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Lise Hand: Butterfly with will of steel flapped her wings and the world listened


Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi after receiving the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a special outdoor concert. Photo: PA

Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi after receiving the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a special outdoor concert. Photo: PA

Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi after receiving the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a special outdoor concert. Photo: PA

THEY tried with all their might and main to break the fragile butterfly on the steel wheel of the military state. For 23 years the junta locked her away, silenced her, closed her off from precious basic human rights such as dignity and freedom and love.

But the fragile butterfly was strong. She beat her wings against the bars of her Burmese cage and the lonely sound made waves in distant corners of the world. The name Aung San Suu Kyi became a cause, an inspirational symbol of indomitability against oppression.

Yet it was such a slight figure which climbed on to the stage of the Bord Gais Theatre in Dublin last night amid a tumultuous ovation, an iron rod clad in yellow and black.

On stage to accept Amnesty's Ambassador of Conscience Award from Bono, she said that the one question everyone had asked her since the doors of her cage flew open was what did freedom feel like?

And now, having travelled to Thailand, Switzerland and Norway, she knows the answer. "Moving is the word -- a stirring of the heart, a new impetus towards our goal. I never knew how many people cared for us and our cause until I started on my journey -- I'm amazed, deeply touched and moved."

Bono told her: "There's no one on this island who doesn't understand how powerful the word freedom is, how difficult the word justice is to live by, how quick-solid peace can be."

The Amnesty concert was a slick production, a mix of international and Irish musicians and poets. Irish actor Jack Gleeson read Seamus Heaney's 'The Hall Lantern' and actress Vanessa Redgrave read from his 'Republic of Conscience'.

There was a hard shoe Riverdance routine, and extraordinary ballet from trapeze artist Ingrid Berman Marin with Declan O'Rourke on guitar.

Bono was on stage twice -- first to present Aung San Suu Kyi with her award, paying tribute how despite the brutality she experienced, she rejected violence and believed "war can be unlearned and rejected," he said. "Peace is not just the absence of war around us, but the absence of war within us."

And he returned to the stage for the finale, which included an acoustic version of the poignant and apt anthem, 'One'.

Damien Rice played guitar, taking the Edge's place -- Bono explained that the U2 guitarist was absent because his "heart was still broken" after the recent loss of his beloved mother Gwenda Evans

But it was Bob Geldof who captured the moment in his unfailingly forthright way. After slagging off Bono -- telling the guest of honour that after spending a day in the U2 singer's talkative company, she'd be begging for a junta to take her back. Bob explained that he wanted to do "a proper noisy rock and roll song. For the Irish are a noisy people and Aung San Suu Kyi is a noisy person".

He spoke of how she was shut away in a room, "but the roar of silence that emanated from her stopped mouth shook them till they bent and then they broke," he declared.

It was a noisy night. A celebration of an extraordinary woman. And straight after the concert, Aung San Suu Kyi joined thousands of people in the square outside, where she was been presented with the proclamation of the Freedom of Dublin by Lord Mayor Andrew Montague -- which she had originally been awarded in 2000. At the time it was accepted by her son.

Despite the drizzly weather -- and the small fact of an Ireland-Italy showdown in Poland, a big crowd came to hear her speak.

And perhaps a little fatigued by the wave of emotion which has carried her through four countries so far since she has tasted freedom, she kept it short.

"This is one of the most unforgettable days," she said. "You stood by us in our time of trouble. You are a part of my heart -- I really mean it with my whole heart."

Everyone cheered and sang Happy Birthday to their guest -- 67 years young today.

She got a big cake -- after all, it's not every day a butterfly triumphs over the big, ugly machine.

Irish Independent