The countdown video before the webinar.
The UPF Staff and Speakers
Hon. Albertina Solliani
Mauro Sarasso of UPF and Hon. Albertina Solliani

"Myanmar, a people struggling for freedom" was the theme of the webinar held on Monday, 25th March, 2024, as part of the "Being Peacebuilders" series of meetings.

The event was organised by the "Peace Forum" of the Universal Peace Federation ((UPF) Italy, the International Federation for Peace (IFP), in cooperation with the "Association for Friendship Italy Burma Giuseppe Malpeli."

The webinar was opened by Mr. Carlo Zonato, president of UPF Italy, who emphasised the federation's commitment to "promote an interdisciplinary and inter-religious culture and pathways to peace through a series of targeted projects in the areas of governance, politics, faiths, academia, media and communications, business, art and culture."  For Mr. Zonato, "a world of peace and social cohesion is possible if each of these areas or social disciplines works in synergy for the good of the human family."

Concluding, he explained that the 'Peace Forum' is "a sharing and information project on peace issues. The protagonists of the forum are experts in various social disciplines, 'peace builders' and 'peace ambassadors' of UPF. This is the spirit that unites us and with which we cooperate together."

The moderator of the event was Mr. Mauro Sarasso, of the Italy Burma Association for Friendship.  He presented a slide show through which he illustrated the remarkable works of Mr. Giuseppe Malpeli and Ms. Albertina Soliani for the people of Myanmar.  Mr. Sarasso recounted the various trips they organised to bring Aung San Suu Kyi to Italy, where she received a special welcome in Parma, a city to which she is particularly grateful.

Recently returned from the borders of Myanmar, as was pointed out by the moderator, Ms. Albertina Soliani began with a quote from Aung San Suu Kyi: "We need to support each other with courage."  For the speaker, these are particularly appropriate words for this moment in history, which presents even greater challenges than those of the last century.  "One can fight for freedom even alone, in the silence of the international community.  This is what is happening in Myanmar and elsewhere," Ms. Soliani denounced, recalling that "the country is under a vicious dictatorship, with the economy collapsing and where every human right is violated.  We can't even bring humanitarian aid because it would be held back by the army, like they did with the oxygen tanks during Covid."

Soliani went on to talk about Aung San Suu Kyi's political engagement, which began in 1988 when she returned to her country after a long time abroad. In that year she was among the founders of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the opposition party to the dictatorship, and in 1989 she was arrested by the military junta.  She spent the next twenty years between prison and house arrest until 2010 when she was freed.  

In November 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi overwhelmingly won the elections, giving her people a chance to look forward to a future of democracy, peace and progress.  She remained in office as State Counsellor until the military coup on 1st February, 2021, and has been a prisoner in the capital's Naypyidaw prison since that date, isolated from the world.

From her recent experience on the border, Ms. Soliani has noted the presence of an internal resistance organisation that is winning: in Karenni State at least 90 percent of the territory is liberated, according to those in charge, and there is a willingness to begin starting a civil administration.

Thailand, she explained, is trying to find channels to bring humanitarian aid to Myanmar by talking with the military; the junta-run Red Cross; armed ethnic groups; and the Government of National Unity.  According to Ms. Soliani there may be other international interlocutors at that table; Italy, for example, through the Emilia-Romagna region is already helping Karenni State.

"From the meetings I have had, I believe it is possible to open tables in which the revolution groups can enter into partnerships with other countries, the European Union and the United Nations.  We must have the courage to fill these spaces, but not by bringing weapons," she urged.  Today the international community is in dialogue with the internal groups of the revolution and the Government of National Unity, and speaking with a representative of the National Unity Consultative Council.  Ms. Soliani learned that internally they are discussing a new constitution, the federal profile of the country and how to create a new army.

 For Ms. Soliani, the decisive action for Myanmar could come from a dialogue between China and the United States.  Especially now that the military is at the point of collapse, bereft of soldiers, with many surrendering and with young people fleeing abroad and to the forest to join armed groups in order not to be drafted. 

"I saw a great deal of agreement between the Government of National Unity, the ethnic armed groups and Rohingya representation.  I met with volunteers, Burmese humanitarian organisations on the border and with the network of women parliamentarians who are working to help the people, even under shelling.  There is a non violent spirit that I was very impressed with, which leads the armed groups to fight not cynically, but keeping their humanity."  She reported that she had heard from both political prisoners and a women's network of transitional justice projects on how to build coexistence after war that does not fuel hatred and revenge, but fosters peacemaking and reconciliation.

She then mentioned that on 14th April, at Casa Cervi in Gattatico, RE, the community and many Burmese students who are in Italy will gather to celebrate the Burmese Resilient New Year, with ministers from the Government of National Unity in attendance.  When asked how was it possible to help the Government of National Unity in a more concrete way, Ms.  Soliani gave examples like the recent awarding of honorary citizenship of Abbiategrasso to Aung San Suu Kyi; the work that could be done in the territories and schools; the greater attention that the international community was giving to what was happening in the country; and the need to push our democracies to open channels of humanitarian aid without going through the military.

Responding to questions on how to bring peace and democracy to Myanmar, Ms. Soliani  said that today it was possible to have direct contact with the forces organising the Spring Revolution; with the ministers of the Government of National Unity; and with the women parliamentarians who were elected but never confirmed.  She went on to explain how, through her Association, she organised an event on the anniversary of the coup, with the  collaboration of the European Parliament and a virtual connection with Burmese personalities who were in hiding.  Ms. Soliani emphasised the need to talk as much as possible about Myanmar in our society; to convey our closeness to the people of that country because it helps enormously to keep their morale up.  Their biggest concern is for people to think of them because they need many friends to support them.  By connecting and talking together we can see what is possible for them.  Politics can also help.  In May, the Prime Minister of Thailand will be visiting Rome, and Ms. Soliani with her organisation will try to get him to meet informally with Italian personalities in order to stimulate him to take responsibility for resolving the Myanmar issue.

Responding to the question of what the Catholic Church could do for Myanmar, Ms. Soliani informed everyone that an Apostolic Nuncio representing the Holy See had recently been sent to Yangon, as requested long ago by Aung San Suu Kyi.  The prelate, together with the Pope who cares for the people of Myanmar, missionaries and nuns of different orders, represent a spiritual and human point of reference.

To those who criticised the lack of attention given to the humanitarian needs of the population by the forces on the ground, Soliani retorted that it is the whole people who express themselves in these forms of resistance, and that the armed groups are formed by the people and the youths who flee the cities, using force for what is necessary to free themselves.

In conclusion, Mr. Zonato called to mind Mr. Giuseppe Malpeli, who passed away in 2015, for his commitment to the cause of Myanmar and expressed his hope that Aung San Suu Kyi would soon be able to share a time of freedom with her people.

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