RANGOON — US President Barack Obama’s speech at Rangoon University on Monday earned mixed reactions, with some of his audience praising his “practical” understanding of Burma’s needs, while others found his words less than inspiring.
Thant Myint-U, a US-born Burmese historian, said he thought the 30-minute speech did a good job of emboldening the Burmese to overcome the obstacles that lie ahead. Noting the long neglect of Burma’s education system, he added that Obama’s choice of venue was particularly apt.
Ma Thida, a writer and editor, also appreciated the US president’s message on education and other challenges facing the country, but was less impressed with his delivery.
“He emphasized the importance of education and the role of the citizen. I liked that, because that’s what we really need here,” she said.
She noted, however, that the speech didn’t get much applause. “Maybe it’s because people were so tired after waiting for him for nearly three hours,” she said, adding that compared to other speeches she’s seen Obama give, this one was “just average” and “not very inspired.”
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, a Burmese filmmaker who is now working on a documentary on Aung San Suu Kyi, was not so disappointed, however. The best part of the speech, he said, was when Obama said that the United States stands with the people of Burma, who have suffered under tyranny for many years.
“That really moved me,” he said. “For the president of one of the world’s most powerful and democratic countries to encourage the Burmese like that is quite amazing.”
He also praised the US president for directing some of his words directly at the Burmese government, instead of just offering encouragement to the country’s people.
Obama’s remarks on the contentious subject of ethnic relations in Burma were particularly helpful, the filmmaker said.
“What he said about ethnic affairs is quite practical. He compared Burma’s ethnic diversity with that of the US. He said that if he had been discriminated against because of his ethnic background and the color of his skin, there would be no way for him to be president.”
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