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The Speech We Waited Decades To Hear

Article by Amanda Schnetzer June 19, 2012 //   3 minute read

On June 16, 2012 in Oslo, Norway, Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivered her much anticipated address accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.  What made the day’s events extraordinary was that the world had been anticipating her speech since 1991.  In October of that year the Norwegian Nobel Committee presented the prize in absentia to Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest in Burma for her advocacy of democracy and human rights. Released from her long confinement, and in the wake of the Burmese government’s recent steps toward openness, Suu Kyi finally arrived in Oslo this weekend to accept her award.  The prize she’s still working for is “a free, secure and just society where our people might be able to realize their full potential.” For Suu Kyi, hearing of the award in 1991 helped reduce her sense of isolation.  “Often during my days of house arrest,” she said, “it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world. There was the house which was my world, there was the world of others who also were not free but who were together in prison as a community, and there was the world of the free; each was a different planet pursuing its own separate course in an indifferent universe.”  When the prize was announced, Suu Kyi says she knew “we were not going to be forgotten.” This is the one of the most significant passages in Saturday’s long-awaited address. Individuals like Suu Kyi who take enormous risks and endure great personal sacrifice for the sake of liberty often speak of what is means to learn that they have not been forgotten.  “To be forgotten too is to die a little,” she said. In all the time Suu Kyi was under house arrest, the world forgot neither her nor the plight of Burma’s other political prisoners and refugees.  Today we can join Suu Kyi in “cautious optimism” for Burma’s future and in helping ensure that a message gets to those who remain in prison or under duress in Burma, Cuba, Iran and other not free societies that they too are not forgotten. You can read Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Prize speech here. To learn more about advocates of freedom in Burma, visit www.freedomcollection.org. This post was written by Amanda Schnetzer, Director of Human Freedom at the George W. Bush Institute.