And I particularly would like to thank the director for that honor, and also it’s wonderful to see Michelle here as well. So I am thrilled to look out and see so many people who care deeply about this issue. And I came in as Derek Mitchell and Melanne Verveer were finishing up their remarks.
But as Michael just said, movies have such a powerful voice in our culture, in every culture. And it is both exciting and profoundly moving that filmmakers use it to do more than just entertain, although entertainment is a very important part of the human experience. But the kind of educational and inspirational mission that Michael referred to is very important in today’s world, and this film portrays a woman whose story needs to be in theaters and living rooms across the world.
I want to thank Chris Dodd for sponsoring the showing here tonight. And I just really wanted to come by to underscore how important this moment in the history of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma happen to be. The personal side of Suu Kyi’s story that you will see tonight is one that is so moving when you look at what she gave up, the difficult decisions and sacrifices that she made for her country on behalf of freedom with the hope of democracy.
And it is certainly the case that whoever meets her knows how famous she is, how iconic she is. But what you come away with is how human, down-to-earth, personally engaged she happens to be in everything she’s doing, which makes her story even more painful. Because having met my share of famous people over a long period of time now, there are some who get so caught up in their cause and their mission that you do get the sense that, for them, the human relationships, the one-to-one personal connections with family and friends and colleagues have been totally subordinated to the larger mission. To a great extent, that is necessary, especially in the circumstances in which she found herself. But watching her interact with the people around her, the people who took care of her, the people who were there with her through all her years of house arrest and struggle, makes you know that this is someone who was very well aware of the pain and the sacrifice that she was undertaking.
Now, just a few days ago, we joined the world in celebrating her election. I did tell her in one of our recent telephone conversations she was moving from an icon to a politician. (Laughter.) Having made sort of the same journey to some extent, I know that that’s not easy because now you go to a parliament and you start compromising, which is what democracy is all about. It is not a dirty word. You cannot expect to have one person or one party – one leader – be the repository of everything that is true. And so you have to work with other people, some of whom you disagree with deeply. (Laughter.) But it is part of the commitment you make to a democratic process, even one as fragile as that being embraced by the leadership and the people of Burma.
As they grapple with transitioning from authoritarian military rule to a more open political and economic system, there are going to be a lot of difficult days ahead. President Thein Sein and his government have taken courageous steps. They’ve made this progress possible in many ways. They’ve helped to launch their country on this historic new path. But there is still a lot to be done.
I see Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, with whom I’ve worked closely on this whole process and project almost from the beginning of our time in the Obama Administration. And we will continue to press for all political prisoners to be released, for those already released to be given unconditional freedom. We will continue to work to end in a just way the ongoing ethnic conflicts.
We have told the government there that we will match action for action as they take steps. And last week, I outlined a number of the action steps the United States is prepared to take, including sending an accredited ambassador, reestablishing a USAID mission, enabling private organizations to engage in a broader range of non-profit activity supporting the people, beginning a targeted process of easing the ban on exporting U.S. financial services and restrictions on investment and travel.
It is something that we enter into with our eyes very wide open but with our hearts very hopeful. And certainly, we are guided by the partnership that we have with democrats, including most famously, Aung San Suu Kyi.
So tonight is an opportunity to celebrate this extraordinary woman’s struggle to bring democracy to her people. And we should also remember – and you’ll see some images in the movie of the many heroes in the pro-democracy movement who have sacrificed their freedom and even their very lives. There are hundreds and thousands of people working alongside Aung San Suu Kyi inside Burma and around the world, including in this room as I look at some of the faces who have been stalwart supporters and activists of behalf of a better, more democratic, peaceful future for the people of Burma.
So this film honors them as well. And after decades of war and turmoil, we do look with hope – realistic but nevertheless hopeful aspirations – for what can happen. So again, I want to thank Luc Besson and Michelle Yeoh and everyone associated with this film. And I personally want to thank you for going to so much effort to get it to me so that I could watch it as I was traveling to actually meet the real person. And it was a very moving experience for me, and I think it will be for all of you. So thank you very much. (Applause.)