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While it’s too early to declare a Burmese Spring, winds of change appear to be blowing across this Asian nation, which from 1962 to 2010 was ruled by a brutal military junta. The country’s new president, Thein Sein, has taken steps toward liberalization, including freeing a few political prisoners and, following last week’s visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, opening the door to peaceful public demonstrations. At a time like this, it’s useful to ask what Aung San Suu Kyi, the steadfast leader and globally recognized voice for democracy in Burma, thinks of the changes in her country. Appearing via videoconference at the Council of Foreign Relations last week, Suu Kyi spoke optimistically about the recent openings and her intentions to run in upcoming parliamentary elections with her newly registered political party, the National League for Democracy. But she was also clear about the challenges still facing her nation, including the need for rule of law with an independent judiciary, humanitarian assistance for medical needs and further reconciliation among ethnic groups. If Burma indeed finds itself on the path to democracy, the road will be long and the process difficult for the Burmese people. Suu Kyi said one of her party’s goals is to reach out to young people who have not felt a stake in their political future. For the youth of Burma who cannot remember a time of freedom, this moment in history is critical and new tools such as social media can help spur momentum. As the world tries to reconcile the recent political shifts with continued human rights violations (hundreds of political prisoners reportedly remain in detention), one thing is clear: freedom advocates in Burma will need the support of the international community, including the American people, if they are to continue the decades-long fight that Suu Kyi has led. During the videoconference, Suu Kyi expressed to Anita McBride, a Bush Institute Senior Advisor, her appreciation for all that Mrs. Laura Bush has done to remember the Burmese people and her hope that the time won’t be far off when they can meet in person. (Their telephone conversation of nearly one year ago is documented here.) This is a previously inconceivable idea that we can now envision with cautious optimism. Only time will tell if the changes will take hold and if we are watching the beginning of a new future for the Burmese people.
Amanda Schnetzer is Director of Global Initiatives at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas. In this role, she is responsible for developing innovative research, programmatic, and policy efforts to advance societies rooted in political and economic freedom and to empower women to lead in their communities and countries. Previously she served as the Bush Institute’s founding director of the Human Freedom Initiative.
Amanda has twenty years of experience in the international arena and a background in public policy research and analysis, public affairs, and management of diverse, high-level stakeholders. As senior fellow and director of studies at Freedom House in New York, Amanda guided research for the organization’s definitive studies of freedom. She began her career at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, supporting research on U.S. foreign policy and international politics. Amanda is a published writer and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds degrees from Georgetown University and Southern Methodist University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
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