I have been mesmerised by Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s interview on Desert Island Discs today. After hearing it this morning, I have played the podcast over and over again, contemplating the immense personal sacrifices she made so her war-torn country can enjoy peace and democracy, the life we take so much for granted.
Now 67, and always recognised by the colourful flower she wears in her hair, she has set her sights on being the next president of Burma. She tells radio presenter Kirsty Young how her life had been shaped by her mother, a Burmese ambassador in India who drummed into her strong willed young daughter that women could do anything, and a political idolised father who was assassinated when she was very young.
On the eve of her wedding, the politically inspired Oxford graduate Aung San Suu Kyi warned her husband-to-be, Michael Aris, that her country would always come first; up until recently, Burma was one of the world’s most isolated and repressive nations.
The overwhelming love of her country and vision for achieve political and social change led to her house arrest for the best part of 20 years after she had returned to Burma in 1988 to nurse her sick mother. She felt unable to return to the UK to be with her husband when he became terminally ill and later died, and she left behind her two sons who were 16 and 11, which must have been unbearably difficult for them, and she admits how painful this was for her too.
Having played the Desert Island Disc recording a few times, I do get more of an understanding of the Buddhist philosophy from which Aung San Suu Kyi finds strength, and I can see why she made the choices she did. In the past, when reflecting on the six great aspects of suffering in Buddhism – the fifth of the six is “to be parted from those one loves”, which must have made it easier for her to live with the difficult choices which governed her life.
Aung San Suu Kyi has never doubted her decision to leave her family behind, and made it clear that sentiment and emotion could not influence her, saying:
“I’m not terribly fond of melodrama and I think when people have chosen a certain path, they should walk it satisfaction and determination and not try to make it appear a tremendous sacrifice. I think then it is like asking for something back, saying ‘here I am making this sacrifice,’ and I don’t think you should do it. Whatever you do out of your own free will, that should be a gift that you give to life or those whom you love.”
Can you think of other women political leaders who would make this kind of sacrifice? It would certainly not be expected, and our politicians in the UK admit how they struggle with their family-work balance, like Louise Mensch, and others like her who have stepped back from politics to spend time with their families instead.
Aung San Suu Kyi is an extraordinary and exceptional woman with fire in her belly and possesses an incredibly strong will in her desire to transform Burma’s political future, whatever the personal cost to her and her family. We will know how successful she is in 2015 if she achieves her wish to become the country’s president, and I feel confident that she will succeed.
These are the musical choices made by Aung San Suu Kyi which were selected by people special to her. I particularly liked the Tom Jones choice, The Green Green Grass of Home, which she had never heard of before, and it reminded her her personal assistant, Dr Tin Mar Aung, who made this selection, of being back home in Burma when she was working in the UK. Whenever I hear John Lennon’s Imagine, it never fails to make my skin tingle.
1. Ko Mya Gyi, Asia’s Hero General Aung San
For her father.
2. Mozart, Overture to The Magic Flute, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, conducted by Neville Marriner
For her husband, Michael.
3. The Beatles, Here Comes the Sun
For Andrew Heyn, UK ambassador to Burma.
4. Traditional, Graceful Flower
For her son, Alexander.
5. Pachelbel’s Canon, Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan
6. Tom Jones, The Green Green Grass of Home
For her personal assistant, Dr Tin Mar Aung.
7. Antonin Dvorák, Largo from Symphony no. 9 (New World), Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Christoph Von Dohnányi
For the UN and everyone in the Western world who has helped the democratic cause.
8. John Lennon, Imagine
For her son, Kim.