5:30 – Members of the audience are being welcomed by the chairman of the IOP’s Forums Committee. He encourages everyone to join the Twitter conversation at #Harvardsuukyi and silence all cell phones. The gathering crowd eagerly anticipates the address of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese Nobel Laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy Party.
5:31 – The crowd rises as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President of Harvard University Drew Faust take the stage.
5:32 – David Elwood, Dean of the Kennedy School, introduces the Godkin Lecture and President Faust.
President Faust: Thank you, David. It is such an honor to be here tonight to introduce this year’s Godkin lecutre, nearly a quarter century has passed since Daw returned to her homeland to visit her mother…
President Faust then recounted Suu Kyi’s next quarter century coping with under house arrest, winning a Nobel Peace Prize, and seeing the beginnings of reform in Burma.
5:39 – I am honored to welcome Daw Suu, joining us as a free woman.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi rises to speak.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi: Thank you very much for a very warm welcome. I was so touched that I met your president at Oxford and now I am meeting her here on her own ground…. it shows that the greatest institutions have links to one another. I would like to talk about how we prepare to be citizens of a free society.
5:40 – When you have lived under dictatorship for a long time, you do not know what it is like to live in a free society… How do we prepare our people to become citizens of a free society?
5:42 – Act as though you were already a free citizen in a free society…. You cannot wait for everything to be done for you.
A nervous laugh runs through the crowd as the audience realizes what the price of acting like a free citizen was for Suu Kyi and the members of her party
5:42 – Take responsibility for your own choices.
5:43 – We took out a very simple message to our people: ‘There is going to be an election…. It is importatnt that they exercise that right which is also their duty. On the day of the elections, you will be an equal of the president. He has one vote, you have one vote….Give due thought to why you prefer to vote for one candidate over another.’
5:44 - Many people in Burma were afraid to go to the polls.
5:45 -(Speaking of the period in which the leaders of her party were either in prison or under house arrest) Because we went through this very difficult time, people became afraid to be in contact with our party…. Many of our citizens became to see (political parties) as dangerous.
We had to tell them “You will not be imprisoned” for going to the polls
5:46 – We had to work to make them understand that secret voting meant that no one would know how they voted…. We had to teach them how to vote….We had to explain to them why it was important for each and every one of them to vote.
5:47 - Every person must assume responsibility for their decision to vote or not to vote…. The voter turnout in the 2010 elections was about 70%.
5:48 - We had been able to teach them in a very short time that they had to take part in the voting process if they wished to be considered responsible citizens
5:49 – Once we (the National League for Democracy Party) had won the elections, our next step was to make the people understand that they had the power to change their own communities.
5:50 - What are the greatest needs of our villages? Roads, water, electricity, health care….We started off with simple projects, like the digging of wells.
5:51 - We wanted to teach our people to be citizens in a free society and be to responsible members of their community.
Daw Suu then explained how, to teach civil responsibility, her party built wells for small village communities if the communities met certain stipulations: the well could not be on private property, it had to be easily accessed by the majority of the population, the water had to be potable, and the villagers had to appoint a committee to care for the well.
5:52 – Unless they were prepared to meet all of these requirements, we would not dig the wells….It made our villagers realize that they had to be involved in communal life.
5:54 – It’s amazing what a small amount of responsibility can do for our people.
5:54- Citizens in an authoritarian state are treated like children.
5:55 - Every day, everybody wakes up and has to take responsibility for the day that is before them.
5:56 – We have just started out on the road to shaping our own country.
5:57 – We have this great advantage that we have come to the democratic scene late….We can learn from [other democracy's] mistakes.
5:58 - If you’re not ready to assume your responsibilities, you cannot be said to be free….Freedom and responsibility are different sides of the same coin….Those who do not accept responsibility are truly not free.
5:59 - Democracy is going to be a tough choice. It’s not easy to achieve it. It’s not easy to sustain it. But I believe our people have the ability to cope with it…..If you have any helpful ideas, please let me know.
This concludes Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s public address at the JFK Jr. Forum at the Institute of Politics.