Suu Kyi Walks On with 'Star-struck' Bono

By Shawn Pogatchnik 19 June 2012

DUBLIN—Aung San Suu Kyi and Bono joined forces on Monday as the Burmese democracy activist’s European tour moved from the home of the Nobel Peace Prize to the land of U2.

The pair spent more than an hour answering questions at an Oslo conference of peace mediators at the end of Suu Kyi’s four-day visit to Norway. Then they jetted together to the Irish capital Dublin for an evening concert in her honor.

Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore and a trio of children, two of them Burmese nationals, offered Suu Kyi flowers as she arrived at Dublin Airport. After meeting Irish President Michael D. Higgins, she arrived at a riverside theater to thunderous cheers and applause, with Bono and Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney walking alongside her down the red carpet.

Inside, Amnesty International organized a three-hour show of songs, poems and speeches in her honor featuring top Irish stars, and set against a backdrop of a wall of opened birdcages symbolizing her freedom from house arrest in 2010.

The Riverdance troupe got proceedings off to a foot-stomping start. Folk guitarist Donal Lunny led the audience in a soft musical chant of Aung San Suu Kyi’s name lasting several minutes. Irish actress Saoirse Ronan read a poem, followed by English actress Vanessa Redgrave reading one of Heaney’s, “The Republic of Conscience.” Dublin folk rocker Damien Rice sang his hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” to a spare cello accompaniment.

Redgrave and Bono then presented Suu Kyi with another of her long-postponed awards, Amnesty’s Ambassador of Conscience. Bono had announced the award at a Dublin U2 concert in 2009 during a worldwide concert tour that highlighted demands for her freedom.

“Everybody’s here to sing for you tonight, but it’s your song that everybody wants to hear,” Bono said as he invited Suu Kyi on to the stage to a two-minute standing ovation.

“This has come as a surprise to me, and a very moving one,” said Suu Kyi, who got laughs by observing that the British used to consider the Burmese “the Irish of the east”—because they never gave the British any peace, both liked a drink and were very superstitious.

Bono, who also wrote the 2000 hit “Walk On” in praise of Suu Kyi’s long exile from her family, had never met her before. He admitted, during his first news conference alongside Suu Kyi in Oslo, that he found her a wee bit intimidating.

“I’m star-struck … but I’m managing to get over it,” said the 52-year-old Bono, who donned his trademark yellow-tinted wraparound glasses and high-heeled boots.

Suu Kyi, in turn, said Bono had hit the right note with “Walk On,” which was written from the point of view of her husband Michael Aris. Burma’s military rulers refused to let him see his wife from 1995 to his death from cancer in 1999.

“I like that song, because it’s very close to how I feel, that it’s up to you to carry on,” said Suu Kyi, who turns 67 on Tuesday. “It’s good if you have supporters, it’s good if you have people who are sympathetic and understanding. But in the end, it’s your own two legs that have to carry you on.”

Following the Dublin concert at an outdoor rally, Suu Kyi is to sign the roll of honor proclaiming her a Freewoman of the City of Dublin, an honorific title bestowed in her absence in 1999.

Amnesty officials also plan to give her a birthday cake and lead the crowd in a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”

Bono said Suu Kyi was exceptionally philosophical and spiritual for a politician. And he expressed admiration over how she had stuck to a position of nonviolence throughout her 15 years in detention.

“It’s really her nonviolent position that I find so impressive because perhaps I find it hard to fathom,” he said, adding: “I think she will be remembered for that kind of spiritual insight really, as much as the sort of nitty-gritty of her politics, because she’s a tough customer, too.”

Suu Kyi spent much of her final hours in Oslo focused on that nitty-gritty—the challenge of coaxing Burma’s military-controlled government toward democracy without alienating militants from warring ethnic groups who demand immediate change.

Her party, the National League for Democracy, won elections in 1990 only to see the result annulled. It boycotted the next elections in 2010, and today has just entered Burma’s legislature as a small opposition force.

Ireland’s foreign minister, Gilmore, said he hoped “that the recent positive developments in Burma, including Ms. Suu Kyi’s election, herald the real beginning of a new era of peace, democracy and human rights.”

But Suu Kyi noted that any changes to the country’s laws of government would require more than 75 percent support in the legislature—and army members represent a blocking 25 percent of votes.

“We will need at least one army representative to vote for amendments. So we have to work with the army. … We don’t want to be in conflict with them, we want to achieve a consensus,” Suu Kyi said in response to a question from The Associated Press.

Earlier, she told the audience of international conflict mediators that building unity among Burma’s many warring ethnic groups meant she must remain open to talking with those still committed to violence.

Suu Kyi said she wouldn’t “disinherit or disown” militant groups based along Burma’s borders in Thailand and Bangladesh “because we share the same goals” of creating a proper democracy that respects minority rights in Myanmar. Nor, she said, could she promise them that such goals could be achieved without violent rebellion—but they had both a moral and practical obligation to try.

She said her National League for Democracy could “not let go of our conviction that change could be brought about through peaceful means, and in the long run that would be better.

“The wounds that are opened up by violent conflict take a long time to heal,” she said. “And while the peaceful way might take longer, in the end there are fewer wounds to be healed.”