Book review: The big picture on Myanmar’s struggle

“Freedom From Fear” by Aung San Suu Kyi

I bought this book a while ago but never had the priority to read it, then I lost faith in Aung San Suu Kyi in 2017 due to the way she handled the Rohingya crisis, but then 1 February 2021 coup happened. Something doesn’t add up here but I don’t know what, and thus I thought perhaps it’s time to properly read her story, through her own words.

To my surprise, however, unlike most semi-autobiographies the book is not all about her. Instead, it is a thorough history of Burma from the colonial times, to independence, until the current affairs issues as at the time of writing in 1995 (Note that she refers the country as Burma the whole time in the book. While the endonym Burma was derived from the largest ethnic group in the country, the Bama people, the name change to Myanmar – which is politically more correct as it includes the ethnic minorities – was changed in 1989 not long after the military takeover. Hence, the forever association of the name change to military rule).

The first few chapters of the book serve as an excellent introduction to the country Suu Kyi descriptively love and adore, where chapter 2 can easily mistaken for a page from Lonely Planet guide book on Myanmar. Chapter 3-4 cover the story of the struggle for independence and the intellectual elites of historic Burma, while right at the very beginning of the book in chapter 1 Suu Kyi wrote about her national hero father Aung San, whom died when she was just 2 years old and whom never get to see his country’s independence.

The book then proceeded with part 2, with short chapters 5-23 that serve as the core arguments from and for Suu Kyi, some that she wrote herself, few letters to international organizations, several media articles, some transcript to speeches, while there also quite few articles or speeches made by others in honor or on behalf of her. The topics include the psyche of the nation, the social structure of Burma, the political landscape of the country, its dark past present and future, and of course the many arguments for democracy.

Part 3 of the book consist of testimonials on Suu Kyi by several people who knows her personally, and hence gives us the flavour of her real character, which all in all the 3 parts of the book can give us a pretty broad idea about the state of the country and Aung San Suu Kyi as its non-violent “Burmese Gandhi”.

But the future doesn’t look too bright, unfortunately. Here we are 26 years later since the book was written, and most of the names mentioned in the book are still pretty much active in power, or to be more precise, re-surfaced after the coup. And if there is still no real resistance forces from the people (a factor made clear in part 1 of the book as a result of the British colonial ruler), or the lack of leadership in a shape of militant underground like in most struggling countries, there seems to be limited options for the Burmese than to just be submissive to the authoritarian regime once again. But that’s a big if.

Because, while I do not in any way support violence, sometimes it seems that non-violence approach is not working if your opposition is unlike the F. W. de Klerk to Nelson Mandela. Now, for 10 years since 2011 the junta tried to be like Mubarak or Suharto, both of whom “step down” but with backdoor deals that secure their own asses. But as the 2021 coup unfolds, it becomes apparent that the regime could only eventually back down in a Gaddafi way, which, if things remains the same as in the book, is unlikely to happen anytime soon, even 26 years later.