Tom Parry speaks with U Win Tin, a senior member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who spent 19 years in prison until his release last year.
Tom Parry: What has kept you going for so long, considering all your years in prison?Win Tin (Photo: Tom Parry)Win Tin: Well, my opinion is that when you have to face a military government, you need a little bit of courage, some sort of confrontation, because if you are always timid and afraid and intimidated, they will step on you. Sometimes you have to force yourself to be courageous and outspoken.
Parry: Aren’t you worried about your own security?
Win Tin: People tell me I should keep a low profile because they are very anxious about my security. You can be snatched back to prison at any time, but you can’t help it.
Parry: You have made some difficult decisions in your life. If you could do it again differently, would you?
Win Tin: No, I wouldn’t. You see, formerly I was a journalist and I had no such difficult dilemmas. I could write and meet people and so on. But when I became a politician in 1988, things became very difficult. I was not just joining a political party, I was joining an uprising—a people’s uprising.
I was one of them. I was one of the journalists who joined them—the whole country’s uprising. Then, of course, I was dragged away from political life and sent to prison.
I am now 80 and my health is not very good, but still I don’t mind going back to prison. I don’t want to be intimidated or reverse my way of thinking.
Parry: Over the next 10 years, what would be the best thing that could happen in Burma, and what would be the worst thing?
Win Tin: The best thing that could happen would be if the junta went away and there was some form of democratic change. Of course, that is the best scenario.
The worst is that we just go into the election under the terms of the new constitution, which is more or less a prolongation of military rule. That would be the worst thing because in the next decade there will be no change in the lives of ordinary people. That’s why we are calling for a review of the constitution, at the very least.
We are the ones who have the right to draw up a constitution after the 1990 election. They forgot about us and started convening the National Convention. Then they drew up this constitution, which only the military can accept because it prolongs their rule.
Parry: If the elections do happen, how can the NLD make a difference? How can you stop the continuation of tight military control?
Win Tin: If we stand firm—because we’ve got the people’s support—in the end, we’ll get the international community’s support.
Now look at the Aung San Suu Kyi case. They tried to snatch her and send her to prison. And we are making a very loud protest all over the world and also inside the country. Now the military authorities are rethinking it.
I think we should try to convince them that if they go on, it won’t last long. Even after the elections there will be more uprisings. We have to convince them that this is not the way they should behave.
Parry: Do you think there is any scope for compromise?
Win Tin: Yes, that is possible. That is why we are asking for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the start of a dialogue.
Parry: Do you think there is any compromise to be had regarding the constitution?
Win Tin: That is possible, of course, if they agree to the dialogue and if they agree to make some amendments to the constitution. It is possible the NLD could participate in the election. That’s the compromise.
It’s very difficult. Of course, they are determined to make the constitution legal, to ratify the constitution in parliament. They are at the point of ratification. There are going to be elections, then there will be a parliament and then the parliament will ratify the constitution.
They feel they are safe.
We don’t want to have another uprising or anything like that. People are reluctant.
For myself, I am rather hard on the army, I have to admit. But Daw Suu has a very kind attitude toward the army. They should have negotiations, enter into a dialogue. But they don’t want to talk with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, they don’t want to let her play a role in our national politics.
Parry: These aren’t the elections we all want to see, but after the elections, do you think they might be more willing to negotiate with her?
Win Tin: But the thing is, you see, after the election is over, the constitution is in force.
Parry: Forty UN envoys have visited Burma over so many years without having any effect. The trip by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was also a failure. What do you think the UN needs to do?
Win Tin: Ban Ki-Moon should say to the Security Council: “We should pick up the Burma issue. We should take the Burma issue to the Security Council.”
The last time Burma went to the Security Council was 50 years ago, in 1957/58, when the Chinese occupied Shan State. That’s the only time the Burma question was sent to the Security Council and they made a resolution.
In 2007, at the time of the Saffron Revolution, the Burma question was sent again [but there was no resolution]. What we ask the UN and Ban Ki-moon to do is put the Burma question to the Security Council again and request the Chinese and Russian not to use their vetoes.
Parry: Wouldn’t it be better to try and build a consensus on how to push for the release of political prisoners, how to help encourage a review of the constitution and help encourage dialogue?
Win Tin: Well, you see, in this situation, when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is behind bars and there are more than 2,000 political prisoners in jail, we have to push harder. If they release all the political prisoners and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and make some amendments and make a very amicable environment, of course we can engage in dialogue and make concessions.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can do it, because she has the charisma, so people would accept it. If I made concessions, people wouldn’t accept it.
Parry: It has been a great honor to meet you. Thank you for your time.
Win Tin: The media and those kinds of well-wishers are the only friends we have now.
Inside we can’t do anything at all and at the same time some people would like to silence us.
Tom Parry is a freelance journalist based in London. He contributed this interview to The Irrawaddy.