In a Nobel Tradition

October 15, 1991

"Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying. So free men are the oppressed who go on trying and who in the process make themselves fit to bear the responsibilities and to uphold the disciplines that will maintain a free society. Among the basic freedoms to which men aspire that their lives might be full and uncramped, freedom from fear stands out as both a means and an end."

The author of those words is a frail, 46-year-old woman named Aung San Suu Kyi. An exile most of her adult life, she and now lives under house arrest in her country, Burma, whose military rulers call it Myanmar. The words are from an essay, published by the New York Times in July, when she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. Yesterday, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

While democracy gains in the world, Burma gets worse, its tyrants evading notice through isolation and repression. The Nobel Prize puts a healthy spotlight on the country and affords some protection to the valiant opposition leader languishing in arrest, far from her husband and schoolboy sons.

That she is the central figure in Burma today, the generals who imprison her do not doubt. Happenchance brought her there. During a slight opening of Burma's window, she returned in April 1988 to nurse her sick mother. Crowds were demonstrating. Soon she was addressing them on the legacy of her father, a leader of independence assassinated in 1947. Then she was the figure around which the opposition rallied.

The junta cracked down. In July 1989, Mrs. Kyi was put under arrest, with thousands of her countrymen. The names of the generals do not matter. An election was permitted in May 1990, in which her National League for Democracy won 392 of 495 seats. It was quashed. Burma still lives in terror.

This Nobel Prize is in the tradition of those for Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in 1984, union leader Lech Walesa of Poland in 1983 and Andrei Sakharov of the Soviet Union in 1975. Like them, Aung San Suu Kyi will prevail. She is on the side of history.

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