Aung San Suu Kyi

I am not an icon, says democracy activist Suu Kyi

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 May, 2011, 12:00am

The phone line was muffled and the video link stilted, but it was as close to Hong Kong as Aung San Suu Kyi is ever likely to get.

Despite the shaky reception in The University of Hong Kong's Loke Yew Hall yesterday, Myanmar's Nobel Peace Prize laureate was able to cut through the aura of her sometimes austere 'democracy torch-bearer' image to show a human side.

Urging everyone not to call her an icon, she fielded questions on faith, philosophy, women in politics as well as harder geopolitics. She answered with wit and warmth even as she held fast to her highest motives.

When one woman asked her 'from the heart' what made her happy, she said: 'Very small things make me happy. I've learned to treasure the very small things in life ... that is something I've learnt living the life I've led.' At other times, she described the importance of her Buddhist faith to her struggle.

That life has seen Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burmese independence hero Aung San, spend 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest in her family's mansion in Yangon's University Avenue. Her two sons grew up overseas and she was never able to see her husband during his fatal battle with cancer.

She urged jailed fellow Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and other detainees not to lose faith. 'If you cannot keep faith in yourself, you cannot achieve inner peace ... that is the most important thing if you are going to keep going,' she said. For young people involved in democratic struggle, she urged discipline, and stressed the importance of mapping out what to achieve.

Her political instincts did not seem to have been dulled by her long years in enforced solitude. When one young questioner disclosed he was recently in Yangon and met some of Myanmar's ruling colonels, she said: 'You were lucky, we've been trying to talk to them for a long time ourselves.' She was asked how she categorised Myanmar's generals. 'Slow learners,' she shot back, adding that, of course, they would need to be taught with patience.

She won one of many rounds of applause when she told a mainland student that she one day hoped to talk in Hong Kong and Beijing universities in person.