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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at National Endowment for Democracy, Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C., May 16, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Carl, and I am truly pleased to be here today for this event, and I am very pleased to be here with my good friend, Ambassador Vondra, Ambassador Jayanama, and the members of Congress who just left.

(Laughter.)

But I'm very glad they were here. Congressman Pelosi and Congressman Kucinich, Congressman Lantos and Congressmen Payne and Porter. And they have really been wonderful supporters of democracy and I'm always very pleased to be able to work with them. And there are so many other distinguished colleagues, guests and friends who are here.

The National Endowment for Democracy is one of my favorite institutions. And I think Carl explained why. It has pioneered the use of our own civil society to work with supporters of democracy from other countries and cultures. It's had extraordinary success in helping democracy-builders learn from each other by sharing experiences across national lines. And by so doing has helped to give global impetus to the movement to democracy.

The Open Society Institute and the Institute for Asian Democracy provide further evidence that the desire to choose one's own leaders freely and without fear is indeed a universal human aspiration. It is also a universal human right.

Today, we assemble to mark the tenth anniversary of the last time that right was exercised by the people of Burma, and to pay tribute to the overwhelming winner of those elections, the National League for Democracy, and to its leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

As many of you know, Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of the late Aung San, the hero of Burmese independence. She was educated abroad, but in 1988, returned to Burma. This was a period of turbulence, but after years of military rule, a democratic opening did, in fact, seem possible.

Although reluctant at first, Aung San Suu Kyi began to speak out with fearless eloquence, and to electrifying effect. As a result, the 1990 elections were a rout. The NDL won more than 80% of the Parliamentary seats contested.

But instead of respecting the people's voice, the military tried to silence it. The authorities consolidated their own powers, threw dozens of elected representatives in jail, and drove others into exile. Aung San Suu Kyi, herself, spent more than five years under house arrest.

Some time ago, when I was serving as US Permanent Representative to the UN, I traveled to Burma. I met with General Khin Nyunt, head of the military intelligence. We didn't get along very well.

According to the General, the authorities are saving Burma from chaos by imposing stability upon an ethnically diverse population. Thus, he said, the government is not only respected by the Burmese, but loved. "After all", he said, "our people smile all the time."

I replied that, under repressive regimes, people may smile, but they do so out of fear, not happiness. And no true nation can be built on fear.

This is also Aung San Suu Kyi's core message. She has written that it is "not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."

As Carl mentioned, I did meet Aung San Suu Kyi in 1995. I went to Rangoon immediately after the Women's Conference in Beijing. And she and I, I must say, hit it off immediately. She is a remarkable woman of fragile beauty and inner strength, and I admire her more than almost anyone that I have met.

People often ask me about the symbolism of my jewelry. Well, today here the freedom light and here is a necklace that Aung San Suu Kyi gave me. And if in any way she would know that, I would be very pleased. She is a wonderful person who has kept the spirit alive.

She is using the tenth anniversary of elections to renew her call for a dialogue aimed at returning her country to democracy. The authorities have responded with a new wave of arrests and slanders. In a sense, the battle of wills between Aung San Suu Kyi and the government is grossly unequal. The military has all the weapons of coercion.

So each time Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to her supporters in Burma, she is vulnerable. Each time she expresses outrage about the lack of opportunities available to Burmese children, or the decline in education, the spread of disease, the loss of freedom -- she is vulnerable. And each time she records a videotape of the type we just watched, she is vulnerable. Always, she is vulnerable.

We, here in the United States, cannot change that. But we can ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi and her Burmese allies are never alone, for their bravery and sacrifice are part of a larger struggle that has engaged the energies and courage of humankind for generations.

After all, Gandhi was vulnerable when he told a Court in colonial India that "non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good." In fighting apartheid, Mandela was vulnerable. In defending Jewish emigration, Shcharansky was vulnerable. In asserting her rights, Rosa Parks was vulnerable.

The struggle for freedom is never easy and never over. Progress depends on courageous leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi, and on those willing to undergo hardships and grave risks such as the members of the NLD. It also depends on us.

Vaclav Havel, who endorsed Aung San Suu Kyi for the Nobel Prize, has told me many times how important it was for those struggling to bring freedom to Central and Eastern Europe to know they had friends around the globe.

Last year, the National Endowment helped bring together the World Movement for Democracy in New Delhi. Next month, the United States will participate in a Community of Democracies conference in Warsaw. And our purpose is to see that the democratic tide remains a rising tide around the world, by helping those who have gained freedom to sustain it, and by expressing solidarity with the efforts of those who seek freedom to secure it.

Today, we renew our call to the authorities in Rangoon to abide by the democratic wishes of their people; and to free political prisoners, end torture, fight narcotics production, and halt forced labor.

We renew our commitment to Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League of Democracy. As long as you struggle, we will do all we can to assist. And we know that you will not stop struggling until you prevail.

The yearning for freedom is relentless. The walls it cannot overwhelm, it will nevertheless erode. And I am confident the day will come when Burma is free. And Aung San Suu Kyi's democratic dream will become a reality through the inspiration of his daughter, the bravery of the Burmese people, and the support of those who love liberty around the world.

I thank you all very much for participating in this event because I think that for Aung San Suu Kyi to know that there are people all over that support her must be a source of strength to her. She a truly remarkable woman, and we owe her a great deal.

Thank you very much.

(Applause.)

[End of Document]
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