Thursday, April 19, 2012
April 19, 1948, the newly declared Independent Union of Burma became the 58th member of the United Nations, culminating its drive to democratic nationhood. Even before World War II, there were violent riots against British colonialism in Burma. During the war, Burma suffered greatly, being invaded by Japan in 1942 then being a battleground as the Allies defeated Japan by 1945. At the war’s end, the British returned, but the nation was eager for independence. Gen. Aung San emerged a leader in that cause, although he was assassinated by political opponents in 1947, half a year before independence. Burma’s democracy only lasted until 1962, when Gen. Ne Win seized control in a coup. The military has been largely running the country, directly or indirectly, ever since.
On Monday, in a landmark day for Burma, Gen. Aung San’s daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, will take a seat in the Burmese Parliament. Suu Kyi was 2 when her father was killed, but she learned much from her mother, Khin Kyi, who became a leading social figure. When Khin Kyi, was appointed ambassador to India in 1960, the teenage Suu Kyi went with her and began her life abroad. She completed high school in India and received a bachelor’s degree at Oxford. She then went to New York for graduate school but postponed her studies after joining the U.N. secretariat. In 1988, her mother suffered a severe stroke and Suu Kyi returned to Burma, finding it in the throws of a popular uprising. Gen. Ne Win resigned, but the military cracked down severely on the student-led protest, and martial law was declared. In 1990, the junta announced multiparty elections, but the popular Suu Kyi was put under house arrest. Although her party won a landslide victory, the election results were ignored by the junta. Suu Kyi spent most of the next 20 years in detention, finally gaining her freedom in November 2010 in a series sweeping political changes in Burma. On April 1, Suu Kyi won a seat in a Parliamentary by-election.