A Nobel for Burma

October 18, 1991

Burma has been led by isolationists for so long that most of the world had all but forgotten its existence when, in 1989, its military rulers changed the country's name to Myanmar. The regime had come to power a year earlier, when widespread protests forced the resignation of U Ne Win, the country's dictatorial ruler for almost 30 years. Those protests brought to the fore a remarkable woman, who this week was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was born to leadership. Her father is regarded as the founder of modern Burma and would almost certainly have served as its first prime minister had he not been assassinated in 1947, only months before the country became free of British rule. Since July, 1989, Suu Kyi she has been under house arrest, denied contact with her husband, an Oxford professor, and their two sons.

Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite who endowed the prizes, specified that the Peace Prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." But the committee has often stretched that definition to give the award to leaders of nonviolent struggles against oppression in their own countries. In several cases -- including those of Poland's Lech Walesa or South Africa's Desmond Tutu -- the prestige of the prize has brought important legitimacy and the protection of world interest and admiration. May that legacy continue, this time for Suu Kyi and for Burma, a country that badly needs the world's attention and concern.

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