Fri 21 Dec 2012
Filed under: International,News
It was a very, very special occasion. The fact that Aung San Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest, that she had successfully been voted in as the NLD member in the Burmese parliament and that then she was allowed to leave the country and to come and address parliamentarians at Westminster Hall was truly an amazing escalation of events.
It’s quite rare for anyone other than a head of state to address assembled parliamentarians in Westminster Hall. We’ve had the Pope, President Obama and Nelson Mandela when he became president of South Africa, but Suu Kyi was the first person who was considered as someone of such importance to the democratic world that we were delighted and proud to welcome her.
Before she made her speech that day we were standing at the top of a landing and there was a string quartet playing – Suu Kyi loves classical music and she became overwhelmed. I remember her saying, “My God, I didn’t know there was going to be music!” and then she walked down the steps, a very slight, frail figure with a spine made of steel, and the whole hall, which holds around 500 people, collectively got to its feet and applauded her. It was enough to bring more than a few tears to one’s eyes.
In my address to her, what I wanted to try to convey was two things: one was that we hadn’t forgot her when she was under house arrest. That she was never alone. The world was aware of her. The second thing was that we understood this was but a first step – that democracy is not an event, it’s a process – gaining ground millimetre by millimetre and that we were behind that process.
What she did and what she continues to do takes guts. It’s difficult for people to believe they can make a difference, to have the courage to think that they can effect change. My lasting memory of her visit will always be her coming down the hall steps, having been through what she has, totally and utterly free.