A five-day dialogue on Making Democracy Real (Jan 8-12, 2012) held at Asia Plateau, the Initiatives of Change centre in Panchgani, India, opened on Sunday with a video message from Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s leading democracy campaigner.
Suu Kyi said her country was ‘on the verge of a breakthrough’ in its quest for democracy. ‘When people of a nation can shape their own destinies it’s a great thing.’ However, she warned, there was no ‘point of no return’ in the process of democratization. ‘One can always turn back at any time.’
‘Democracy is to do with society; it is not just to do with government,’ she continued. ‘So we need to take all kinds of steps in all kinds of directions, politically, socially, educationally. And, of course, civil society must be involved and also the international community.’
There is never an end to the road of democracy. Once we have achieved political democracy, we have to achieve social democracy’, said Suu Kyi. ‘It is in fact a march towards several doors at the same time.’ Burma’s long years under a military regime, she said, came about as a result of weaknesses in the whole country. ‘We need to be independent from our own weaknesses.’
In keeping with this idea of continual progress, the Nobel Laureate stressed the importance of responsibilities and duties. ‘When people think of democratization in Burma, they think of the rights that they are going to get but not the responsibilities that they will have to assume. So in this Dialogue of Democracy, I would appreciate very much if you would concentrate as much on the responsibilities as on the rights. How do we develop a sense of democratic responsibility? Where does it start? … I believe that it starts in the family. From the family, outwards into society we should understand what democracy entails not just in the matter of rights but also in terms of responsibilities.’
The Burmese leader also paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, calling him the ‘father of non-violent politics’ and a role model for Burma. She expressed great admiration for his common sense, noting that although many prefer to speak of him as wise, being fully grounded in common sense is the most important thing in politics. She called upon his heirs, by which she meant not only his family but all those who believe in democracy and non-violence, to help Burma follow the right path in the right way.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s words were well received by the Dialogue participants and the announcement of her video message brought gasps from the audience. It was an encouraging opening for the event, which runs for the next four days. The Dialogue is organised by Initiatives of Change, India and IC Centre for Governance.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s message was followed by many speeches and welcoming words delivered by speakers representing different parties. Among them, the president of IofC International, Omnia Marzouk, the grandson of the Mahatma Gandhi, Rajmohan Gandhi, and the renowned veteran South Sudanese leader General Joseph Lagu, who is looked upon as a father-figure of the country.
General Lagu, expressed his pleasure at representing the world’s youngest democracy, South Sudan, in the world’s largest one, India.
The Dialogue aims at bringing together participants of democratic practices and activists from across the globe, both governmental and non-governmental, to share their experiences and practices, in the hope that this would enable all participants to learn from one another and return to their home-countries with clear plans for implementing real democracy.
Delegations have come from over 30 countries at last count, the largest coming from the newly founded state of South Sudan, whose Vice President, H.E. Dr Riek Machar Teny, delivered his keynote address on Monday morning.
A report of Day 2 of the conference can be found here >>
The transcript of Aung San Suu Kyi's message can be downloaded here >>
The transcript of Professor Rajmohan Gandhi's opening remarks can be downloaded here >> The video of his speech is below.