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Aung San Suu Kyi Supports Ireland's Interned Marian Price International Women's Day
Aung San Suu Kyi's name is from three relatives: "Aung San" from her father, "Suu" from her paternal grandmother and "Kyi" from her mother Khin Kyi. Her name is pronounced approximately as "Awn Sahn Sue Chee." Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Yangon the main city of Burma. Her father, Aung San leader of the Burmese army negotiated Burma's independence from the British Empire in 1947; he was assassinated by his rivals in the same year.Aung San Suu Kyi grew up with her mother, Khin Kyi, and two brothers, Aung San Lin and Aung San Oo, in Rangoon.
Aung San Suu Kyi was strongly influenced by both Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence and particularly by tenets of Buddhist enlightenment. Aung San Suu Kyi helped found the National League for Democracy in Myanmar commonly known as Burma and was politically interned on 20 July 1989. She was offered freedom by the military junta, if she left the country but she refused and as a result spent many years politically interned like Marian Price for her political principles.
Her basic political beliefs were well articulated in her most famous speech, "Freedom From Fear" speech, stating "It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."She believes fear drives many world leaders to lose sight of their responsibilities. "Government leaders are amazing", she has said. "So often it seems they are the last to know what the people want."
Ireland's Marian Price currently interned in British Occupied Ireland has also spent many years interned British as a political prisoner. She has been tortured with solitary confinemnt and British sensory deprivation techniques for long periods of time. She was also force fed 400 times while on 200 days of Hunger-strike. In an interview with Suzanne Breen, Marian described being force-fed thus:
"Four male prison officers tie you into the chair so tightly with sheets you can't struggle," says Price. "You clench your teeth to try to keep your mouth closed but they push a metal spring device around your jaw to prise it open. They force a wooden clamp with a hole in the middle into your mouth. Then, they insert a big rubber tube down that. They hold your head back. You can't move. They throw whatever they like into the food mixer – orange juice, soup, or cartons of cream if they want to beef up the calories. They take jugs of this gruel from the food mixer and pour it into a funnel attached to the tube. The force-feeding takes 15 minutes but it feels like forever. You're in control of nothing. You're terrified the food will go down the wrong way and you won't be able to let them know because you can't speak or move. You're frightened you'll choke to death."
In the same interview, other statements she made give a good insight into her political thinking. With her sister Dolours and Gerry Kelly now a Sinn Féin politician in a power-sharing British administration, she was ordered by Belfast IRA OC Gerry Adams, as part of an 11-strong IRA unit in March 1973, to plant bombs at the Old Bailey, New Scotland Yard, Whitehall and the British Forces Broadcasting Office.
They were all arrested trying to fly home and a 200-day hunger-strike along with force-feeding regime made her a household name. "I did what I believed in," she said, "Nothing Provisional IRA or Sinn Féin leaders do can denigrate that. But I'm very angry when I see so much has been sacrificed for so little. All these lives have were lost, IRA volunteers, civilians, policemen, British soldiers and for what? If this is what they’re settling for, we all could have joined the SDLP back then."
Marion Price came from a very republican family in Belfast, her father being Albert Price a veteran IRA man of the 1940s campaign to get the British out, spent may years in British prisons and was also like his daughter Marian, politically interned for many years without trial. Like Aung San Suu Kyi they were both strongly influenced and loyal to their father's politics. Marian believes IRA membership has too often been explained away as an emotional response to events such as Bloody Sunday. "I made an ideological choice to join. It wasn't a reaction to Bloody Sunday, internment or anything else."
Marian's childhood ambition was to be a nurse and she secured one of only five places on a course at the Royal Victoria Hospital. "One day, a wounded British soldier was brought into casualty. He was wearing a dirty vest. He looked frightened. I felt very sorry for him. That night, I told my comrades and one joked that I should have finished him off. I asked why on earth I'd do that. He was no longer a soldier, he'd been taken out of the battlefield. He was a patient now, I'd have no difficulty looking after him."
When asked about the morality of planting bombs in densely populated areas such as London, she said "The warnings given were twice as long as in Belfast. That was a conscious decision because we knew the English lacked experience of evacuation. We didn't want civilian casualties, from a moral or pragmatic viewpoint."
There were however casualties when two bombs at the Old Bailey and Whitehall exploded, injuring 200 people with flying glass. She said, "I've never had a sleepless night over anything I've done as an IRA volunteer. Bombs are weapons of war. Western states have used them far more brutally than we ever did. George Bush and Tony Blair send other people's sons out to die without ever venturing onto the battlefield themselves. They dropped far bigger bombs from B52s on women and children and they don't give any warnings at all." Marian as an atheist explained further; "When I look around the world, I think if there’s a God, he's a bad God."
Marian one of the first fully fledged female IRA members, further explained, "My mother, her sisters, and my granny had been in Cumann na mBan. My Aunt Bridie was badly injured lifting an IRA arms dump in the 30s. It exploded and she lost her hands and sight. She was 26. When we were growing up, it was never a case of 'poor Bridie'. We were just proud of her sacrifice. She came home from hospital to a wee house with an outside toilet, no social worker, no disability allowance, and no counselling. She just got on with it."
Of her time being force fed on hunger strike, she said "Sometimes when they arrived to force feed me, I would struggle; other times I didn't have the energy to fight. The low point was having no control over your weight. But not for one minute did I think of giving up. They were never, ever going to break me."
Once they put the tube into Price's lung, not her stomach. "I felt like I was drowning. I passed out. They carried me back to my cell. The doctors were standing over me when I came round. If had been food, not water in the tube, it would have killed me. The medical and prison staff told the authorities they wouldn't force feed me again."
A fortnight later the hunger-strike ended and a deal was reached. The sisters were moved to Armagh's women prison where Mariaon was freed after five years suffering from anorexia and tuberculosis. She left prison half the weight she was when went in. She was given a Royal pardon prior to what is generally called the peace process or the Bad Friday Agreement.
On release she said she was in no physical or mental state to rejoin the IRA and had no interest in a political Sinn Féin career; "I like politics but not politicians. To be a politician, you must be a liar and a hypocrite." Although she was initially positive about provisional Sinn Féin: "I remember watching TV as Sinn Féin swept down the stairs in Belfast City Hall with Tricolour ribbons and champagne after an election victory. "
"My father was disgusted. He pointed to Gerry Adams and said, 'I've been around longer than you, that boy will sell you out'. I told him to give Sinn Féin a chance. I was wrong."After 1994, she had "serious concerns" about the leadership's political direction, eventually, she spoke out at a 'republican family' meeting expressing her doubts. Later a senior IRA member visited her home,; "He told me what I was saying wasn't appreciated and he'd shot people for less."
"People began to make financial gain from the movement. Those who had never worked a day in their lives, now had better homes, cars, and holidays than their neighbours. It used to be what you could do for the movement, now it's what the movement can do for you. In the past, to be a republican brought financial hardship. But that was okay because to be a republican was to be something special. You knew you were right."
Marian Price says that the peace process secured "a measure of equality" for Catholics, however a British withdrawal is further away than ever. She said however her military days are over but she can't condemn others "for doing what I did myself". Bearing in mind her track record of a highly principled political position which includes a 200 day hunger-strike most serious political analysts accept her veracity on that while she also says 'armed struggle' is morally justified "while the British occupy part of this country". further elaborating "Sometimes it’s necessary to do something just to let it be known there are people out there who don't accept the status quo.
She still has no regrets: "Disappointments maybe. I’m disappointed in Gerry Kelly. I expected more of him but I'd never detract from the physical bravery he showed. Gerry Adams and I were once friends. We certainly aren't now. He may have difficulty admitting his IRA past but I'm very, very proud of mine."
The Father-Daughter relationship was explored most famously in Shakespeare’s King Lear
Ultimately, Lear did not in his lifetime receive what he struggled so long for but he overcame death all the same and so it may prove with Aung San and Albert Price. Martyrdom, is often the same as divinity. Lear ensured, in his final tortuous moments, while not dictating his daughters their parts, he knew what was necessary to make his last moments inspiring and he pushed hard for it. While many of those around him, included, “murderous traitors, all” but like any good Irish martyr, he died alone unsupported and wronged by overcoming death by being remembered ironically, as a victim.
Lear while once a man of stone, in his desperate attempts to overcome the defeat of death, he performed his own apotheosis by appropriating the feminine and maternal body, Lear wrote his own tragic ending, that has served like the phoenix in Ireland to be part of Life's cycle of a nation's rebirth. This International Women's day will be a particularly poignant one for those Irish women, familiar with the Price of Justice legacy in Ireland and Internationally by women such as Aung San Suu Kyi.
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