On November 3, 2016, her Excellency, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) visited the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) and was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor for her contribution to the advancement of democracy in Myanmar and the world as a whole.
ASSK, a previous fellow at CSEAS, resisted the Burmese military government through non-violent means and led the National League for Democracy (NLD) while under house arrest for over 15 years. During the historic elections of 2015, the NLD was supported by a great majority of Burmese and the country made a peaceful transfer of power and is currently working toward a more civilian-based political system.
Between 1985–86, she was engaged in research at CSEAS, focusing on her father, General Aung San. In 2013, ASSK visited Kyoto University and was awarded the title of Honorary Fellow of Kyoto University. To date, Kyoto University has conferred 13 Honorary Doctoral degrees to outstanding scholars for their scientific contributions in various fields. This is the first time that the university has conferred such an honorary degree on an individual for their commitment to freedom, democracy, and human rights.
This article is a synopsis of ASSK’s conferral speech and her discussion with Kyoto University students.
ASSK: I would like to say it is indeed a great pleasure to be back here in the city of Kyoto and this university. When I came to Japan for the first time 30-years ago, it was almost to the day because I came in October 1985. My young son and I were welcomed by this city and by this university. It was wonderful how quickly we felt we were part of the life here. And it is amazing that even now, after 30 years when I was in Tokyo, I found out I had forgotten all my Japanese. But when I came to Kyoto, there is magic about this place: its beauty, its history, its culture, and with regard to the university its academic excellence, and its international reputation. Its international reputation is based to a large extent on its capacity to engage with and to absorb the many scholars from all across the world who visited this university. I know what a rare prize it is to be awarded an honorary doctorate from this university, especially since this is the first that somebody with no real achievements in science has been awarded such a degree. But of course, the science of politics, which is really the science of people trying to live together in a civilized society, is fundamental for the promotion of other scholarly works. Without peace and without freedom we will not be able to achieve academic excellence. We need peace, we need freedom. We also need the affluence that will enable us to do the kind of research that will push the world forward, and that will elevate the status of human society. When I was told that I was going to be awarded an honorary doctorate, I wondered whether it was going to be in Law. But this is an unusual doctorate because it is for what I have done for the advancement of democracy in my own country, and as President Yamagiwa Juichi has kindly said, in the world at large. Advancement is the correct word because we have not yet reached our goal. In a sense, with democracy we can say that we will never reach our goal. Our goal has to be beyond reach because we have to keep working towards it. Once we stop working for democracy, it will fade away. It is like an unused muscle. We have to keep it exercised all the time. I keep reminding our people how important it is for us, not just to claim our democratic privileges, but also to NEWSLETTER No. 75 006 discharge democratic duties, that we may be able to make our society a vibrant one: politically, socially, and culturally.
Kyoto is a great center of culture and before we came into this room the chairperson, Dr. Inaba Kayo and I were discussing the importance of culture and cultural exchanges. Culture is something we can keep alive only if people believe in it. You can’t force people to preserve a culture. You can force them only externally, you can lay down rules and regulations, you can promulgate laws that force people to keep to a certain type of culture. But it will be just a dead visage, it will not be alive, it will be not real or genuine. So to keep culture really alive we have to keep the human spirit alive, which is why I say that the science of politics is the most important science, the science of people living together in peace and in harmony, that the human race might progress. It is not for me to lecture academics because I myself am not an academic. And it is a very dangerous thing to try to do. So I am simply putting to them my views on how we think that academia can cooperate and work together with not just students that come to the university but with people in general, with different countries, with different systems, with different cultures, to make sure our world is moving in the right direction. Well the world is round because it is going around and around and we never really know where we are going sometimes. And this is a mystery and a challenge. We hope that we are going in the right direction. We can never be sure. Of course, I think that the positive aspects of human nature outweigh the negative because if this were not so I think we would still be running around in caves. I am not sure, but I think so. And it is the opposite. The positive aspects of our nature have brought us forward to this point where people from all over the world can meet together. I think predominantly in this room there are Japanese and people from Burma. But I believe that perhaps there are a few from other countries as well. And for people from different parts of the world to come together, to be able to communicate with one another, that in itself is a truly amazing achievement. When we think that just 100 years back this would have been almost an impossibility for people of all ages, from different aspects of life, from different countries to meet in one room and not think this is extraordinary at all. This is the achievement of our world and democracy, also the achievement of the human race. The belief that people can gather together and come to a wise, common decision. That is indeed an act of faith. And it is based on this faith that we have struggled for democracy in Burma and for peace, because there can’t be peace without democracy and there can’t be democracy without peace. We have just started out on the road to stabilizing our democratic roots, and to achieving peace which has long eluded us for our country. We hope that the time is not far when we can say we have achieved peace for our country and we have strengthened the democratic roots of our society so that coming generations may be secure in the knowledge that their country will be shaped as they wish it to be. And for this we would like to thank our friends from all over the world who have helped us in various ways and among those friends who have helped us is Kyoto University. When I came here in 1985, the movement for democracy had not yet started. Yet Kyoto University was kind enough to welcome me and to treat me with no less consideration than I am treated today. In fact, I think I was treated more warmly and more as a human being 30 years ago than I am now as a representative of a government. I don’t know why people want to be representatives of governments because I think it is much better to be just yourself. I have always found that people are much warmer towards you and the way in which the people of Kyoto took me to their hearts 30 years ago, that could not be bettered in any way. So I would like to conclude by saying thank you to the university and thank you to the people of Kyoto.
A full version of the acceptance speech and Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech and her discussion with Kyoto University undergraduate students can be at Kyoto University’s OpenCourseWare site: http://ocw.kyotou.ac.jp/ja/international-conference/59/video
A full transcript of her discussion can be found on the CSEAS home page at https://newsletter.cseas.kyoto-u.ac.jp/nl75/75_00_assk.html