Thousands of Norwegian residents, many of them Burmese in exile in Norway, headed for the City Hall plaza (Rådhusplassen) in Oslo on Saturday to catch a glimpe of their heroine Aung San Suu Kyi, fondly referred to as “The Lady” in Burma. Torrential rains didn’t scare them away, the mood was festive and another party was set for Sunday in Bergen.
Around 4,000 Burmese have arrived in Norway, mostly as refugees, just since Burma’s military junta cracked down on a pro-democracy movement in 1988. Many had traveled from as far south as Agder, filling two busloads, to see Suu Kyi and mingle with one another.
PHOTO SPECIAL: Burmese day in Oslo
The so-called folkefest (people’s party) on the City Hall plaza followed a ceremony inside City Hall where Suu Kyi finally delivered the acceptance speech, formally called the Nobel Lecture, she should have been able to give 21 years ago when she actually won the Nobel Peace Prize. But then she sat in house arrest, or was afraid that if she left Burma to travel to Oslo, the military junta ruling the country wouldn’t let her back into the country.
Now, with reforms emerging even though the junta remains in control, Suu Kyi felt it was possible to visit Oslo and four other European countries on her first overseas trip in 24 years. She received a rousing welcome on Friday when she arrived at Oslo’s Grand Hotel, where around 1,000 well-wishers had waited behind police barricades for hours to greet her.
From there she headed for the prime minister’s home for talks, and then was guest of honor at a Norwegian government-sponsored banquet at the historic Akershus Fortress, where the menu incuded Asian touches like sauces with mango.
She had a busy morning on Saturday, finally signing the guest book at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, being received by King Harald, Queen Sonja and Crown Prince Haakon at the Royal Palace, and meeting exiled Burmese at the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, which is run by one of her biggest supporters, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik.
She told the exiled Burmese, who wondered whether it was now safe for them to return home, that they each had to make their own decisions. She urges political participation among them all and said she feels safe herself in Burma, also that Burma needs capital and people committed to democratic reforms.
Aye Aye Khaing, age 41, is among the exiled Burmese in Norway. She told newspaper Aftenposten this week that she dreams of returning home to Burma, re-named as Myanmar by the military government. “I was young and tough, my motivation was enormous and I was never scared while in prison,” she said when recalling the years before she fled the country. But she ultimately felt she had to flee Burma, winding up in a refugee camp in Thailand and finally arriving in Norway in 2004. Now, age 41, she’s re-educating herself to be a pre-school teacher in Norway, but she still wants to go home.
So does Tun Tun Aung, age 47, who spent 17 years in hiding in the Burmese jungle while he organized resistance against the military junta. He warns against being too optimistic about the reforms that allowed Suu Kyi to finally deliver her Nobel lecture.
“The military needs to be totally removed from politics,” he told Aftenposten. “Suu Kyi’s party is too small and too weak to push through major change.” Aung, who’s worked for several years at the Plaza Hotel in Oslo, doesn’t think he’ll be able to return to Burma for at least another 20 years.
In the meantime, he also dreams of a social democratic government in Burma, with all ethnic groups represented in a national assembly. Many others who made their way to the City Hall plaza on Saturday have dreams for their homeland, too.
Khaing was among those invited to the earlier ceremony inside City Hall. Still others were invited to the banquet on Friday night, attending in colourful ethnic costumes. On Sunday, Suu Kyi was traveling to Bergen, where another outdoor public gathering was scheduled at the main city square.
“People still believe in her,” Khaing said, referring to Suu Kyi. “She is very important for our hopes, and for the democracy campaign in Burma.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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