They’re making bronze statues of Aung San by the score right now, in a foundry in Mandalay…
Images of the fifth Prime Minister of the crown colony of Burma and also independence hero, are being placed in prominent places right across the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
Roads and squares have been named in his honour too.
It’s a way for the democratic government of his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi to mark out a new present, while drawing on the credibility of the past.
He was a general, too, so how could the military leaders of today’s Myanmar possibly object?
Aung San was assassinated in this formidable building in Yangon (Rangoon) on the 19th of July, 1947 - just a few months before he should have been the first Prime Minister of an independent country.
The room where he was murdered, alongside other ministers, is now a darkened prayer room.
The young man showing us around concluded by saying “All the men involved in the assassination were caught and killed. Thank you for visiting today.”
- And gave us the broadest smile.
There are a few theories as to why Aung San was killed, and anyway there will be a mixture of motivations including jealousy. The most persuasive idea is that Aung San was thought of as too accommodating towards the various ethnicities and formerly autonomous territories in Burma.
The plight of the Rohingya has been capturing headlines for the last couple of years.
When you talk to guides and businesspeople here, heads shake slowly from side to side, as they express sadness for a “complicated situation” - and the finger is pointed to the former military rulers, still running the army, police and justice system - and who have a privileged position in parliament.
“They are making trouble for The Lady”, is the phrase we’ve heard rather often.
So often do we hear that phrase, that it sounds rehearsed. Maybe they’ve just had to repeat it lots.
“They are tying her up in a crisis not of her making. They want her to fail in the eyes of her people”.
The Lady is of course Aung San Suu Kyi.
Here she is, pictured with her father...
He died when she was barely 2 years old.
Some things have already improved under Daw Aung San (the Daw is an honorific given to women over 40 years of age - like “U” for men). You can talk about things more openly now, there are fewer political arrests, fewer troops in sight - education is being improved, roads built (I’ll write about that again), and even some medicines are free.
Aung San Suu Kyi is loved and adored by most. She is the vessel in which all their hopes rest. By contrast, when an expensive car with personalised number plates passes by, the people inside are dismissed as “connected with the military” and your companion’s face clouds with disgust.
For many (including those of us looking at the reforms in Myanmar from an economic perspective), the plan seemed to off-load all the boring stuff of government onto civilian hands. Before handing over any power, the old military dictators also ‘de-regulated’ the economy, enabling them to buy up property and enterprises. And without sanctions, the “connected” can now spend their money abroad.
How they must laugh to see discussions of sanctions being applied to the democrats who replaced them in ministries like transport, health and education. They themselves are safe from prosecution and accountability.
But it was news elsewhere in Rakhine State which caught my eyes a couple of weeks back.
Seven Buddhist protestors had been shot dead, while trying to commemorate the invasion of their land
- once the Kingdom of Arakan - by a Burmese king in 1784.
It’s an important reminder of the complexities that Aung San Suu Kyi would face, even if there were no meddling by the military. In Rakhine State there is a three way hatred : most Buddhists disliking Rohingyas, vice versa, and both resenting the military and Burmese outsiders jointly.
An excellent primer on this is by a super former colleague of mine, Jonathan Head of the BBC.
Do read this.
He also describes the attitude of most in Myanmar towards the Rohingya as straight-forwardly racist.
Well, it takes a long time to build “togetherness” in a newly independent or unified country.
Italy’s only been one state for about 150 years, and Rome is still viewed with huge suspicion by folks in the deep South and rich North. Heck - look at the profound divisions in the United States, even.
So, the military doesn’t need to do much to stir things up in Myanmar, and it’s going to take a lot of time, effort, money and patience to change attitudes. It’s a lot for Aung San Suu Kyi to deal with.
I glimpsed her once, visiting the BBC World Service. Tiny and elegant. And bristling with energy.
It was about ten years ago, and she sensed freedom and victory for her party was in sight.
Today I wonder if the 72 year-old still has the temperament for the battles big and small she has to fight.
In a way this photo seems symbolic - it’s the forbidding gate outside her old home in Yangon. There were comings and goings, but this is where she was locked away for the best part of two decades.
This is where she felt forced to remain while her British husband died abroad. One of her children has not forgiven her for putting politics above family. Take a look at the photo of her Dad above and you’ll see a brother in the back row who despises her - he cosied up with the dictatorial regimes, you see.
Isolated is hardly the word.
Yet people who say they know her suggest she’s dwelling in something of an ivory tower again - in the soulless new-built capital Naypyidaw. She’s surrounded by favoured advisers. She takes criticism badly, it is said.
If Aung San Suu Kyi is losing her Nelson Mandela-like lustre - and if she cares - then perhaps she should follow his example and hand over to the next generation of leaders soon. If she’s able to. And if they’re capable.