Elizabeth I of England, with her signature red hair, pale coloring, frilly ruffs and over-embellished clothes, used to love making stately progresses through the countryside.
Since June 13, Burma’s democracy leader Dr. Aung San Suu Kyi has been on a tour of Europe (she arrived back in Rangoon on June 30) and earlier when she visited Thailand for six days, and die-hard Suu Kyi fans and democracy lovers everywhere have been treated to a daily dose of Suu Kyi mania, but in a nice, meaningful way.
In her immaculate, finely calibrated formal silk and cotton clothes, Suu Kyi wowed everyone with her gilt-edged words, which were as carefully edited and thought through as her attire.
Her pronouncements were issued to the public through the press in carefully sequenced steps.
According to an aid, she wrote the whole set in about eight days before she left Burma. That would explain the careful logic, but hardly explains the skill with which each sound bite was delivered at the appropriate place and time.
In 2011, when she started traveling inside Burma, she first went, for legitimacy’s sake, to the 11th Century Bagan Temples of the first Burmese kingdom with her son Kim Aris. Then she went on to full-scale campaigning leading up to her party winning 43 of 44 assigned seats, or 6.49% in the April 1 by-election this year. This was following by back-to-back meetings over months with world and Burmese ethnic leaders.
If I were the uncharismatic, rather inarticulate, balding general turned “civilian,” with the part in his scant hair close to his left ear for a comb-over, I wouldn’t even try competing in this popularity contest.
I’d just fall over and die.
Here’s a summary of Daw Suu’s triumphant progress overseas:
In Thailand, starts strong, declaring where her loyalties lie, who her principal constituents are, by going to Mahachai “Big Victory” – about 50 miles southeast of Bangkok, where thousands of Burmese migrant workers live and work. Says, “It’s just like Burma.”
At the World Economic Forum, dressed in pale blue to match the stage, warns against reckless optimism regarding change in Burma. She went to the Burmese refugee camp, Mae Hla, but Thai authorities denied her a microphone.
Went back for about one week to Rangoon, where she met Muslim leaders and Bob Carr from Australia, who lifted sanctions (a move an Australian friend calls “bovine”).
As soon as Suu got off the plane in Geneva, she told the head of the International Labor Organization who came to meet her “the international community is trying very hard to bring my country into it. It’s up to my country to respond in the right way.”
At the ILO headquarters the next day, she told a crowd of labor representatives and other officials that what Burma needs is “democracy-friendly development.”
She was wearing a tailored white jacket with black piping at the neck and cuffs, a black sarong with white flowers, which matched the white phaelanopsis orchids, and a bold green scarf that matched the primary colors of the flags on the stage.
As another 60-plus Burmese woman who once traveled a lot to international conferences, but never at her pace or level, I don’t know how she does it. And she was properly shod, too.
In Oslo, she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, which she could not accept in person in 1991.
Bono of U2 came to meet her and ferry her to Dublin in his private airplane for a rock concert.
At the London School of Economics, she discussed the Rule of Law with other high-powered panelists.
At Westminster Hall in the UK she addressed both Houses of Parliament.
She planted a black tulip magnolia with Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
In France, she accepted the Citizen of Paris Award in French and gazed at the headless Winged Victory and Monet’s Water Lilies in the Louvre.
In all these places, she made sure to spend time with old friends and exiled Burmese.
Her stately progress reminds me of something another dissident once said, “What people discount is love.”
There is no other way to explain this.
In many places, the standing ovations went on longer than her speeches.
The ball is now in the junta’s, dressed as civilians, court.
They need to show, not tell, us how they have actually changed.