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The One They Were Looking For

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
Fall 2012
Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

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For much of the past decade, Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the Burmese democracy movement, global icon, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and daughter of Burmese independence hero Aung San, had virtually vanished from all media in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation ruled by brutal military regimes since 1962. Despite the endless international press, Suu Kyi's name almost never appeared in the state-dominated media, and if it did, it was only to raise often disgusting questions about her—to accuse her of being a foreign lackey, or even a whore, for having married a British professor, Michael Aris; or to launch absurd charges that she and members of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), were terrorists. Of course, in the face of such "danger," the military had no choice but to remain in charge to protect "stability."

Yet over the past two years, her face and name suddenly have been everywhere in Myanmar. The state media, as well as the newly freed private media, feature stories about her and her party every day; editorials refer to her as one of the country's "leaders," a far cry from their previous portrayal of her. She gives interviews to foreign and local reporters, and on the streets of the capital Yangon, where in the recent past having pictures of her could get you detained, hawkers walking in between the rows of cars stop in the potholed, muddy streets to sell photos and posters of her and other NLD leaders. At Suu Kyi's house, where visitors were barred for years, reporters, diplomats, Burmese officials, and NLD members stream in and out.

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