Volume 10 Number 2
Independent but Still in Bondage
01 April 1997

This article is based on a message sent by Burmese democratic campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi to an MRA conference in India marking 50 years of India's independence.

Countries which achieved independence after World War II are approaching the 50th year of their nationhood as the 20th century draws to a close.
It is time to consider how far we have come along the road to genuine good government without which a nation cannot take its rightful place in a free progressive world. Many countries have achieved self-government only to find that the rights and freedoms of their people have come under greater restraint than in the days when they were ruled by an alien power. It is a sad truth that self-government does not necessarily entail good government.

Good government is not simply the result of a political system. It is indissolubly linked to the values that prevail within a society. Unless a nation can be reconstructed to enhance human values, independence will not mean a more fufilling existence for its citizens. In Burma, despite half a century of self-government, good government is still somewhere in the nebulous future.

As Gandhi wrote, 'In truth a government that is ideal governs the least. It is not government that leaves nothing for the people to do. That is pupilage, our present stage.' These words were written in 1925, yet could well be applied to the state of present day Burma, although it might be questioned whether 'pupilage' is not too tender a word to describe the abject situation in which my country finds itself today under a military administration that leaves the people with no role to play in their own government. We remain a nation in bondage after 49 years of independence.


There can be no real freedom unless the mind and spirit are free. It is the duty of responsible leaders to nurture conditions under which the minds and spirits of the people can reach a full flowering. Self- government is only meaningful if it gives the people greater confidence in their own worth. Self-government that results in a crushed, intimidated people who have no control over their own destiny constitutes a betrayal of the struggle for independence, a struggle during which so much was sacrificed by so many.

It is often the privilege as well as the duty of succeeding generations to realize the dreams of those who sacrificed their well-being and their lives for the freedom of their country. It could be said that the youth of today have a more difficult task than those who conducted the fight against colonialism. When a struggle is directed against an alien people, the issues are clear-cut. When the struggle is directed against negative elements within our own society, doubts and confusion creep in.

Therefore young people working for a better world need constantly to assess and reassess the values of their own society, as well as their own motives. It is through a continuous reassessment that we learn how to protect our freedom and how to make the best use of it.

Freedom means choice. Young people of today have a far wider range of choice than those who lived half a century ago. It is of the utmost importance to make the right choice. We can either choose to gratify narrow, selfish interests or to expand our hearts and minds to encompass the needs and aspirations of others.

We are about to embark on a century which will surely bring developments that will change our world radically. The 21st century could offer exceptional opportunities for creating an environment that provides greater security and happiness for all peoples. It could also be an era when gross materialism is let loose to trample on the forces of justice and compassion. It is for us to choose which path to follow.

Once again, to quote Gandhi on the best kind of self-government: 'Real swaraj (freedom) will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused. In other words, swaraj is to be attained by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority.'

Education is therefore the key to creating a nation worthy of the heirs of men and women who dedicated themselves to the cause of justice and freedom with the unstained passion of children and the fierce determination of spiritual giants.

By education I do not mean just formal schooling but the cultivation of the mental strength and courage to cope with both the known and the unknown. It is through an ability to evaluate the past correctly and to face the present bravely that we can build a future fit not just for ourselves but for generations to come.


There are enduring values that transcend national borders and centuries. There are also values that have to be discovered for our own times. The process of discovering is a challenge to young people who wish to mould the world into a pattern that reflects the morning freshness of their lives. They have a unique opportunity to leave their impress on their society. I would like to urge them to seize this opportunity with gratitude and enthusiasm; missed opportunities could set back individuals and nations by decades.

As young people look forward to the new century with receptive minds and open hearts they can strive to build better lives not just for themselves or their own people but for all humanity. The future belongs to the young and it is wonderful that it should be so. How fortunate to be on the threshold of life at a time when the world is on the threshold of a new century.