Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a politician. She has always been a politician and has always readily admitted such. So it should come as no surprise that she is reconciling herself and her party with the military. Still, it hurts. She has become so much more than a politician. She has always reached out to the ethnic minorities. She has always stood up for human rights. When she makes statements like “It’s genuine, I’m fond of the army” there is a great deal of betrayal politically, socially, and towards everything that is right and good.
Daw Suu states that her fondness for the Burma army comes from the fact that her father, Aung San, founded the army when he liberated Burma from British rule and from Japanese domination. This is the same army that has used mass rape as a military weapon. This is the same army that has burned down villages. This is the same army that has used forced labor. This is the same army that enforced the brutal Four Cuts policy.
In an interview with the BBC Daw Suu demonstrated that she takes the issue lightly, stating,
People don’t like me for saying that. There are many who have criticised me for being what they call a poster girl for the army – very flattering to be seen as a poster girl for anything at this time of life – but I think the truth is I am very fond of the army, because I always thought of it as my father’s army.
She jokes about being a “poster girl for anything at this time of life.” She commits the moral error of sexualizing herself, what diplomats and the media have routinely done all the years she was under house arrest. She has always been a sexualized politician. In the statement above she engages with a discourse of sexuality like so many others who have not taken her seriously as a politician.
One can think of her statement and the media as (re)imaging previously established representations. I can’t imagine media that really focuses on the story of unique individuals though I think that kind of storytelling would be healing and instructive for our society.
I am reminded of an article by scholar Lisa Brooten, “The Feminization of Democracy Under Siege: The Media, ‘the Lady’ of Burma, and U.S. Foreign Policy.” In the article Brooten reviews media representations of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Brooten shows that press coverage of Daw Suu by Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report represents democracy through Daw Suu as feminized, vulnerable, and in need of protection by a mature and masculine U.S. democracy. Brooten’s study of Orientalism and democracy shows just how effective the media is in controlling not only a discourse of public opinion, but also sexualizing geopolitical struggles.
In her interview with the BBC Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sexualizes her own position in a geopolitical struggle. In doing so, she rejects the claims of the Other, the ethnic minorities in Burma, and works towards a justification for the continued domination by the Myanmar army.
Daw Suu was invited to and attended the Armed Forced Day Parade.
Helicopters buzzed overhead, tanks thundered past, and fighter jets snaked into the sky during Burma’s annual Armed Forces Day celebration on Wednesday, where one unexpected guest sat watching the pomp and ceremony from a front-row seat: opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
She stood side-by-side with army generals who spoke about reform, transformation, and democracy.
Mark Farmaner, with Burma Campaign UK commented
The Burmese army has for decades been raping, killing, torturing, executing, forcing millions from their homes, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity…When [those in ethnic areas] hear her say these things, they’re very upset and for them it seems like a very insensitive thing to say.
Vice Senior General Min Aung Hlaing spoke and reaffirmed the military’s
role in the national politics in accordance with the people’s desire when the nation faces ethnic conflicts or political struggles.
Daw Suu’s attendance at the military parade is not the only recent controversy. Villagers near copper-rich Letpadaung Mountain in Ah Lay Daw, Sagaing Division blocked her motorcade in protest of Daw Suu’s support for a “$1 billion copper extraction venture, a joint project between a Chinese state-owned weapons conglomerate, Norinco, and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, the Myanmar military’s secretive investment wing.”
When Suu Kyi arrived in a motorcade, she chastised farmers for protesting without police-issued permits (which were requested and denied) and urged them to see the positives in a project that has buried croplands under toxic soil and pushed farmers from their ancestral fields.
It is difficult to say these things about Daw Suu. She has always chosen to suffer with the people. She rejected multiple offers to be freed from house arrest if she only left the country. She has walked with the people through decades of oppression.
A founder of Suu Kyi’s party, Win Tin, told The Irrawaddy news outlet that Suu Kyi has faced the controversy with “bravery and courage” and that “if the military had dealt with this, the problems would have become much deeper.”
General Min Aung Hlaing stated at the Armed Forces Day ceremony,
While the country is moving toward modern democracy, our military plays a leading role in national politics. We will keep on marching to strengthen the democratic administrative path wished by the entire people.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s support for the military, no matter her long term intentions for reform, cannot be excused and should not be excused.