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Laudatio uitgesproken door prof. dr. H. Baetens Beardsmore

VOORGEDRAGEN DOOR DE FACULTEIT LETTEREN EN WIJSBEGEERTE

Mevrouw AUNG SAN SUU KYI

Mevrouw AUNG SAN SUU KYI werd in 1945 in Yangoon (Myanmar) geboren. Ze behaalde in 1967 een B.A., afdeling Politieke Wetenschappen, Filosofie en Economische Wetenschappen, aan de Universiteit van Oxford. In 1968 was ze als “research assistant” verbonden aan het departement politieke wetenschappen van de Universiteit van London. Van 1967 tot 1971 was ze verbonden aan het sekretariaat van de Verenigde Naties in New York. In 1988 keerde ze terug naar Myanmar en was ze medeoprichtster van de Nationale Liga voor de Democratie.
Sinds 20 juli 1989 werd ze evenwel onder huisarrest geplaatst, zonder contact met de buitenwereld, haar echtgenoot – de Britse Tibetoloog Michael ARIS, docent aan de universiteit van Oxford – en haar kinderen.
Omwille van haar inzet voor de verdediging van de democratische rechten tegenover het militaire bewind in Birma, ontving ze op 15 oktober 1991 de Nobelprijs voor de Vrede.

LAUDATIO
FOR DAW AUNG SAN SUU KYI
WINNER OF THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE, 1991

Nimmer drukten de ideologische basisprincipes van deze instelling op zulk een prangende wijze hun stempel op de plechtigheid van vandaag. Ik wil bij deze gelegenheid dan ook even de beroemde woorden van Henri Poincaré in herinnering brengen, zoals ze gegrift staan in de muren van deze campus:
(The ideological foundations of this house, the reasons for its very existence, hang over this ceremony today in a more poignant fashion than on similar occasions in the past. Engraved on the walls of our campus are the words of Henri Poincaré which I would like to recall again:)

Het denken mag zich nooit onderwerpen, noch aan dogma, noch aan een partij, noch aan een hartstocht, noch aan een belang, noch aan een vooroordeel, noch aan om ‘t even wat, maar uitsluitend aan de feiten zelf, want zich onderwerpen betekent het einde van alle denken.
(Thought may never allow itself to be subjected to a dogma, a party, a passion, an interest, a prejudice, or anything whatsoever, other than to facts themselves, because to subject thought means the end of all thought).

These inspiring words come home to us with stark reality when we consider the personality of DAW AUNG SAN SUU KYI, whose absence today is living proof of their significance. The fact that the candidate of the Faculty of Arts at this moment languishes under house arrest in Burma, when she could have been present and free to join us, under the condition that she leave her country forever, reminds us of the history of the sister institution where we originated, the Université Libre de Bruxelles, which during the last war preferred to close down and continue clandestine teaching rather than submit to Nazi control. It also reminds us that the struggle for freedom of opinion is not won, and that even today, DAW AUNG SAN SUU KYI carries on, alone, isolated, and at great cost to her personal happiness, the principles she shares with this house.

DAW AUNG SAN SUU KYI was born in Rangoon in 1945, daughter to a hero of the independence of Burma who was assassinated in 1947 by rightwing political extremists. Her widowed mother became Burma’s ambassador to India. She studied Politics, Philosophy and Economy at Oxford, became a research assistant in the Department of Politics at London University and later worked at the United Nations Secretariat in New York.

In 1988 she returned to Burma at a time when resistance to the military junta led thousands to take to the streets in protest. Although never politically active before, as the daughter of a national hero, DAW AUNG SAN SUU KYI soon became the voice of the people, and spoke at meetings in the presence of half a million supporters. As tension rose and the military junta began to kill the defenders of democracy this gentle, small Burmese lady showed immense courage when six soldiers had been ordered to shoot her at a rally. Remaining calm, she asked her supporters to move aside, walked directly towards the soldiers and offered herself as a single target. At the last minute an officer ordered the soldiers not to shoot.

In July 1989 she was placed under house arrest and for some time isolated from contact with her husband, children and the outside world. In the elections of May 1990 her party, the National League for Democracy, won 80 per cent of the votes, yet the military junta in Rangoon still maintains its dictatorial powers, and keeps this gallant lady in isolation, in spite of outside pressure. In 1991 she won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and in the same year was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Although DAW AUNG SAN SUU KYI cannot be with us today, her presence presides over this assembly, as a reflection of all this University, or any university worthy of its name, should cherish. Her husband, Dr. Michael Aris, who has come over from the University of Oxford to receive the award we are honoured to offer in her name, has been allowed to visit his wife again more recently and to convey to her the nature of this ceremony today. Both he and his two sons are part and parcel of the heroic struggle conducted by his wife so far away. He will, we know, carry our message of support, in the form of the title of Doctor Honoris Causa of the Free University of Brussels, to his wife whose name translates as “A Bright Collection of Victories”.

The Faculty of Arts feels itself privileged to be able to engrave upon its role of honour the first woman to be given this title in the history of our Faculty and the first Asian to receive such an award in the history of the University. Together with Nelson Mandela and Willem De Klerk of South Africa, whom we were proud to honour at the opening of this academic year, the present distinction should leave an aura where the absent recipient’s spirit joins those of her fellow doctors, in the sincere conviction that, to quote, “il y a des lieux où souffle l’esprit”. It is the spirit of freedom embodied in AUNG SAN SUU KYI that presides over this ceremony today.

Prof. Dr. H. Baetens Beardsmore