By Oliver Spencer –
Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in the UK on Tuesday with a full schedule organised by the British Foreign Office carefully crafted to ensure civil society was kept if not out, at least at the boundaries. We wouldn’t want anyone to say anything that ruins the moment.
Suu Kyi’s invitation to speak in Westminster Hall, the oldest and largest room in Parliament, was an example of what the UK does best: pomp and pagentry.
Invite in hand, we went to take part in something magnificent; a celebration of a great person who stood up for free speech and suffered greatly on behalf of her struggle, losing her husband and contact with her children for decades in the process.
Unfortunately in my excitement, I had forgotten that this was the British establishment at work, and that a shirt with Suu Kyi on it (see image) would be completely unacceptable. How could I consider turning such an event into something political when they were doing their best to turn it into something different?
Unluckily for them, because I’m sure they would have loved to keep me out, I ran around the corner and secured a plain acceptable-to-pompous-parliamentarians shirt and tie – you know, the style that many ex-colonial countries refuse to wear because its the dress of the colonisers. Luckily Burma wasn’t colonised… oh, hang on.
Anyway, now in and with Suu Kyi sat down, we had the surprise pleasure of listening to an excellent speech from John Bercow in which he stated that she was “the first figure other than a Head of State, the first woman from abroad and the first citizen of Asia to [speak here].”
Thankfully, he did not mince his words and came our with real repproach to the Burmese government: “I can myself attest, this is a cabal guilty of rape as a weapon of war, extra-judicial killings, compulsory relocation, forced labour, deployment of child soldiers, use of human minesweepers, incarceration of opponents in unspeakable conditions, destruction of villages, obstruction of aid and excruciating torture.”
Suu Kyi’s speech, which you can watch below, was beautiful in it’s peacefulness, grace and even spots of parliamentary humour.
What stood out for me however was that looking around, I saw oodles of celebrities and aged Lords, but almost no activists. When I came out of parliament, worse was the poor Burmese demostrators standing outside in the rain.
The UK parliament did what it does well – it provided Suu Kyi with the praise and value that she deserves. Unfortunately at the same time, it did what it does worst – creates a world of exclusion and elitism.
I just hope that those protesters who stood outside in the pouring rain for three hours will forgive them.
Courtesy Article 19
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