And how did democracy activist Zin Mar Aung (right) retain her sanity during 11 years in prison? The world knows about Burma’s most famous imprisoned dissident, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but Parker draws attention to four emerging female leaders who are in the United States for leadership training, sponsored by Goldman Sachs’ “10,000 Women” program, in partnership with the George W. Bush Institute, the McCain Institute and the Meridian International Center.“It takes courage to put one foot in front of the other, much less to become an activist, as Zin Mar Aung and her colleagues have done,” Parker observes:
For her part, Zin Mar Aung picked up where she left off, earning a degree in botany and pursuing an international law degree. In the meantime, she established the Yangon School of Political Science [a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group] and co-founded Rainfall, an organization focused on women’s empowerment.
The accomplishments of the four Burmese women also include helping political prisoners, providing education and training to underserved girls and young women vulnerable to trafficking, and advocating for victims of domestic violence. …..The other three women are: Hla Hla Yee, a mother, attorney and former political prisoner who counsels marginalized women and provides paralegal training in orphanages and elsewhere; Shunn Lei Swe Yee, who mobilizes young people to work for a more civil society; and Ma Nilar Oo, who worked for the International Red Cross for 18 years, advocated for political prisoners and personally provided some of those aforementioned necessities to Zin Mar Aung and Hla Hla Yee when they were imprisoned.
Burma’s writers are joining with political activists in reclaiming dialogue, The New York Times reports.
Despite the relaxation of censorship during the current reform process, writing in Burma “remains a political act,” said the author and surgeon Ma Thida:
U Pe Myint, editor of the People’s Age Journal, an independent news weekly, agreed. He warned that laws enacted under the former military-led government might still be used against journalists and writers, despite such developments as the recent dissolution of the press scrutiny board. Associates of the military are best positioned to forge new media empires and could put new freedoms at risk. Even the greater access now to the Internet, cheap DVDs and other distractions poses a threat to the reading culture that formed in part from decades of deprivation.
Both writers were attending the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, anunprecedented celebration of literature and freedom of expression.
“Some of the books discussed at the festival underscored the high price many of the country’s writers have paid for the greater liberties they now enjoy,” The Times notes:
Dr. Ma Thida’s novel “The Roadmap,” published in 2011, deconstructs the military-led government’s seven-step “roadmap to democracy” in seven tart chapters about what this journey has meant for her and other dissidents and their loved ones. Beside her on the podium was the journalist Myo Myint Nyein, who recounted how his wife, weary of the struggle to earn a living and raise a family alone, sent him away when he finally returned after 12 years in prison. They have since reunited.
“After decades of suppression, the notion that different opinions could co-exist is profoundly radical,” writes Times correspondent Vaudine England.
The struggles of Burmese activists may sound familiar, says the Post’s Parker.
“What is different … is the absence of democratic traditions in their country and a lack of familiarity with the instruments of freedom. Everything — from how to build a feminist movement to how to create a political party — has to be invented from scratch. What is the message? What is public opinion? How does a person get elected?”