I follow him. Upon stepping outside the airport, he is mobbed, adorned with flowers, kissed on the cheek, the non-stop flash photography possibly garnering the attention of some distant alien astronomer.
Traffic to and from the airport is halted as he and another 45 year old man stand on tables, addressing the crowd of followers and well-wishers. My taxi driver tells me that they were the leaders of the student protest movement in 1988, and after repeated incarcerations and beatings at the hands of the military junta, had vacated Burma (now Myanmar,) living in exile in Thailand while the repressive regime continued to maintain a stranglehold on human rights to stay in power.
I suppose that chance seating me on their plane was the diametrical opposite of boarding the aircraft with the 9/11 terrorists.
Check out a quick video of the student leaders addressing their supporters
Speaking out against the military junta normally lead to your fair share of troubles- prison or death. Thousands upon thousands of protesters were killed, while the generals appropriated and sold the country's natural resources, garnering tremendous wealth.
Due to the brutality of the regime, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Myanmar; economic development halted- and infrastructure is largely crumbling or non-existent, and while the country remains tremendously poor, democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly credited sanctions for putting pressure on the ruling military regime, which recently began the process of transitioning to democracy. (the military still retains most of the power though. That will likely diminish as the years go by)
My theory on why the regime changed course? The stick-- the recent fates of various Middle East dictators, coupled with sanctions that made business difficult; the carrot- they keep their vast, ill-gotten wealth. Simply put, they were smart enough to see the writing on the wall.
|freedom for Burma!|
Regardless, today was a great day for the people of Myanmar, a shining moment in their history. A day where the darkness of repression was finally pierced by the innate right and light of human freedom, which I believe burns eternally in the heart of human being.
I realize the world has a long ways to go, as we burn the old constructs of might makes right, scarcity, and ego, but as light shines in more places in the world, with increasing intensity, the darkness recedes at an increasing pace. I was only glad to be there to witness it in motion, and feel long suppressed courage and joy rise up in the hearts of the people around me.