Min Ko Naing, one of the student leaders from the 1988 uprising in Burma who has been in and out of solitary confinement for decades, now urges support of President Thein Sein's gradual reform – which means working with the ruling elite. Christian Caryl captures the political prisoner's grace:
During his most recent stint in a remote provincial prison, he discovered that the inmates included a former army colonel who had an active part in one of his earlier arrests; the ex-officer had landed in jail after losing out in a power struggle in the upper reaches of the regime. Min Ko Naing told me how he had made a point of treating the man with respect rather than enmity. When the officer was released along with the other prisoners in January, journalists approached him for interviews. But he declined, and referred them instead to Min Ko Naing, who, he said, spoke for all the prisoners. “The main emotion I feel for him is pity,” Min Ko Naing told me. “As for me, I have political beliefs. That was why I was in jail. But in his case, a tree fell, and he just happened to be one of the branches.”
Caryl considers the distinctly Burmese approach to national reconciliation:
In the past, South Africans, Chileans, and Indonesians have all found themselves in comparable positions: the trick is finding acceptable ways to reassure authoritarian power holders that leaving the stage will not expose them or their families to the pent-up demand for vengeance. These precedents are well known to Burma’s oppositionists; it is such experiences that Aung San Suu Kyi has in mind when she speaks of the need for “restorative” rather than “retributive” justice in a post-authoritarian future. Yet the Burmese approach is not based solely on hardheaded political calculations. Figures like Min Ko Naing share with Aung San Suu Kyi a devotion to Buddhist precepts that deeply informs their striving for democracy and the protection of human rights. It is an attitude that attests to a great inner strength.