20 Jun 2012

Back to Oxford for Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi returns to Oxford to receive an honorary doctorate – and tells Channel 4 News being back there made her feel younger again.

The Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been recalling her halcyon days at St Hugh’s College Oxford, which helped sustain her, she said, through 15 years under house arrest at the hands of the military junta. In an interview with Channel 4 News, she said being back there made her feel “a little bit younger again.”

On Tuesday, she celebrated her 67th birthday with friends and family in Oxford, the city she left in April 1988, to go and nurse her mother who had suffered a stroke in Rangoon.  She had expected to be home within weeks.

After 24 years, Ms Suu Kyi is now making a bittersweet return visit to the city where she studied, married and raised a family. On Wednesday, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Oxford, from which she had graduated with a third class degree in Philosphy, Politics and Economics in 1967.

“During the most difficult years I was upheld by memories of Oxford,” she told academics and students after collecting her doctorate. “Those were among the most important inner resources, and helped me to cope with all the challenges I had to face.

“These are very precious memories because I had lived a happy life, and this made me understand so much better the young people of Burma who wanted to live a happy life and had never been given the opportunity to lead one.”

But her personal defiance of the generals who’ve ruled Burma for half a century was not an act of sacrifice, she told Channel 4 News yesterday.  She’d had a choice, she said, and for all the hardship – including seperation from her two boys and her husband, who died with her still under house arrest in Burma – she stood by the choices she’d made.

In November 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was released, and 21 years after sweeping the polls in a general election but being denied the chance to govern, she was re-elected a member of the Burmese parliament.

As the official leader of the oppostion, it would be reasonable to expect journalists to put some tough questions to her on this her first trip to Europe wince being freed.  But doing so was harder than I’d expected.

This is the my full interview with the woman known in Burma as “Daw Suu.” Daw is a Burmese honorofic which translates roughly as “Aunty.”

Follow Jonathan Miller on Twitter