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Suu Kyi calls on Europe and Germany to be more supportive

In an exclusive interview with DW, Burmese civil rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi talks about the changes in Myanmar (Burma) she has experienced after her release and her future plans.

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses her supporters after her release from house arrest in Yangon

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses her supporters after her release from house arrest in Yangon

Aung San Suu Kyi was released on November 13 after more than seven years of house arrest. In 1991, the pro-democracy activist received the Nobel Peace Prize. The 65-year old has spent 15 of the last 21 years in detention.

Deutsche Welle: What is your daily routine these days?

Aung San Suu Kyi: My daily routine is very, very hectic. If I look back at today, I had about two, three appointments this morning and two in the afternoon, and I still haven't finished my work yet. So, it is extremely hectic.

What kind of appointments are these?

I am meeting diplomats, I am meeting political parties, I am meeting individuals, we have our National League for Democracy (NLD) office meetings. Then I am speaking to people on the phone. And there are individual journalists and correspondents, who have managed to come to Burma, and I have to meet them as well.

What was the biggest change you noticed in your city after your house arrest was lifted?

I think the number of hand phones! The moment I was released, I saw all those people with their hand phones which they were using to take photographs. I think what it means is that there is an improvement in communications.

And what about the Burmese society? Did you find any other changes?

Prices have gone up sky-high, and people are very concerned about it. Everybody talks about the rise in prices. Also, the attitude of the young people has improved considerably. They want to be involved in the political process, and they are much more outgoing and proactive than they were seven years ago.

When you were released, it was striking that many young people turned up to greet you. What are your expectations from the youth of Burma?

It is for them to understand that it is up to them to bring change to our country, and that they should not depend on me or the NLD or anybody else. We will do our best, but in the end I want them to have this self-confidence to believe that they can do it for themselves.

How do you see the future of your party, the National League for Democracy?

We are going to stand as a political force because we have the full support of the people. Of course, the authorities are trying to deregister our party, and I am contesting that at court, but that is a legal matter. The real political truth of the situation is that we have the confidence, the trust and the support of the people, and that will keep us going as the most important opposition force in Burma today.

Have you tried to get in touch with the government after your release?

No, not yet. I have, of course, been sending indirect messages through almost every speech I have made, every interview I have had, that I would like to have dialogue. I think we should discuss our differences and come to an agreement that we should be prepared to compromise on both sides.

But why haven't you taken any concrete step to initiate this kind of a dialogue?

We are waiting for the right time, which I hope is not too far off.

Burma is a country with many ethnic minorities, whose relationship with the majority has been rather tense over the recent decades. What do you plan to do to reach out to these groups?

We have been reaching out to these groups for a number of years, and I can claim that we have had a certain amount of success. Not only do we have very strong allies among the parties which contested the 1990 elections, we also have the support of other ethnic groups, including the ceasefire groups along the frontiers, who have expressed an interest in what we are trying to do - to revive the spirit of true union.

Last week, the Nobel Peace Prize for the Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo turned into a major international controversy. What is your reaction, being a Nobel laureate yourself?

I have a great respect for the Norwegian Nobel Committee, and I believe they must have sound reasons for choosing to give him the award this year. I personally don't know much about Liu Xiabo because I have been under house arrest for about seven years, and all I know about him is that what I heard on the radio. But I do believe that the Nobel Committee must have sound reasons for selecting him.

In Europe, people are wondering what they can do to support Burma. What is your advice?

First of all, it would be very helpful if all the countries of Europe could speak with one voice. Even within the European Union there are different attitudes and different voices, and I think that weakens the [Burmese] opposition. It would help us a great deal if all European countries called for certain steps to be taken in Burma - the release of political prisoners, inclusiveness of the political process, specifically with the NLD, and negotiations.

Do you have any specific European countries in mind, which you want to see more active in this?

As I am talking to you in Germany - I would like Germany to be more active.

You said in previous interviews that you will need time to form an opinion about international sanctions against the Burmese regime. What is your impression so far on this matter?

So far, I have not got the impression that economic sanctions have really hurt the public, but of course there are other voices that are perhaps still waiting to be heard, so we have yet to find out. I have been released just for over a month, and I haven't had time to go into this issue; I am waiting to read the latest report of the IMF, and perhaps the ADB and other economic institutions.

How influential is the West in Burma? Compared with that, how do you see India's and China's role?

I think the role of the West in Burma and the role of India and China are quite different. I would not like to think of them as competing for influence, or competing for ascendancy over Burma. It is not as though we were not able to shape our own destiny. But certainly, because India and China are very close neighbors, they have a certain advantage over those countries that are situated very far away.

Does this mean that what the West does with regard to Burma is not so important?

No, it has its importance, depending on how and what actions the West is taking, which is why I said earlier that it would be good if all the Western nations could coordinate their efforts. Not just the Western nations, it would be good if the whole international community, including the United Nations, coordinated its efforts. That would help us very greatly indeed, and if it called for the same basic steps, that would mean progress.

What are your expectations from India and China?

We would like them to engage with us. To begin with, we'd very much like India and China to give us the opportunity to explain our point of view to them. We have very little contact with China and India. We have more contact with the Indian government than with the Chinese government, in fact I don't think we have any contact with the Chinese government at all. We would like to have contact with them, we would like them to listen to our side of the story, and make them understand that we look upon them as neighbors, and that we would like to be friends with them. We are not hostile to them even if we are working for democracy in Burma.

What are your plans for the coming weeks?

The man that I fear most in the world is the man who keeps my appointment book. I haven't gone through next week's appointments with him...

Interviewer: Thomas Baerthlein
Editor: Shamil Shams

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