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State visit to Myanmar: Speech at University of Yangon

Speech given by His Majesty The King in Convocation Hall, University of Yangon, during a state visit to Myanmar 1 - 5 December 2014.

rector, students,
ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to address you in this historical lecture hall. Others have spoken of Myanmar’s beauty, the richness of your traditions, and the warmth of your hospitality. I would like to add that the course you have set, and the courage that the people of Myanmar is showing in overcoming past differences to build a better future, is an inspiration to us all. Courageous individuals have shown remarkable resolve and wisdom in seeking to bring to an end one of the world’s longest running civil wars.

In Norway, we have been inspired by your commitment and your willingness to strive for values that we sometimes take for granted in our own country: democracy, peace, freedom and equality. I applaud your determination to turn a difficult past into a hopeful future. The process of transformation you have embarked on is ambitious. We are here to support you in the hard work that lies ahead.

Myanmar is obviously rich in young talent. Developing human resources and education are keys to a prosperous future. The gift of knowledge remains with you for life and can bring you to the summit of your dreams. Nelson Mandela said that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Norway has long been engaged in Myanmar’s development. We are continuing to support your civil society and democratic movement. Until a year ago the Democratic Voice of Burma was based in Oslo. We tried hard to provide humanitarian support following the devastation of Cyclone Nargis. We have established long-term development cooperation. Norwegian companies are setting up operations in Myanmar. I am proud to see the flourishing relations between our peoples. We have a great deal to learn from each other.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year, Norway is celebrating the 200th anniversary of its Constitution. Our Constitution is a living document that reflects the changing nature of our society, while upholding our civil rights. Since its adoption in 1814, it has been amended more than two hundred times. The anniversary has been an important opportunity to reflect on, and reaffirm, our core values.

Our Constitution protects the rights of the people and ensures democracy. It reminds us that being a member of society entails rights and duties both. Our Constitution states that if anything laid down by law proves not to be in the best interest of the people, it can, and should, be changed. The amendments to the Constitution ensure that it maintains its relevance and its merit. An important amendment was made in 1913, giving women the right to vote.

Our society is changing fast from one generation to the next. Yet even in this process of continuing change, our people remains united around some shared goals that I believe have relevance beyond Norway.We seek to build an inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunity. We value gender equality, openness and transparency; We work to develop, promote and uphold core international standards. We strive to accommodate the new, multicultural reality that is the fabric of Norway today.

Norway gained full independence from our neighbour Sweden peacefully in 1905. We experienced occupation during the Second World War. As a child I spent those years in exile. Rebuilding our society after 1945 required a huge effort. Norway used to be a poor country. Thanks in part to careful management of abundant natural resources, my fellow Norwegians enjoy a high quality of life. Even more importantly we have developed our human resources through sustained investment in health and education.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are aware that you will encounter difficulties in your process of transition. There will be obstacles to overcome in your transition to an open economy. Challenges lie ahead in your ongoing peace process. It takes time to build lasting and sustainable peace. In order to realise the vision of a sustainable democratic state, the commitment of all the people in your country is needed.

Rest assured that we see it as our responsibility to support you, to make a contribution in areas where our experience might be useful. We will continue to do this as a true and honest friend, whether or not we agree on everything.

There are many ways in which Norway and Myanmar can work together. Norway has skills and technology that may prove useful in developing Myanmar’s economy. We hope to expand business ties and economic cooperation.

I know one of your priorities is to protect your environment. This is a priority we share. Myanmar is one of the world’s great remaining centres of biodiversity. I hope Norway’s experience will prove useful and that we can offer valuable advice and skills.

Rural electrification and increased access to sustainable energy is essential for Myanmar’s development. Norway stands ready to support Myanmar on its path towards a sustainable energy future by sharing competence and technology.

The future of Myanmar is not in the hands of people my age. It is in the hands of the younger generation. In this context, I would like to announce today the establishment of a Norwegian scholarship fund for students in Myanmar. The scholarship fund is named after David Taw, a distinguished graduate of this very University, who showed an unwavering commitment to peace throughout his life. Students who demonstrate a commitment to the spirit and passion that David Taw embodied, can apply for scholarships to study history and the humanities at the bachelor or masters level.

I wish you every success. You are not only changing your own country. You are showing the whole world that profound and peaceful change is possible.



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King Harald of Norway speaks about the transition towards democracy at the University of Yangon during a state visit to Myanmar 1 - 5 December 2014.