On her first trip to the United States in decades, the Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi has been busy indeed! She received the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, when she also met privately with President Obama in the Oval Office. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was looking forward to the visit, "as it provides another opportunity to reaffirm our long-standing support for her struggle and the struggle of many others toward democratic, just and transparent governance in Burma." Hillary Clinton, House and Senate leaders all joined to applaud Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Congressional Medal in 2008 but who was not able to receive the honor until today.
Suu Kyi, who met yesterday with Secretary Clinton at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, called for an end to the U.S. ban against Burmese imports and other sanctions, renewed by Congress in August. “We are not yet at the end of our struggle,” she said, “but we are getting there.” With a population of 60 million and an area larger than France, Burma — as Thant Myint-U so effectively argues in his recent book, Where China Meets India— is hardly small or politically isolated; it is at the center of Asia. Thant, historian and grandson of the UN Secretary General U Thant, has long argued for U.S. engagement in Myanmar. The U.S. has normalized diplomatic relations with Myanmar since Suu Kyi won a parliamentary seat in April, and allowed U.S. companies to start investing. On Wednesday the Treasury Department removed sanctions against Myanmar President Thein Sein and another senior Burmese official, Thura Shwe Mann, who has also been active in promoting political reform.
Essential Reading Burma, including a collection of Suu Kyi's candid and affectionate letters on Burmese culture, daily life and politics written during her long period of house arrest; Thant Myint-U's The River of Lost Footsteps, Histories of Burma' a splendid photographic portrait of the county In Buddha's Land; the handy Lonely Planet Myanmar and a map. We also recommend the timely and provocative A History of Myanmar Since Ancient Times: Traditions and Transformations.
In Letters from Burma, Suu Kyi writes: "The Burmese are reputed to be one of the most hospitable people in the world. When I was a child I took it for granted that formal invitations to lunch or tea or dinner were only issued to foreigners. Burmese friends simply dropped in and shared whatever you happened to be eating. And there was always enough for visitors, however unexpected. Often friends would suddenly appear in the evening, hot green tea, palm candy, fried beans and laphet (preserved tea leaves) would be brought out and there would be an impromptu party. Sometimes the conversation flowed so happily and the atmosphere was so congenial the visitors would decide to stay for the night."
It is not hard to imagine how difficult it has been for this brave women to endure house arrest — and life under the world's longest running military dictatorship. Very nice to see visitors once again traveling to Myanmar in numbers! With thanks to the NY Times and the UK Guardian for photographs and quotes. Click on the pictures to read the full news stories.