Festival Patron Suu Kyi to Meet Mandalay Writers Who Boycotted

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 19 March 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s main opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will meet with writers and cartoonists from Mandalay whom she did not have the opportunity to see during an international literary festival that the contingent boycotted last month.

The meeting between Suu Kyi and the writers is being arranged by her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), according to Win Htein, an NLD lawmaker who is also helping to organize the gathering.

“During the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, she missed a chance to see and talk to some writers from Mandalay,” he told The Irrawaddy, explaining the reason for the meeting.

Last month, scores of prominent writers, poets and cartoonists from Mandalay boycotted the second annual international festival, which was held in Mandalay under the patronage of Suu Kyi. The reason for their absence appeared to lie in long-standing divisions between artists who had worked with Burma’s former military regime, and those who had maintained independence, often at severe personal cost, including pressure and surveillance by authorities, and imprisonment.

Nearly 80 Mandalay-based poets and cartoonists officially announced that they wouldn’t attend the festival, held Feb. 14-16. Many other prominent writers in Burma’s second-largest city also did not attend.

For the upcoming meeting in Pyin Oo Lwin on Sunday, Win Htein said anywhere from 50 to 100 poets, writers and cartoonists would attend.

“Discussion during the meeting is open to any participants, they can talk about anything they like,” said Win Htein, meaning topics of the discussion ranging from literature to politics to constitutional amendments would be on the table.

On Saturday, Suu Kyi will travel to Mogok in northeastern Mandalay Division for a public forum on the constitutional amendment process. On her way back from Mogok, she will stop in Pyin Oo Lwin, about 25 miles east of Mandalay city, to meet the writers.

Kyi Toe, an NLD information officer, said the length of the meeting would not be fixed because Suu Kyi “doesn’t want to talk to those writers in a hurry.”

“So it will be long,” he added.

If the meeting takes place as planned, it will be the first time the Burmese democracy icon will have met with prominent artists from upper Burma collectively, apart from the literary festival last year, said Mandalay-based writer Hsu Nget, who plans to attend.

“I will be there to listen to what she says,” said Ko Lay, a prominent poet in upper Burma who writes under the penname Ko Lay Inwa Gonyi. “Because she invites us, that means she has something to say.

“Whether I will participate in the discussion or not depends on what she says. If needed, we have to respond,” he added.