Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi may be reluctant to take a trip out of Burma for fear of not being let back in, but that has not stopped her from headlining a popular arts festival in Britain.
Suu Kyi is the ‘guest director’ of the Brighton Festival 2011 to be held in this British coastal resort from May 7 to 29.
This year the organizers of the popular event chose Suu Kyi and the themes of freedom of speech, human rights and freedom for political prisoners. The festival helps tell of the issues concerning Burma through the arts.
According to Burma Campaign UK director Anna Roberts, ‘It’s fantastic that a festival of this calibre can celebrate Aung San Suu Kyi and keep Burma’s cause and the fight for human rights in the public eye at such a critical time’.
The festival provides a mix of music, film, drama and talks, including a debate on ‘The Future of Burma’ with Sue Lloyd Roberts, Burmese activist Zoya Phan and Robert Gordon, British ambassador to Burma 1995-99. The documentaries ‘Burma Soldier’ and ‘Burma VJ’ will also be shown.
Music and the arts are said to have been important to Suu Kyi during her life, split between Burma, Britain, the United States, Bhutan and India.
Suu Kyi will not attend this major arts festival. But in a message she appealed to the participants ‘to use your freedom of expression to let the world know what it is like in our country, what it is like to not be able to say what you want to say’.
The pro-democracy leader is conscious that she has to remain in Burma. If she traveled abroad, there is fear that the authorities might not allow her to return.
Suu Kyi says in her video message that the artists taking part should show Burma’s leaders how it was ‘not to hurt people, not to accuse anybody of anything, but simply to express what we would wish to see in our country, what our aspirations are, what our hopes are, what our beliefs are and we are not able to do this.
‘But you who have so much creativity and who have understood that variety is the very spice of life and would be able to help us to make the world understand’.
Suu Kyi, an avid piano player, says she loves Western classical music but in a recent interview with the Guardian newspaper of London, she admitted to also being a fan of the rock band Grateful Dead, a group one of her sons encouraged her to listen to. She said she also likes Bob Marley’s ‘Get Up, Stand Up’, that includes the lyrics, ‘get up, stand up, stand up for your rights’.
It seems fitting that the festival will begin with Ludwig van Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’, an opera that tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named Fideleo, rescues her husband from death in a political prison. Suu Kyi has spent time in prison and lengthy periods under house arrest.
As she says in her video, if Burma’s rulers could only ‘understand how much we have to gain by more freedom of expression, I think we will make substantial steps towards the direction of democratization’.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said: ‘We all think of the Brighton Festival as an occasion, a time for festivity, for diversity, for creativity, for expression, for freedom of expression. This is especially important to us in Burma who have been deprived of this right of freedom for very many years’.