Czech Republic welcomes release of Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic joined the world at the weekend in welcoming the release of Burmese dissident leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest. In that time, Prague has pressed hard for her release and done much at both state and non-governmental level to promote democracy in the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi, photo: CTK
Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from her home on Saturday looking pleased and humbled as thousands of Burmese supporters gathered to cheer her release. Half a world away, the Czech Republic shared in the relief of the moment, having over many years kept a close eye on the situation in Burma, and developed what Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg called an important connection.

“Her having won the Nobel Peace Prize can also be put down to the efforts of former president Václav Havel. It was his proposal. So we Czechs are connected to her in a certain way. We have always tried to keep in touch with her. And she has not backed down in spite of all those years of isolation. She is incredibly courageous and a great support to all of her people”.

The Czech Republic has, thanks to its own history with totalitarianism, taken a clear stance against the Burmese military regime, via funding and asylum for dissidents. Through the efforts of Václav Havel and the country’s EU presidency in 2009, the Czech Republic has been prominent in keeping the subject of human rights in the south-east Asian state alive in international diplomacy. Marie Peřinová, who runs the Burma projects of the humanitarian organisation People in Need, praises her country’s efforts on the Burmese front.

Photo: CTK
“The Czech Republic is actually among the greatest supporters of the Burmese democratic movement. The Czech Republic has long been providing direct financial support for projects within Burma, and at various international forums they have strived to support the Burmese democratic movement while at the same time applying pressure on the Burmese generals.”

In addition to supporting the international campaign for democracy, People in Need have been on the ground assisting the families of political prisoners and independent journalists since the mid-90s. I asked Ms. Peřinová how those projects could potentially be affected now that the opposition leader is free again.

“In our projects within Burma, People in Need is supporting all people who are striving for democratic reforms, so the release of Aung San Suu Kyi is actually a great opportunity, it will raise a lot of enthusiasm among the people and I’m sure they will be even more active in their projects struggling for democratic reforms. So we hope that we will have the chance to do even more inside Burma actually, and to work with more active people to support democratic changes.”

For Sabe Amthor Soe, the founder of the Burma Centre Prague, the Czech Republic is the kind of friend that the Burmese democracy movement needs most, actively defending its interests in the field of human rights on the international stage on which it always risks becoming overlooked.

Sabe Amthor Soe, photo: Alžběta Švarcová, www.rozhlas.cz
“The Czech Republic’s role in the EU is definitely very important, because the CR is always reminding its colleagues that the human rights situation is more important than economic relations with the regime in Burma. I think that without restoring humans rights there can be no true democracy.”

Sabe Amthor Soe also says that the CR must continue to press, not only on the EU, but on Burma’s neighbours, which are hosts to thousands of Burmese refugees and play key roles in the situation. While the release of Aung San Suu Kyi is a happy development she says, there are still another 2200 political prisoners who played key roles in the democratic movement and are also very important leaders in society.