Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Sui Kyi, by Justin Wintle, Random House (2007) 450 pps, with photographs. Available at all bookstores in Thailand through amazon.
On Monday evening 14th May, Justin Wintle’s political biography of Aung San Sui Kyi was launched at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. The author said Aung San Sui Kyi had been influenced by her mother, by Buddhism, by the principle of non-violence, and her time working in the UN. All of these factors had shaped her worldview. A ten-minute documentary was showed. The documentary was about Aung San Sui Kyi’s brush with death in 2003 when her motorcade was attacked by a hired mob in Burma. Many people were killed in that confrontation. Though the exact figure remains a subject of controversy. There never has been a government inquiry into the clash.
During the question period, the author was asked a number of questions, including whether given the minority and ethnic groups and the history of those groups, whether Burma was governable as a nation-state. There was no simple answer to that question, though Wintle came down on the side that Burma could find an accommodation with the minorities.
Wintle reviewed the division between the idealists and the realists. The idealists have long supported a boycott on tourism to Burma. The Lonely Planet was singled out as “brand” and the idealists called for the boycott of all its publications because of its volume on Burma. Wintle asked whether people should learn about the country only from official government publications.
The realists on the other hand have long argued that a large number of tourists would have been a positive force for Burma and ordinary Burmese people as their influence couldn’t be easily contained by the government. He also suggested that the policies of the idealists had helped push Burma further into the sphere of influence of the Chinese. Moreover sanctions had failed to deliver any tangible result as Burma had trading relations with China, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia.
Wintle also questioned whether Aung San Sui Kyi’s belief in non-violence was the right one for Burma. He asked whether if the people had taken to the streets after the 1990 election to protests the military’s decision to ignore the overwhelming victory by Aung San Sui Kyi’s party, whether the military might have stepped down.
There were more questions than answers; and that is the usual conclusion with most discussions about Burma.