YANGON—On this day in 1988, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made her first public appearance in Myanmar, making a brief speech to marching pro-democracy protesters in the compound of Yangon General Hospital, following the then military regime’s bloody crackdown on protesters in early August.
At the time, she had been in Myanmar for a few months nursing her ailing mother. Being a daughter of the country’s independence hero, General Aung San, the then 43-year-old, who until then had mostly made her home in Britain, was pushed to get involved in the country’s tumultuous politics by members of the popular pro-democracy movement.
On Aug. 24, from a makeshift stage in the compound of the hospital, she said:
“What is important is to protest peacefully and with discipline. All of us want a permanent union. To have a permanent union, people must have discipline. Without unity and discipline, no [political] system can benefit the country,” she told the large crowds of people.
“So, the strength of the people is quite massive. But, if that strength can’t be held together with truth, that strength can be harmful to ourselves. So, control the strength of the people with truth.
“Power without truth can be dangerous to all. We have organized to hold public meetings on Friday. It can be successful only if we hold it peacefully and with discipline. The country will never succeed if the people lack discipline. Show discipline. Be united. Work together peacefully. Let the world know that our people are very disciplined and truthful.
“Let me keep my speech brief this time. I will elaborate more next Friday,” said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from a makeshift stage made from water barrels.
Two days later, she addressed a public gathering at the western gate of Shwedagon Pagoda. The meeting drew hundreds of thousands of people, and her speech made her a democracy icon both inside and outside the country.