'Yes to Burma, No to Myanmar'

In a program broadcast on May 27, Aung San Suu Kyi explains why her country should still be called Burma, discusses ASEAN’s policy toward Burma, and points to “extensive” problems with the country’s education system.

Q:  From the time that Burma gained independence [from Britain, in 1948], the country’s legal name in the English language has been the Union of Burma. But now, the military government has changed the country’s name to Myanmar. What is more appropriate to use as the legal name, Burma or Myanmar?

A:  On principle, the NLD [National League for Democracy] and I myself use the name Burma in the English language. I say “on principle” because changing the name of a country is something that should not be done against the wishes of the people of that country. We have not accepted the name Myanmar because the change to that name was made only at the wish of SLORC [the State Law and Order Restoration Council, an earlier designation for the military junta].

Q:  How do you see the present position taken by ASEAN with regard to the Burmese government?

A:  I do not clearly know what the present opinion of ASEAN is with regard to the Burmese government. Traditionally, ASEAN maintains a policy of “constructive engagement.” But lately, some ASEAN countries are pointing out human-rights obligations toward Burma. I think one can say that this is an improvement.

Q:  I once saw a photograph of a dinner meeting and discussion held by three prominent members of the NLD—Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Aung Shwe, and U Lwin—and three prominent members of the SPDC [the State Peace and Development Council, a later designation for the military junta], Senior General Than Shwe, Deputy Senior General Maung Aye, and General Khin Nyunt. When I saw that photograph, I felt that discussions had begun in the interests of our country and our people. But now, nothing seems to have come of that. At that time, when the NLD was taking the line that it would forget past disagreements and begin talks, what kind of reaction was there from the other side? Were there any discussions about what the other side was willing to give?

A:  I think that the photograph you are referring to was published in the newspapers after the Depayin affair, during the time that I was arrested.  Just as we did not release any news, as nothing significant came out of the dinner, the SPDC also did not release any news, because there was an agreement that no releases would be made without the agreement of both sides. It is my opinion that meaningful discussions are those that are aimed at national reconciliation and that are held in the interests of the country.

Q:  I would like to know what you are doing to bring about democratic elections in Burma. Burma’s democracy is not just a problem for the Burmese people—it also for the people of the whole world to work together for Burma’s democracy and human rights. Could you give a message to the Korean people who support Burma’s democracy and the NLD?

A:  My opinion is that the key people who can bring about democracy in our country are the Burmese people themselves. But I like and support what you have said about this being an issue that concerns the whole world. I wonder how happy a place the world would be if the world’s people would not think of people from outside their respective territories as strangers, but as fellow human beings, and would nurture a spirit of unity among humanity.

The people of South Korea can support our democratic movement in many ways. They can get in touch with us and help us in ways such as becoming involved in our democracy movement network, urging the Korean government to support our movement and increasing the number of Koreans who have an interest in Burma. We are endeavoring more and more to strengthen civil society organizations in order to bolster the empowerment of the people in Burma, and to thereby enhance the potential to hold genuine democratic elections in our country.

Q:  I would like to know how you will celebrate your 66th birthday, which falls on June 19. In the past, while you were in detention, we who are living abroad—together with our families and local people—would hold prayer ceremonies on your birthday, calling for your quick release. Since you are now free, how would you like Burmese families living abroad to commemorate your 66th birthday?

A:  This year’s birthday will be celebrated with a bazaar and a music festival at the NLD. As for you, dear child, depending on the situation in the country in which you live, I would like you to make use of my birthday to embark upon an effective movement to push for implementation of the latest resolution passed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Q:  I am attending a university in Thailand. In our own country, one cannot get a job even after receiving a university degree, so people like me have to go abroad and study again. What do you think of Burma’s education system, and what do you think would be a good educational system for our country?

A:  Just by looking at the small amount of the country’s total expenditure, we can see that education is not given as much priority as is needed. The whole system needs to be changed. Some of the basic needs are fully qualified teachers who can skillfully use modern and effective teaching methods and who genuinely want to teach with kindness, and the providing of teachers with appropriate wages and an environment that is conducive to teaching.

Another important support for students to gain knowledge would be the creation of curricula that are in line with the requirements of the country in this day and age. There are many other extensive educational problems that will have to be faced and resolved. One cannot address Burma’s educational problems on a question-and-answer basis. The problem is so huge that one would never end answering all of them.


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