22
Jun

Burmese parliamentarian and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi capped off her world tour with a historic address in the U.K. Parliament. But for all the accolades she has received abroad, she knows how much more of a struggle there is at home.

By Hannah Beech

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses a joint session of U.K. Parliament inside Westminster Hall in London on June 21, 2012.

She has charmed the world. In London, on June 21, Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi melted one of the toughest audiences of all, drawing applause from journalists gathered at 10 Downing Street for her press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Later she addressed a joint session of the Houses of Parliament, making her one of only four foreign dignitaries to be given this privilege since World War II and only the second woman to do so (Queen Elizabeth II was the other). Such a welcome might have induced euphoria, but Suu Kyi used her platform to warn against assuming that her freedom to travel signaled an end to Burma’s problems. “So many hills remain to be climbed, chasms to be bridged, obstacles to be reached,” she said.

The historic speech capped a week of high-profile globetrotting by Suu Kyi, who until May had not left Burma for 24 years, spending most of the intervening time under house arrest at the behest of the country’s ruling junta. After traveling to Thailand in May to attend an economic conference and meet with Burmese refugees and migrants, Suu Kyi visited Oslo to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize she was unable to collect when it was awarded to her 21 years ago. In Ireland, she hobnobbed with socially conscious rock star Bono, who looked gleeful just to share a stage with such an adored activist. On June 19, in London, Suu Kyi met with fellow Nobel Peace laureate, the Dalai Lama, who is one of the few other untainted exemplars of nonviolent resistance in our times. Described as a private meeting, the confab between the two famous Buddhists was a summit of dazzling smiles that left millions across the globe enchanted.

The next day, which happened to be her 67th birthday, Suu Kyi visited Oxford, where she was granted an honorary degree. The trip was bittersweet: Suu Kyi was revisiting the place where she had lived with her British academic husband and their two children before she embarked on her unexpected career as a Burmese democratic hero. It was only upon returning to Burma to care for her sick mother in 1988 that Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence hero Aung San, was suddenly thrust into politics and cast in a new role as the voice for one of the world’s most oppressed populaces. When her husband was dying of cancer in 1999, he was rejected for a visa to visit her in Burma, where she was between spells of house arrest. Suu Kyi dared not leave Burma for fear that the military regime would not allow her back home. She missed much of her sons’ childhoods and has told me on two occasions that they paid a “sacrifice” for their mother’s political activism. Read more…

Hannah Beech is TIME’s East Asia Correspondent and China Bureau Chief.

As publilshed in www.time.com on June 21, 2012.

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