Spiegel: Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, you were kept isolated for over seven years; you were not allowed to leave your home. How did you pass the time?
Suu Kyi: You have a great many things to do when you are under house arrest. On the one hand, it is more comfortable than sitting in prison; on the other hand, you have to look after a household, which is strenuous under such circumstances. Of course I had access to radio and books. I felt that it was my duty not to senselessly waste my time. And since I didnt want to waste my time, I tried to accomplish as much as possible.
Spiegel: What did you do? What kind of books did you read?
Suu Kyi: Oh, about politics, economics, novels, poems, history — every single book that I could get my hands on.
Spiegel: Your lawyer told us a few weeks ago that he brought you a copy of Harry Potter to read.
Suu Kyi: Yes, thats right; I try to keep up with my grandchildren. That way I will know who Harry Potter is if I can ever meet them.
Spiegel: What opportunities did you have to maintain contact with people on the outside? Were you able to send them messages?
Suu Kyi: No, none at all. I had no Internet, no mobile phone and no satellite dish. It was only a few days ago that I even used a mobile phone for the first time. The most important contact to the outside was my radio. I sat in front of it for five, six hours a day and followed what was happening in the world. Furthermore, my doctor was allowed to visit me once a month, and sometimes my lawyers came by. During these talks, we focused primarily on my court cases.
Spiegel: How did you get along with your guards?
Suu Kyi: They have treated me very well. Of course they had their rules and orders that they were not allowed to break. They were friendly and helpful.
Spiegel: You have been able to move about freely since November 13. How does it feel to be free?
Suu Kyi: Whether you believe it or not, I have always felt free inside. Being outside primarily used to mean for me: working, speaking and more people. That is also exactly how my schedule looks again now, totally different from over the past years. By the way, I feel no difference. I am fairly tired, though.
Spiegel: Over the past few days, you have met with political friends and diplomats, granted interviews and given a speech to your supporters. At all of these events, the regimes informers have followed your every step and monitored the people you have spoken with. How is it even possible to feel free in a state like this?
Suu Kyi: I think that freedom is sometimes a state of mind. Sometimes, mind you, but not always. I dont think that the people in this country feel free. From a legal perspective, what is happening here is unacceptable. Fundamental violations of human rights always lead to people feeling less and less human. And when something like this continuously happens in your country, then you no longer feel comfortable. You, for instance, will leave Burma again in just a few days. But for those of us who have to spend the rest of their lives here, life can be very arduous.
Spiegel: You once said that fear itself can be a kind of prison. The people in this country have been terrorised by a military junta for decades. How can they come to terms with the constant pressure?
Suu Kyi: Im not telling people that they can flee the fear. It is important, however, that they dont allow fear to control their lives. You have to maintain control. If, in addition to an external force, you are also ruled by an inner one like fear, then you are even less free.
Spiegel: Isnt it true that you could be arrested again at any time? In the past, the junta has never had any trouble finding a reason for this.
Suu Kyi: I am not afraid of that. But I accept it as a possibility. As long as there is no law in Burma, any individual here can be arrested at any time. You could also be immediately arrested and deported. They dont even have to give you a reason for why they are doing this.
Spiegel: Have you ever thought that you personally pay too high a price for your political struggle? You have spent the better part of the past 20 years in isolation. For years, you havent been able to see your sons, who live abroad.
Suu Kyi: No. What I have experienced is nothing compared to what political prisoners in prisons suffer...
Spiegel: There are currently over 2,100 political prisoners in Burma who are being detained under horrendous conditions...
Suu Kyi: ... and I would like to urgently draw the worlds attention to their plight. We must do everything to secure their release.
Spiegel: Ever since you were released again, many people in Burma have found renewed hope. Do you experience these high expectations of you as a burden?
Suu Kyi: I see them as an incentive to work even harder. But it is also necessary to make it clear to the people that they have to do something for themselves. People shouldnt expect that I can do everything for them.
Spiegel: Would you, in order to move closer to achieving your objectives, also speak with the leaders of this junta?
Suu Kyi: Of course. There are many things that we have to discuss with them. We need a change in this country. Burmas economy is in ruins. Ethnic tensions are increasing. There are so many political prisoners. There are too many refugees leaving the country. There is a huge business with human trafficking. There are so many things that need to be remedied. And we have to tackle this — with peaceful means.
Spiegel: But what means are available to the opposition to bring about such a change?
Suu Kyi: I cant exactly say. One thing is for sure: It certainly cant be done overnight.
Spiegel: On November 7, parliamentary elections were held in Burma, which the military junta maintains it won by a landslide. Hardly anyone in the world believed that these elections were free and fair. The opposition was divided over whether or not it should participate or boycott them.
Suu Kyi: We have boycotted these elections and we are standing by this position.
Spiegel: A number of members of the opposition, including former members of your National League for Democracy, have established a new party and taken part in the elections. By contrast, the NLD is banned. The official reason given at the time was not taking part in elections. Has this weakened the movement?
Suu Kyi: There were people who believed in these elections, and they ended up losing them. We, on the other hand, have never believed in these elections, and we dont believe in them now, either. This of course doesnt mean that we cannot work together with other groups and individuals in order to advance the democratic process.
Spiegel: How do you propose to shape relations to influential countries like China and India, which are relatively close to the regime and do business with it? Neither country has criticised the elections.
Suu Kyi: It is important that we maintain good relations with these neighbouring countries. But it would be better if India and China would support us rather than this government. We can work on this.
Spiegel: In the West there have been heated debates for years over whether sanctions against the military regime in Burma would be constructive or not.
Suu Kyi: This issue needs to be constantly re-examined. We are currently doing this. I dont have a final opinion on this.
Spiegel: In the past, you asked Western tourists not to travel to Burma because this would only support the regime. Do you still stand by this statement?
Suu Kyi: I was informed that the European Union has debated this issue. It has spoken out against group tours where Burmese government facilities are used. It endorses individual trips, however, which could benefit private companies. I havent had an opportunity to speak with the European Union about this. But it is essential that people see what is actually happening in this country.
Spiegel: Will you continue your political struggle?
Suu Kyi: Of course. We have established political goals and we intend to achieve them.