Among ostensibly many standing invitations from other countries, Suu Kyi’s choice of Britain and Norway as her first foreign destinations signifies deep personal attachment to the two European countries. Britain is a particularly important place for the Nobel Laureate as she still has a family there and it is where her husband Dr. Michael Aris was laid to rest. An Oxford graduate, Suu Kyi raised a family there until her unexpected return to Burma in 1988 amid the nation-wide uprising against the socialist dictatorship. Suu Kyi has not left Burma ever since.
Norway, on the other hand, is home to the Nobel Committee, which awarded her the world’s most prestigious Noble Peace Prize in 1991. Prevented from leaving her home, the honor was received on Suu Kyi’s behalf by her husband and two sons. Norway is also one of the strongest supporters of Burma’s pro-democracy movement and is home to the exile broadcast outlet Democratic Voice of Burma.
So it makes sense that Aung San Suu Kyi would choose these two countries as her first foreign destinations.
But it would be politically unwise for the iconic leader to make her first foreign visit without also visiting displaced populations in the neighboring countries. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, mostly from the ethnic groups, are still living in Burma’s neighboring countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, China, India and Bangladesh. They are the direct victims of six decades of military dictatorship and policies that have ravaged Burma to its current state.
Since re-entering the Burmese political arena, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy has made the issues of the rule of law, constitutional amendment and peace as its central focus. But so far neither Aung Sang Suu Kyi nor the NLD as a party has made any notable efforts to reach out to the victims of civil war or to try and understand ‘peace’ from the perspectives of those suffering from the direct consequences of Burma’s long-standing civil conflicts.
The upcoming trip to Europe provides an opportunity for Aung San Suu Kyi to visit and meet with the displaced populations in the neighboring countries. Not only will this help the Nobel Peace Laureate better understand the issues facing the ethnic peoples, it can give her a better sense of the suffering of ethnic populations, which can also boost her image as a national leader sympathetic to the most marginalized communities in Burma.
While the UK and Norway trips are important for Aung San Suu Kyi personally, the Nobel Laureate can take advantage of her first foreign visit by trying to witness the situation of the displaced populations in the neighboring countries firsthand. With world attention firmly fixed on her, Suu Kyi’s visit can not only help to refocus much-needed world attention on the displaced situation, but also provide a degree of moral support to the refugees.