Through your awe-inspiring tenacity, sacrifice and firmness of principle, your voice became increasingly clear the more the military tried to isolate you.”

He clearly hopes Liu’s voice will grow as well, despite his own isolation. Suu Kyi said the Nobel Peace Prize helped make sure she and her cause weren’t forgotten during her years of detention. Her visit buoyed Jagland’s confidence that Liu won’t be forgotten either.

For the full text of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Lecture, click here, and for the full text of Jagland’s remarks, click here (external links).

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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