What Suu Kyi's moment shows us
Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, but she wasn't able to accept it in person.
June 15th, 2012
10:23 AM ET

What Suu Kyi's moment shows us

Editor’s note: Thorbjørn Jagland is chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and secretary general of the Council of Europe. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Thorbjørn Jagland.

At long last, it seems, Aung San Suu Kyi can deliver her Nobel lecture.

The pro-democracy campaigner from Myanmar will be in Oslo on Saturday to accept the Nobel Peace Prize she won in absentia more than 20 years ago.

It will be one of the greatest events in Nobel history, and it gives us the opportunity to reflect on human rights and what they require of us.

The 1935 Nobel Prize winner, German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, was never able to accept his award because he was imprisoned in a concentration camp and banned from traveling to Oslo.

Nazi leader Herman Goering offered to free Ossietzky from his captivity if he abandoned his pacifism. Ossietzky declined, however, and perished there.

When Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann and Willy Brandt worked to generate public support for Ossietzky to be awarded the Peace Prize, Norwegian author Knut Hamsun — a Nobel Prize winner for literature and a devout Nazi supporter — was furious at the idea. In an open letter, he asked Ossietzky if it would not be better "to help Germany at a time when the entire world was baring its teeth at the German people."

Nordahl Grieg, another acclaimed Norwegian writer, replied: "Hamsun wants Ossietzky to be forgotten. But perhaps it will be one of the things that we do not forget: The great, world famous man who asks the question and the man in the prison uniform who cannot answer.”

These days, political leaders jostle to have their picture taken together with Suu Kyi. I am sure that in 10 or maybe 20 years, they will be competing to be pictured with Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Prize in absentia. It shows that political courage is about joining the fight when it really matters, not just when it is comfortable to do so.

As the trial against admitted mass killer Anders Behring Breivik takes place in an Oslo courthouse, I also want to single out another Nobel Prize winner.

Willy Brandt was the German chancellor who knelt in front of the memorial in Auschwitz. Parts of the German media and political establishment criticized him, claiming that one only does that sort of thing when thinking about God. Brandt retorted, "What else should a fellow human being do at such a moment than kneel?"

The Norwegian people have done just that since Breivik’s shooting rampage last summer. Whether we believe in God or not, we are all striving to understand his motives. Just as we will always struggle to understand the Holocaust.

What we can be sure of is that Breivik and the Holocaust are both aspects of the same phenomenon. He represents an individual's madness, racism and bigotry. The Holocaust was systemic madness, racism and bigotry.

All fascism is driven by people who have more than a political idea. They have an inner desire to kill and to destroy. They have the ideology at their disposal, and they have a prophecy, which in their eyes is so important that it justifies all means.

In the wake of the Holocaust, we have set ourselves the eternal question: Could it happen again? I do not know, but there is good reason to take the question seriously now and forever.

Breivik is not alone in Europe. You only have to look on the Internet. A frightening number of people say they agree with his analysis, even if they do not share his methods.

Moreover, Breivik is not unique in our time. In many places around the world, innocent people are subjected to the same madness.

Breivik says the murders were necessary in order to spare many more lives in the future. Those who send people on suicide missions, explode a bomb in a market or in a mosque think the same — that the killing is necessary for the greater cause. But terrorism makes political hostages of those it is intended to serve.

Against such a background, moderation and compromise are probably the most important values we have to fight for today. This is where the great Nobel Prize winners come in.

Suu Kyi had the strength, after 20 years of isolation, to compromise with the generals that isolated her. Nelson Mandela reached out a hand to his captors. Liu Xiaobo said in his defense speech in court, "I have no enemies.” Brandt received the Peace Prize for starting to build bridges with the East. He understood that the building of bridges must begin with kneeling.

When Suu Kyi comes to Norway to deliver her Nobel lecture, she will remind us all that we need to fight using nonviolent means. And she will remind us that we must all make efforts to bring out the good in ourselves, to stand up for something at a higher level and closer to home.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Thorbjørn Jagland.

Topics: Human Rights • Myanmar

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soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. dari

    Yet again, another twist on an otherwise interesting story to further spread more disinformation about the "Holocaust". When is this going to stop? It was a war, more Russians and Poles died than Jews and since the war- Jews have been using that excuse to constantly kill innocents, drop bombs into crowds of women and children, and sponsor killings abroad.

    How about relate the shooting rampage to something more modern, like perhaps the war on Islam or the disregard for genocide in African nations?

    June 15, 2012 at 11:11 am | Reply
    • Jacob Birk

      "More Russians and Poles died than Jews and since the war": The Holocaust is NOT about sheer numbers alone. Your mindset is exactly like that of a real-estate agent. Shameful.

      June 15, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
    • Matt

      Dari, sounds like you you need to educate yourself on the difference between having a religion and having a nationality. Many of the Jews sent to the death camps WERE Russian and Polish. You are using Judaism as if it's a third nationality.

      It's rather like saying that many more Iraqis and Iranians died than Muslims during their war in the 1980's.

      June 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Reply
    • amidamoon

      how did we go from Suu Kyi to WW2 Nazi Germany in one article? This wasnt about Suu Kyi at all.

      June 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Reply
    • Ian

      Exactly, what does anything Jewish have to do with a south-east Asian political leader? Besides, more of the article is about Brevik than Jews or The Lady anyway. Kind of a fluff piece, inserted likely because it comes from some Nobel fellow. Ms Suu Kiy is a Nobel prize winner and a powerful catalyst for change in one of the world's most backward and repressed countries, and certainly does not need to be bunged in with some rambling opinions. I do agree with one statement, that "political courage is about joining the fight when it really matters, not just when it is comfortable to do so." No doubt there at all.

      June 16, 2012 at 10:35 am | Reply
    • Monica

      Because the Holocaust is the ultimate example.

      It is a fact that it occured and it occured out of hate and putting the blame on one race of people: Jews.

      I am sorry to say this, but I do think something similar to the Holocaust is already occuring in various parts of
      the world, in smaller versions.

      Hate and violence are much easier than non-violence. Non-violence requires patience and restraint and
      long term committment. Hate is much easier with an outlet of violence and immediate "gratification" and
      attention for being the one who lets out that violence and gets the attention.

      You sound as though you doubt the Holocaust occured? If so, please visit local library for proof. Pictures
      and all.

      June 17, 2012 at 6:04 am | Reply
  2. D

    This article is shameful, the focus should have been completely on Suu Kyi. It felt like she was merely a footnote bookending an article about the holocaust. Such an amazing human being deserves better than that.

    June 15, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Reply
    • eroteme


      June 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Reply
    • Monica

      To a degree I agree with you. The article was about Suu Kyi might have been better without the other comments.

      However, I have the deep feeling in my heart that she would not subscribe to that thought.

      As far as I am concerned, there should be a national day in her honor to honor Democracy in general.

      We in the US take it all for granted, while she gave it all (losing husband) and captivity, and is still giving it all.
      I have meditated and prayed for her for a very long time. The day I saw on the news she was released I
      was in someone's hospital room. I jumped up and down and started crying with joy. It took me 30 minutes to
      explain to those present why on earth I would be so concerned with a woman who'd been locked up for years,
      and in another country no less.

      That in and of itself says it all.

      June 17, 2012 at 6:12 am | Reply
  3. Masao

    Aung San Suu Kyi became head of the Burmese National League for Democracy in 1988, opposing the military government of Myanmar (Burma). She was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her human rights work. She was under house arrest or imprisoned by the military government for her dissident work.
    Selected Aung San Suu Kyi Quotations

    • Our struggle for democracy is a struggle for our everyday life.

    • Human beings the world over need freedom and security that they may be able to realize their full potential.

    • The people of Burma are like prisoners in their own country, deprived of all freedom under military rule.

    • You can never separate the political system of a country from the way you conduct your daily life.

    • The democracy process provides for political and social change without violence.

    • Peace as a goal is an ideal which will not be contested by any government or nation, not even the most belligerent.

    • As my father's daughter, I felt I had a duty to get involved.

    • The value systems of those with access to power and of those far removed from such access cannot be the same. The viewpoint of the privileged is unlike that of the underprivileged.

    June 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Liu Xiaobo et al would have perished had they not the world on their side. In this kind of non-violent struggle against an autocratic regime, many freedom fighters perish in prison, without gaing media attention. That Suu Kyi, Mandela und Li are high profile cases have to do with personality and luck – to have support from the outside world.
    Jegland's article is a potpourri of different political issues. It would have been better for him to highlight them separately.

    June 16, 2012 at 5:06 am | Reply
  5. krm1007 ©™

    Need to stop the muslim holocaust happening in Burma/ Myanmar as the world watches. The sad part part is
    Bangladesh is refusing to give shelter to the refugees escaping the massacre. Wonder what use is UN?

    June 16, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Reply
  6. Daily

    Anger, fear linger after Myanmar communal clashes http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/

    The violence is a major setback for a rapidly reforming Myanmar that has seen a year of dramatic political change after 49 years of oppressive military rule

    DEEP-SEATED anger and fear smoulder between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the aftermath of the worst sectarian clashes in Myanmar in years, raising concerns that a fragile peace may not last long.

    Violence has largely subsided in northwestern Rakhine state, leaving reformist President Thein Sein with the difficult task of averting another round of mob attacks that have left dozens dead and tens of thousands homeless.

    “The government should separate Rakhines and Rohingyas because we can no longer live together,” Than Mya, a 30-year-old mother of five who lost her husband, told Reuters on Saturday at a camp for displaced villagers in Rakhine’s capital, Sittwe. “My husband was at the front when the fighting started. I didn’t see him die,” she said, while kneeling on the ground with a huge statue of Buddha behind her.

    The official death toll from two weeks of attacks stands at 50, with 58 injured and more than 2,500 houses burned down, according to state media. Local people say many more died. More than 200 people remained missing from the Muslim town of Maungdaw, where the unrest first started eight days ago, said an official recording casualties for the government, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.


    June 16, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  7. john

    If nobel peace price is all about demoncracy and peace, why it should be decided by a small panel of white Elites from a tine tiny small country but not be elected by all people in the world? At least votes from average Norwegians or Norwegians and Swedens combined?
    If those white Elites can give an award to Obama, why can't they give another one to Bush? Looking back, what exactly is the difference between these two guys afterall?

    June 16, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  8. truthbetold


    Rohingya activists claim a centuries-old lineage in Rakhine, which like the rest of Burma is predominantly Buddhist. The government regards them as illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. "There is no ethnic group named Rohingya in our country," immigration minister Khin Yi said in May.

    Communal tensions had been rising in Myanmar since the gang r and murder of a Buddhist woman last month that was blamed on Muslims. Six days later, apparently in retribution, a Buddhist mob dragged 10 Muslims from a bus and beat them to death.

    June 16, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Reply
  9. muslimsagain

    The grudges go back far. Bitterness against the Rohingya in Myanmar has roots in a complex web of issues: the fear that Muslims are encroaching illegally on scarce land in a predominantly Buddhist country.

    June 16, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Reply
  10. goldriver

    It started when three Rohingyas abused and killed a Raikhine girl and took jewels. Rohingya is not Myanmar ethnic, never before, never will be. They are Bengali, illegal immigrant from Bangladesh. Look at their face, they are India ethnic. Burmese face is similar to Thai/Philippine. No DNA match, No Cultural match, No religion match. To avoid the conflict, they should stay in Muslim countries. They don’t belong to Burma. They should stay in Bangladesh/India, their mother land. Never ever say they are “Myanmar’s ethnic”, THEY ARE NOT MYANMAR. They have been breeding like dogs. 800K in burma is too much to handle. If Burma don't kick them out, they will take over the whole burma and they will make Burma to Muslim country. These guys are so dangerous. They seems so pityful when they are poor and have no food to eat.

    June 16, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  11. Arakan

    The government of Bangladesh should immediately open its borders to people seeking sanctuary in Bangladesh from sectarian violence in Arakan State in western Burma.

    The Bangladeshi government, anticipating an influx of refugees fleeing sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in western Burma, this month reportedly ordered its border guards and naval services to prevent Burmese from crossing the border into Bangladesh. Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said at a news conference in Dhaka that, “It is not in our interest that new Bangladesh is MUSLIM.
    Muslims are discusting to each other.
    Shame on you muslims.

    June 16, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  12. Onikami

    racism and bigotry are an escape for small minds who can't control the world aroumd them.

    June 16, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Reply
    • Monica

      well said.

      June 17, 2012 at 6:15 am | Reply
  13. Onikami

    world war 3 cannot get here soon enough. world orders need upsetting so bad it's not even close to being funny. i love america but it needs shaken out of it's pacifist stupidity. war is a constant and eternal state, our government needs to realize this as well as the general public. world peace will never be achieved without quite a few things happening. and as long as we stay on one planet it will never be acheived.

    June 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Reply
    • Loud Words

      It's very easy to suggest a world war 3, when you wouldn't have to fight it. I'm not convinced massive amounts of violence will stop violence.

      June 17, 2012 at 10:14 am | Reply
  14. sam

    "— a Nobel Prize winner for literature and a devout Nazi supporter —"

    Great prize you got there. What's it for, again?

    June 17, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  15. Austin Inyang

    Moslems are killing Moslems in Syria, and yet the Islamic nations are silent, doing nothing. They are all waiting for the western (mostly Christian) nations and the UN to act. And yet when those nations do act – as they did in Libya, and before then in Bosnia & Kosovo – all you hear from Moslems is 'War on Islam,' 'Occupation of Moslem land' and so forth. It seems to me that the only thing that galvanises these people is when some 'infidel' 'insults' the Prophet (SAW). They are not moved by violations of human rights, no matter how horrific. I think its time for Moslems to examine the basis of their faith and its place in modern life.

    June 21, 2012 at 10:17 am | Reply

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