Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Aung San Suu Kyi warns against paralysis of fear in Wallenberg Lecture

People must resist the paralysis of fear and find the courage to challenge injustice and achieve freedom, said Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in the Wallenberg Lecture on Tuesday.

The Nobel Peace laureate's comments were made public while she received the Wallenberg Medal, an honor named after a U-M alumnus who saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazis near the end of World War II.

  Student Andrea Alajbegovic asks a question of Aung San Suu Kyi during a live Q-and-A session after Suu Kyi's videotaped Wallenberg Lecture was presented Tuesday at Rackham Auditorium. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, U-M Photo Services)

Click here to watch Aung San Suu Kyi deliver the Wallenberg Lecture.

Click here for more information about the Wallenberg Medal and Lecture.

"Fear renders us dumb and passive. Fear paralyzes," said Suu Kyi, the 21st recipient of the medal. "If we are too frightened to speak out, we can do nothing to promote freedom of speech. If we are too frightened to challenge injustices, we will not be able to defend our right to freedom of belief."

Suu Kyi, released from house arrest nearly a year ago, presented her lecture in a video recently shot in her home in Burma, the Southeast Asian country also known as Myanmar.

Although she has not been expressly banned from leaving her country, there are concerns that she might not be allowed back if she travels abroad. So Suu Kyi continues to stay in Burma, peacefully promoting political reform in the repressive nation.

Suu Kyi, held under house arrest for most of the past 20 years, spent much of her lecture describing Burma's political history and her struggles with the authorities.

"The day I was placed under house arrest for the first time in July 1984, I found the situation curious," she said. "In one reading of a piece of paper, the detention order, my home had turned into a prison. Or had it? Surely it was up to me to decide what the answer would be."

Suu Kyi serves as the general secretary of the National League for Democracy, the leading opposition political party in Burma. In 1990, she led her party to victory in elections, but military leaders refused to recognize the results.

Despite efforts to suppress it, the party continues to meet and issue statements, and seeks to engage with the opposition. The group refused to participate in a vote last year, insisting the election was held under unfair and undemocratic conditions.

Suu Kyi's lecture also dwelled on the meaning of freedom, democracy and human rights. She urged people living in free societies to help those who live in repressive regimes, saying the support gave them a morale boost.

"It takes courage and commitment to achieve freedom and to uphold it," she said.

Suu Kyi acknowledged the moral courage and heroics of Raoul Wallenberg, a 1935 graduate of the U-M College of Architecture. While working as a Swedish diplomat, Wallenberg saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews.

In 1944, the Swedish Foreign Ministry sent Wallenberg on a rescue mission to Budapest at the request of Jewish organizations and the American War Refugee Board. Over the course of six months, Wallenberg issued thousands of protective passports and placed many thousands of Jews in safe houses throughout the besieged city. He confronted Hungarian and German forces to secure the release of Jews whom he claimed were under Swedish protection, saving over 80,000 lives.

Suu Kyi said that she and other Burmese dissidents feel humble when they think about what Wallenberg did.

"We are struggling for our own people, our own country," she said. "What Wallenberg did was to sacrifice himself for people of a different country, a different race, a different religion. For him, the differences were much less significant than the ties of common humanity."