Burmese pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi has officially collected her Nobel Peace Prize–over twenty years after it was awarded.
The 66-year-old, now an elected official following an irrepressible public campaign, was awarded the prize in 1991 but by that time was already under house arrest by Burma’s military junta. Then, her two sons traveled to Norway to receive the prize in her place. Now, appearing in Oslo as she tours Europe for a variety of political engagements, Aung San Suu Kyi has finally been able to take the prize that she says helped sustain her during her darkest hours.
“Often during my days of house arrest, it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world,” she said, during her 40 minute speech.
“There was the house which was my world. There was the world of others who also were not free but who were together in prison as a community and there was the world of the free.
“Each one was a different planet pursuing its own separate course in an indifferent universe.
“What the Nobel Peace Prize did was to draw me once again into the world of other human beings, outside the isolated area in which I lived, to restore a sense of reality to me.
“What was more important, the Nobel Prize had drawn the attention of the world to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. We were not going to be forgotten.”
Since being freed in 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi has campaigned tirelessly to push for greater democratic freedoms in Burma. During her speech, in which she received two standing ovations, she highlighted how she remains optimistic for future progress.
“Without faith in the future, without the conviction that democratic values and fundamental human rights are not only necessary but possible for our society, our movement could not have been sustained throughout the destroying years,” she said.
Speaking of Aung San Suu Kyi’s long overdue chance to accept the award, Thorbjørn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel committee, is quoted as saying: ”Today’s event is one of the most remarkable in the entire history of the Nobel prizes … We hope that Liu Xiaobo [the Chinese political activist] will not have to wait as long as you have before he can come to Oslo.”
The Guardian notes: Jagland recalled how, when the peace prize celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2001 with more than 30 laureates in attendance, “we left one chair empty [for her]“.
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