Burma’s Suu Kyi pays homage to Václav Havel at Forum 2000

Aung San Suu Kyi, photo: CTK

The 17th Forum 2000 conference is underway in Prague, bringing together over a hundred intellectuals, former and current politicians and other distinguished figures from around the world. This year’s Forum is focused on two subjects: the legacy of its founder, the late Václav Havel, and how countries can make the transition to democracy. Among the speakers are the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama, the Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, and Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi,  photo: CTK
Aung San Suu Kyi was the keynote speaker at the Forum 2000 opening ceremony in Prague on Sunday. The organizers said they had kept a name tag and a chair for the former Burmese dissident for years, believing she would one day be able to attend in person. In her remarks, the former Burmese dissident paid homage to the late Czech president, and the founder of Forum 2000, Václav Havel.

“When I was under house arrest for many years in Burma, I knew that somewhere in the world, there was a man who was speaking out for me, and because of whom my freedom remained intact in spite of physical detention. He made me feel free because he was free, and he believed in the right of every human being to freedom.”

Aung San Suu Kyi and Václav Havel never met in person, but the Burmese leader said the Czech president’s life story inspired her own struggle for freedom and democracy in her country.

“When I received his books – I was allowed to receive books from time to time – I read them avidly to try to find out how I too can survive the years of struggle as he survived. And that was when I understood that the ultimate freedom was to live in truth. That’s what we are still trying to do in my country.”

The 1991 Nobel Peace prize winner also told the audience she had received the award in part thanks to Václav Havel.

Václav Havel,  photo: Tomáš Vodňanský
“Of course, all of you know that it was thanks to him that I was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and I never made a secret of the fact that if instead of nominating me, he had accepted the nomination for himself, he would have been the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991. I will always believe that because I think it was the truth. And he believed in truth, facing the truth.”

The Forum 2000 conference continues in Prague until Tuesday, with debates focusing on transitional processes in Eastern Europe, the Arab world, Latin America, and other parts of the world.

One panel, hosted by Radio Prague’s editor-in-chief Miroslav Krupička, will also discuss the role of the radio in inspiring democratic changes. The conference concludes on Wednesday with several events held in Ostrava, Pilsen, Bratislava and Cracow.