The Year of the Peaceniks


Just like fellow blogger Ather Zia, my exuberance in responding to the call to share with readers the story I will be keenly watching in 2011 exceeded space allowances. I take this time, then, to build on my thoughts concerning Wikileaks and Julian Assange, and share the other individuals whom I will be watching this year.

In 2011, I’ll be keeping my eyes on a few individuals whom I think, for better or for worse, could have a tremendous impact on political affairs, big and small: Julian Assange (see the original article here), Aung San Suu Kyi, the 14th Dalai Lama, and Liu Xiaobo. Very quickly, starting with the latter:

I’ll be interested to see what impact the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident and Charter ’08 co-author Liu Xiaobo has on domestic fronts. Chinese leaders have denounced the award as an “obscenity” and are actively repressing the news in their country. And yet, there are over 400 million Internet users in China, and growing. Despite China’s attempt at building a robust firewall as a tool of Internet censorship, word of the award (and its meaning) will find an audience. You can bet that most political affairs students are aware of it, not to mention Chinese students studying abroad. What ripple effects will Liu’s award have in China? He remains in jail, and his wife under house arrest, but for how long? And what forces will (can?) release them from their bonds?

Recently His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama announced that in 2011 he would “retire” as the political leader of exiled Tibetans (he’ll remain the spiritual leader, however). This will have a serious impact on the Tibetan freedom movement. To be clear, the Dalai Lama does not advocate full-blown independence from China; rather, he supports the creation of an autonomous state within China. The question is: will his successor toe the same line? Tibetans, frustrated under years of oppression and a “cultural cleansing” by the Chinese government, have been itching for a fight for independence, especially the younger generation. Will they get it under a new leader? Will the Dalai Lama be able to hold back a violent movement if he steps out of the limelight? (Or is this the very reason he is stepping aside?) The young Karmapa Lama is the leading contender to fill the void. March 20 is scheduled for elections for the government-in-exile. The fight to fill the vacuum he is about to leave will be something to watch.

(Is it coincidence that all of my choices are Nobel Peace Prize winners? Will Julian Assange or Wikileaks be next!?!? Hey, if Henry Kissinger can get the prize...)

To the delight of millions of Burmese and millions more around the world, Aung San Suu Kyi was recently released from years of house arrest. What’s she doing now? What any good politician does: she’s touring her country, getting a lay of the land, cobbling together her old political network (we’re getting’ the band back together!), and taking stock of the needs of her people. In other words, she’s gearing up for yet another run at her country’s presidency. In just the couple of months she has been free, she has already grasped the power of the Internet and media technology. She will leverage these tools to great effect, no doubt. The question is: how much freedom will the military junta grant “our lady”? She’s had seven years of uninterrupted thinking… let’s see what she does with her collected pontifications.

Who/what are your choices for 2011? Leave a comment below and weigh in!!

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma, China, Dalai Lama, Free Press, Free Speech, Liu Xiaobo, Peace, Tibet, Wikileaks