Q: In the 1988 crisis, the whole country asked for a democratic system and the removal of the one-party dictatorship. Many lives were sacrificed. But despite all of those demands, the Burmese people never realized their aspirations. No changes occurred. And following the crisis, many democracy activists ended up either in foreign countries or in the border areas, and many organizations were formed. These organizations have also not been able to achieve their goals. How do you assess this situation now? Why is this happening?
A: Although the events that occurred in 1988 did not bring about democracy, one cannot say that changes did not occur. You have to admit that Burma before ‘88 and Burma after ‘88 are quite different. But to realize the changes one desires, one must put full effort into one’s work in a systematic manner. The people of Burma must continue to strive with determination and a sense of proper reasoning. Whether our organizations are inside the country or abroad, they must have unity, foresight, and richness of experience in order to do political work effectively and with integrity. If they say they are weak on these points, they should endeavor to strengthen them as much as possible.
Q: I am a former political prisoner and was in prison in ’96. I think that it would be very good for the future if you could conduct courses in political thinking for the young people. I entered politics without knowing anything about it. I did what I thought I had to do, and I was sent to prison. Looking back, I see that today’s young people are like me. They genuinely want to do what they can for the future of our country, but I am concerned that—again, like me—they may not be systematic in their efforts.
A: The National League for Democracy (NLD) has conducted several courses in political, social, economic, and legal affairs for NLD youth and for other young people who are interested. And we have plans to continue to do this. In this information-technology era, young people can study and learn whatever they want from the Internet. And though there are not a lot of Burmese youth who can use the Internet, I think that if the youth groups get together, they can spread political and social knowledge among themselves.
Q: I am asking this question from Malaysia. At this moment, due to fighting between the SPDC [the ruling State Peace and Development Council] and the DKBA [the ethnic Democratic Buddhist Karen Army] on the Thai-Burma border, many refugees have fled to Thailand. Many ethnic nationals have been killed. Soldiers have also been killed. This makes me very sad. What can you and the NLD do to negotiate with the military government? And can the international community mediate to bring about negotiations so that we can put a stop to the fighting?
A: Since the NLD has recognized all along that the country will be at peace, and the people can live in happiness, only when the civil war ends, we have urged that tripartite negotiations take place between the Tatmadaw [military] government, the forces for democracy, and the ethnic nationality forces in an effort to achieve national reconciliation. The United Nations has also demanded at the General Assembly that these negotiations be held. As long as genuine national reconciliation is not realized, the sad and unhappy occurrences that you dread will continue to take place. This is why everyone must look on national reconciliation as a duty they must work toward.
Q: How would you handle the dispute that we have with our neighboring country Bangladesh over the oil wells in the Indian Ocean? Would you resolve the matter in a way that is just and equitable for both our countries, or would you deal with it in a one-sided manner for our benefit alone?
A: It is important to exist with neighboring countries in a peaceful manner and with full [mutual] understanding. That is why, when disputes occur, we must find resolutions for both sides that conform to international standards in a just, equitable, and appropriate manner. If you look just at your own interest and force the issue, the gain will be just for the short term, and can create many problems in the long term.
Q: I am calling from England. In South Africa during apartheid, the ANC [African National Congress] legally opened branch offices all over the world. In this way they were able to engage with international leaders and could exchange views and establish understanding. I think that if the NLD opened similar overseas offices—especially in Western countries like the United States, England, Germany, and France, and in Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia—and put qualified and intelligent leaders in those offices, contacts with foreign countries would be more effective.
A: Organizations in Burma are not legally allowed to open branch offices abroad. But people all over the world who support the NLD are actively working to the best of their ability for the cause. We also issue statements as often as we can so that the international community is informed of our policies and principles.
Q: Isn’t it very important in a democracy to have freedom of expression? In Burma, we have the Censor Board, and this board has restricted and blocked the work of artists who serve the people. I have often met well-known artists abroad who are concerned about their counterparts in Burma. When they ask me how they can help them, I am unable to think of appropriate answers.
A: One must understand that if there is no freedom of expression in a country, this means that democracy has not developed there. People must support, in any way they can, artists whose artistic expression has been blocked. For example, if the artist is a singer, the people can buy his recordings and sing his songs. I also think that it will be effective if artists abroad use their talents to inform the world about the plight of the artists in Burma. In addition, they can inform the governments of their respective countries that there is no democracy in Burma, and can demand that their governments help as much as possible to establish democracy there.