Speaking Freely in the New Burma


This summer, Aung San Suu Kyi will be stepping out onto an international stage. She will finally be picking up her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, and speaking her mind  in various European capitals.  It will be a far cry from the 15 years she spent under house arrest, unable to participate in elections and speak to her Burmese compatriots.

Suu Kyi, now a member of the Burmese parliament, recently completed her first trip out of Myanmar in 24 years. In a speech in Thailand, she praised President Thein Sein’s efforts to bring democracy to the country. But she didn’t shy away from criticizing more entrenched forces that are less open to change, in particular the military which she called a “force to be reckoned with.”

Next, Suu Kyi heads to Paris, Oslo, London and elsewhere for a series of high profile appearances. Her words will be closely analyzed back home– by those who love her and those who fear her.

It’s clear that the government of Myanmar is giving Suu Kyi freedoms that it previously denied her: to travel, to vote, to speak. More than that, the government’s actions appear to have given her belief that these new freedoms are permanent. That belief is almost as significant as the freedoms themselves.

Still, it’s early days, and not everyone can afford to be confident as Suu Kyi. “Most of the people still think that politics is dangerous,” said Kaung Myint Htut, chairman of the Myanmar National Congress Party. He’s has trouble getting his people to support him publicly.

Press censorship has been relaxed. But it has not disappeared. About 75 percent of stories are published uncensored, said Saya Mg Wuntha, founding editor of a journal, People’s Age. “But it’s very difficult to write about corruption…and about the military,” he said.

Some are more fearful. Aung Zaw is a political dissident who has lived in Thailand for 25 years, where he is the editor in chief of The Irrawaddy newspaper. He won’t return to Burma until he is guaranteed the “freedom to criticize and write without fear.”

Also in the pod this week:

  • Young Burmese are flocking to language schools to learn English. More on that story here.
  • Burmese punk ban Side Effect and their free speech challenges. More on that story here. And while we’re on the subject of punk, here’s a conversion between Marco Werman and me on the Sex Pistols and British royalty.

Finally, if you’ve been wondering why this is the first podcast in more than a month, here’s what I’ve been up to. Thanks for your patience.


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