Has Aung San Suu Kyi become a puppet of Burma’s generals?

Having regained her freedom, the Nobel peace prize-winner seems to have lost interest in human rights, according to Peter Popham

9 April 2016

9:00 AM

9 April 2016

9:00 AM

The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Freedom Peter Popham

Rider Books, pp.440, £20, ISBN: 9781846043710

Peter Popham is commendably quick off the blocks with this excellent account of the run-up to last November’s Burmese general election, in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy swept the board. At the time of writing this review, Suu is taking four ministries, including foreign affairs. So she will do what she did during her years of house arrest — offer a beautiful human face to the outside world of a country still under the heel of the generals.

Popham seems to enjoy Burma and to understand it as much as any westerner can. Notwithstanding recent liberalisation, Burma is perhaps the second weirdest state on earth after North Korea, with impossibly complicated ethnic and religious fault lines that are cannily exploited by the army.

Popham wants to admire Suu, but she emerges from his account as a strangely chilly and ambiguous figure. Though she is a practising Buddhist, who meditates assiduously, she is at root secular and western.

Heroic leaders of freedom struggles tend to be more loved by the Nobel Peace Prize committee than they are by their inner circles. Martin Luther King was a sex pest who spread pain all around his family; Nelson Mandela was an aloof and occasionally abusive husband, who left behind ex-wives and children emotionally crippled by his indifference.

Suu was born into the Burmese upper class in 1945 and has never quite shed the hauteur of her upbringing. She was the daughter of Aung San, leader of the independence movement, who was assassinated shortly before Britain formally lowered the flag in 1948.

Suu later went on to read PPE at Oxford, where she met and married the Tibet scholar Michael Aris, ‘with his head in the Himalayan clouds’, before settling into happy domestic life with their two sons. She stumbled into Burmese politics almost casually in 1988, during a visit back to her homeland to see her ailing mother. It was a time of political turmoil, and because she was her father’s daughter, she was asked to address a political rally demanding an end to military rule.

She found she had a taste for it and stayed on, fearing, no doubt rightly, that if she returned to her family in Oxford she would never be let back in. The following year she was placed under house arrest and remained so, with some breaks, until 2010 when the regime wanted to show the world it was changing.

Perhaps she is being very honest, or simply does not wish to plead for public sympathy, but she is oddly dispassionate in reflecting on the personal consequences of her political activities, which meant she went for years without seeing her family. In a speech which one rather hopes her two sons did not read, she asserted that she chose the route she

wanted to follow and I walked that path out of my own free will. There was no sacrifice involved…. If you follow the path of your own choice you are not giving up anything for anyone else.

Reading this book, you cannot escape the view that Suu has been ‘played’ by the generals, who got international sanctions lifted in return for co-opting her into a supposedly democratic settlement, but one that is still controlled behind the scenes by the army through patronage and guaranteed seats in parliament.

There has been no revolution in Burma, and human rights are still trampled upon in the name of stability. ‘Only free men can negotiate,’ Nelson Mandela replied when the white Nationalists in Pretoria offered him conditional release from prison in the 1980s, and then his incarceration became their problem.

Suu can take on the role as public spokesperson for Burma abroad as foreign minister, but she cannot be president because a law, specifically passed to stymie her wider ambitions, states that those with foreign relatives are barred from the highest office.

She has shown great fortitude in her determination to suffer the consequences of her political activism, but Popham notes she is disorganised and can be plain rude to foreign visitors and Burmese allies alike. She is a poor delegator, and at the age of 70 remains wary of anyone who might seek eventually to replace her as the symbol of Burmese democracy.

The Burmese can be touchy about international scrutiny of the shocking treatment of their minority groups, especially the Rohingya Muslims, who live in wretched camps. The BBC’s Mishal Husain — who is of posh Pakistani descent — unexpectedly tore into Suu during a 2013 television interview, demanding to know why this human rights icon was downplaying this treatment. Suu, affronted by Husain’s impertinence, was overheard to mutter furiously: ‘No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.’ Somehow it is hard to imagine that sort of retort coming out of the mouth of Nelson Mandela.

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  • AsianOne

    Suu Kyi is a remarkable woman who is showing she will do what is best for her nation and not what the west (and its journalists) suggests to win their popularity vote.

    • norm

      lo you mean what is best for her

  • Philsopinion

    The Rohyinga situation is far more complex than the author is letting on. They only arrived in significant numbers in Burma after the Second World War and almost immediately set about ethnically cleansing the Buddhists from Arakan state. They have been used as proxies by the Bangladesh government and Wahabist elements from outside the country and have engaged in much violence. It was inevitable that the Buddhist population would respond.

  • Philsopinion

    “Somehow it is hard to imagine that sort of retort coming out of the mouth of Nelson Mandela.”

    A few paragraphs earlier you were smearing him. So, which is it to be?

    • post_x_it

      I presume the “smear” you refer to is where he points out that Mandela behaved very badly towards his own family and close friends. This “smear” is a well established historical fact.
      The other quote refers to his impeccable political tact.
      The two are not mutually exclusive, but perhaps you could explain why you think they are.

  • sfin

    Given the turmoil generated whenever the RoP exceeds a certain percentage of the population, I would value Aung San Suu Kyi as a realist.

    This article belongs in the dustbin of ‘bien pensant’ ideas that have done so much damage to countries whose culture is DIFFERENT to our own.

    Let the Burmese evolve.

  • ThaiJon

    differences between the NLD and the generals are routinely presented in
    the international media as a conflict between “democracy” and the
    autocratic military. In reality, the two sides represent competing
    factions of the country’s ruling elite, each intent on defending their
    class interests. Suu Kyi and the NLD speak for layers of the Burmese
    bourgeoisie whose interests were marginalised by the military’s
    domination of the economy and advocated a turn to the US and the opening
    up of the country to Western investment. If we understand current
    events from this perspective then they actions of Suu Kyi and the
    generals should come as no surprise.

  • Richard Baranov

    I have written about this before because it is a subject I know something about as a Buddhist Priest who has interactions with the people of Burma. The Burmese look across the border into what was a Buddhist country in which now, the remnants of the Native Buddhists are regularly massacred and persecuted in the most appalling ways. Meanwhile, for the sake of the Religion of Peace, the West remains silent for its own corrupt motivations and what is worse, sides with Muslims in Burma without warrant or understanding, they are the aggressors, not the victims. There is no reason that Daw Aung Sang Su Chi should come to the support of the Muslim immigrants to Burma, they have the same ill intentions to Burma as they had to Buddhist Bangladesh which is now a part of history. By the time the Muslims of Burma have finished, yet another culture will have been destroyed by these savages. “Islamic Genocide of Buddhists”, and “Islamic Genocide of Buddhists In Bangladesh – Part 1

    I am, as a Buddhist, and especially as a Buddhist priest, supposed to have Compassion for all beings but, quite frankly, having experienced Islam first hand, I have little or no sympathy for these people. If there really is some such thing as the Satanic, it is Islam and its consequences. No one, lest of all the Burmese, should yield an inch to it or its adherents, that automatically means destruction for them as it means destruction for the rest of us against these savages.

    • Bonkim

      You have no idea what Buddhism is about – A Buddhist Priest? you are an idiot. A true Buddhist renounces all and does not get involved in politics or nationalism.

      • Enoch Powell

        And regardless of that misunderstanding, it doesn’t wipe from history yet another genocide perpetrated by Islam.

        • Bonkim

          It is the so called Buddhists in Burma and Sri Lanka that have perpetrated genocide in those two countries – bt they are not Buddhists – simply claiming to be – military/fascist dictators. True Buddhists don’t get involved in worldly politics or nationalistic wars.

          • Hegelman

            There can be no such thing as a “true Buddhist” or a “true Christian” because complete adherence to unworldly values mean people like the Muslims who are not so sentimental will wipe them out. No religion or political movement that means to survive and win can afford to be completely true to its principles. You must be very naive not to realise that.

          • Bonkim

            All religion is bunk – that was the point.

          • Hegelman

            Simpering Percy did not believe in fighting and disdained war
            Simple Matt did, and turned Percy into tar.

      • Richard Baranov

        Then you certainly don’t know what you are talking about. The Sangha has always been involved in politics. Your sanitised view of Buddhism simply does not correspond to historical reality. At the forefront of the protests against the military in Burma was the sangha. Tibet was run by the Sangha, In Sri Lanka the Sangha has always been heavily involved in politics. Nagarjuna, perhaps the greatest of all Buddhist teachers, wrote a book on the duties of Kingship The Sangha has traditionally gone out of its way to overthrow tyrants. There is even a ritual concerning that, in English it is called, ‘The turning over of the Bowls’, in which bhiksus turn over their alms bowls in order to refuse food from a tyrant, more than one tyrant has been overthrown by that act because it means that the ruler lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the Sangha. The Vietnamese Sangha, when monks set themselves on fire were also following an old Buddhist political tradition. In short, like most Westerners you really have no or little clue of Buddhist history or of the role of the Sangha in politics. It has always played a vital role as a political institution from the beginning. Indeed, even the Sangha is a copy of the political system of the Indian republic that the Buddhasakyamuni came from a conscious act on his part to preserve republicanism in the face of the growing monarchies of his time. The Buddhasakyamuni himself instructed kings, ministers, and generals on their duties as is abundantly recorded in the Sutras. Quite simply, you don’t know what you are talking about and are subject to a false and sanitized version of Buddhism beloved of Westerners but which has nothing at all to do with Buddhism proper.
        Your statement: “A true Buddhist renounces all and does not get involved in politics or nationalism.” Is born out of ignorance, not knowledge, your statement is wrong from start to finish. A true Buddhist gets involved with all spheres of activity for the sake of sentient being look it up, it is called Upaya. A true Buddhist does not renounce anything, that is a Western gloss on detachment, which is quite a different thing from the cop out of ‘renunciation’ which is not the Middle way but an extreme, a fact that the Buddhasakyamuni also makes clear.

        • Bonkim

          You have been reading too many scrolls and not practising Buddhism. No holy war concept in Buddhism. Killing is breaking a key moral precept in Buddhism. One is strictly forbidden to kill another person in the name of religion, a religious leader or whatsoever religious pretext or worldly excuse.

          • Richard Baranov

            I’m sorry, but I have been a Buddhist priest for 50 years, read in Sanskrit, Pali and Tibetan, I pay little attention to the waffling of “erudite Western Scholars” Most of them only interested in confirming their own opinions by selective reading of source material which, apparently, is where you get your information from. It is therefore clear to me that you do not know what you are talking about. You are now discussing topics that I have not even touched upon. It is clear, that you are projecting your own ignorance on to me concerning things I have not broached. In short you are not aware of your own ignorance let alone mine! It is therefore not worth engaging with you because you are just simply interested in your own ill informed opinions, not fact or what the Buddhadharma actually teaches. That you broach topics that I have not discussed tells me that you have not learned the most elementary self discipline in mindfulness or “self” awareness, let alone capable of arguing in a constructive way.

          • Bonkim

            My mistake discussing religion with those steeped in superstition. All religions are superstitions – moulded by the make believe-minds of believers – so useless discussing religion. A faith cannot be discussed in rational terms.

          • Richard Baranov

            Yet again you display your ignorance. Buddhism is not a “faith”, indeed it rejects faith as a valid path. That you would now retreat into ignorant abuse simply confirms that you are simply an egotist disinterested in fact. So you are not only a bigot you are, apparently, a moral coward to boot!

          • Bonkim

            Utter rubbish coming from a Buddhist Monk. Morality in discussion about superstition? Budhism is the densest and most superstitious of religions – go listen to the myriad supernatural beings, insects and birds that signal all sorts of omens to you.

          • Richard Baranov

            The person who, after being shown they know nothing about the topic they are pronouncing about, dismisses the subject out of ‘sour grapes’ and ignorance is guilty of
            magical thinking in that he actually thinks his words have validity and meaning
            against the thing talked about, that is superstitious thinking of the first order.

          • Bonkim

            Great, Truth is what one belives in – no point arguing further.

          • Richard Baranov

            Nope truth is objective, not subject to your ego or hubris. So, yes, there is no point in arguing with your sort since you prefer your ignorance to fact.

          • Bonkim

            Truth is what you believe in you idiot monk! Will ignore your idle rants from now on. As the Buddha says – people have many visions to confuse you.

  • Bonkim

    The Lady is the daughter of a previous Dictator of Burma and knows her politics well. The outside world will not solve Burma’s problems – the Burmese will have to fight it out.Most of SE Asia is ruled by Dictators – it won’t make much difference to the world what happens to Burma or the Burmese.

  • “Having regained her freedom, the Nobel peace prize-winner seems to have lost interest in human rights, according to Peter Popham”

    As the daughter of a founding member of the Burmese Communist Party, Comrade Aung, and her Marxist allies in the military, have but one interest: The ‘liberation’ of the world under vanguard Communism. For those not in the know, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father was a founder of the Burmese Communist Party in 1939 and its first General Secretary*, and the 1962 coup in Burma was a Communist coup. The human rights violations operation taking place in Burma has nothing to do with Muslim persecution at the hands of Buddhists, but an operation meant to discredit Buddhism, just as the Marxist ‘War on Terror’ is cover for the ‘War on Islam’. As per Marx’s order, all religions are to be destroyed…

    Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

    ‘The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.’


    ‘The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.’


    ‘It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world.’

    The following are two discoveries I made in April 2015 regarding the Yugoslav ‘civil wars’ and ‘collapse’ of the USSR, and what they prove about the institutions of the West…

    (I) Communist control of Yugoslavia ‘civil wars’ gone unnoticed for quarter century.

    Secessionist Yugoslav Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim factions waged dirty wars against each other, neglecting to first wipe out the 9% of the population that attempted to do away with religion in Yugoslavia, proving the wars were orchestrated and controlled by the communist faction.

    Murder, torture and legal discrimination of those professing religious sentiment was so intense under the Marxist regime in Belgrade, that those who professed no religious affiliation increased from less than 10% pre-1945 to a bewildering 32% by 1987…

    ‘Like in most former Communist countries in Central, Eastern and South­‑Eastern Europe, the means and actions applied by the Yugoslav Government between 1945 and 1990 to reduce the influence of religions and religious organisations were quite effective: While there was just a tiny group of people who regarded themselves to be without a religion before the Second World War (less than 0.1% of the population), this number grew to 13% in 1953 and to 32% in 1987.’

    That 9% constitutes members of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, the Marxist party that subjugated Yugoslavia from 1945 until the party’s dissolution in January 1990. Before any religious sectarian strife, first there would have been massive reprisals against the reviled Communists who implemented policies to wipe out religion in Yugoslavia. The fact that no such reprisals took place proves that the breakup of Yugoslavia, during the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001), was manufactured and controlled by the Communists; and

    (II) When Soviet citizens were liberated from up to 74 years of horrific Marxist-atheist oppression on December 26, 1991, the day the USSR officially ended, there were ZERO celebrations throughout the USSR, proving (1) the ‘collapse’ of the USSR is a strategic ruse; and (2) the political parties of the West were already co-opted by Marxists,** otherwise the USSR (and East Bloc nations) couldn’t have gotten away with the ruse.

    ZERO celebrations, as the The Atlantic article inadvertently informs us…

    Notice, however, the Kremlin staged anti-government demonstrations that took place in Russia (and other Soviet republics) in the years immediately preceding the ‘collapse’, yet ZERO celebrations after the ‘collapse’!

    For more on this discovery see my blog…

    The above means that the so-called ‘War on Terror’ is an operation being carried out by the Marxist co-opted governments of the West in alliance with the USSR and other Communist nations, the purpose being to (1) destroy the prominence of the West in the eyes of the world, where the West is seen (i) invading nations without cause; (ii) causing chaos around the globe; and (iii) killing over one-million civilians and boasting of torture; (2) close off non-Russian supplies of oil for export, thereby increasing the price of oil, the higher price allowing oil exporting Russia to maintain economic stability while she modernizes and increases her military forces; (3) destroy the United States Armed Forces via the never-ending ‘War on Terror’; the ultimate purpose of the aforementioned to (4) bring about the demise of the United States in the world, opening up a political void to be filled by a new pan-national entity composed of Europe and Russia (replacing the European Union), a union ‘From the Atlantic to Vladivostok’;*** which will (5) see the end of NATO.

    The fraudulent ‘collapse’ of the USSR (and East Bloc) couldn’t have been pulled off until both political parties in the United States (and political parties elsewhere in the West) were co-opted by Marxists, which explains why verification of the ‘collapse’ was never undertaken by the West, such verification being (1) a natural administrative procedure (since the USSR wasn’t occupied by Western military forces); and (2) necessary for the survival of the West. Recall President Reagan’s favorite phrase, “Trust, but verify”.

    It gets worse–the ‘freed’ Soviets and West also never (1) de-Communized the Soviet Armed Forces of its Communist Party officer corps, which was 90% officered by Communist Party members; and (2) arrested/de-mobilized the five million vigilantes that assisted the Soviet Union’s Ministry of the Interior and police control the populations of the cities during the period of ‘Perestroika’ (1986-1991)!

    There can be no collapse of the USSR (or East Bloc nations) without…

    Verification, De-Communization and De-mobilization.

    The West never verified the collapse of the USSR because no collapse occurred, since if a real collapse had occurred the West would have verified it, since the survival of the West depends on verification. Conversely, this proves that the political parties of the West were co-opted by Marxists long before the fraudulent collapse of the USSR, since the survival of the West depends on verification.


    The West will form new political parties where candidates are vetted for Marxist ideology, the use of the polygraph to be an important tool for such vetting. Then the West can finally liberate the globe of vanguard Communism.
    * “The Rise and Fall of the Communist Party of Burma”, by Bertil Lintner, Cornell University Press, 1990

    ** The failed socialist inspired and controlled pan-European revolutions that swept the continent in 1848(1) taught Marxists and socialists a powerful lesson, that lesson being they couldn’t win overtly,(2) so they adopted the tactic of infiltration of the West’s political parties/institutions. In the case of the United States…(continue reading at DNotice)…

    *** ‘Russia is an inalienable and organic part of Greater Europe and European civilization. Our citizens think of themselves as Europeans. We are by no means indifferent to developments in united Europe.

    That is why Russia proposes moving toward the creation of a common economic and human space from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean – a community referred by Russian experts to as “the Union of Europe,” which will strengthen Russia’s potential and position in its economic pivot toward the “new Asia.”’ – Vladimir Putin (2012).