Myanmar Consolidated Media

Politics is my priority

Two days after his release, The Myanmar Times interviewed comedian Zaganar (Ko Thura) at his Sanchaung township home about his time in prison and plans for the future

By Kyaw Hsu Mon
October 17 - 23, 2011

Comedian Zaganar at his house in Yangon’s Sanchaung township on October 14.
Pic: Thet Htoo

You have said you will continue both your artistic and political activities. What is your first priority after being released?

I have always combined my artistic and political activities. But when I was in prison most recently, I realised that there are many people in the arts field [but not in the political field because] it is still very sensitive. This is the first step in the period of change so that’s why I decided I should be more involved in politics. In 1988 I participated in many activities and since then I always made a lot of political jokes. We demonstrated to get the democracy, multi-party democracy, at that time, that is why I would say it was the first step in my life as a politician. Twenty-three years later, the parliament has come into being but we don’t have multi-party democracy. We have to try to reach [multi-party democracy]. I want to try to reach that kind of situation. We have to fill the other half of the glass, to be a real democracy. Now in the parliament, only one strong party has influence. To assist the democratisation all the other [prisoners of conscience] should be released to work together on the road to democracy. So, that is why I want to focus on political affairs more than my art. It does not mean I want to be a hluttaw representative but I want to give my support to people so they can become representatives – I want to help them and search for representatives in society, especially young people. In the prison, it is like a nursery, I supported young prisoners to gain knowledge. There are many political experts in the country and I want them (young people) to learn from those experts. I think arts will be my second priority.

If you had to put a figure on it, how much time do you divide between political and artistic activities?

I would say political is 80 percent and arts only 20pc.

Have you always wanted to be involved in politics? And do you have any ambition to be a parliamentarian, or do you prefer to be a supporting actor?

To be honest, since the Burma Socialist Program Party in the 1980s I have only wanted to satirise the government. Because of that I was in prison in 1988 at the age of 27, then in 1994 when I was 33. I have noticed that the views of a comedian and a politician are different. A comedian makes a joke when he sees problems in society. But a politician, he thinks about how to reform these problems. I will have to start thinking more like a politician. Under the former military government, I would have been arrested if I said anything political – that’s why I was arrested four times. I did not intend to demonstrate on the streets [in 1988]. I tried to go abroad and study a kind of political training, but I couldn’t go because they didn’t issue me with a passport. Then I tried support other people [to study] because I couldn’t go there myself. I try to find interested people and support them. That’s what I will explain to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when I meet her.

You said you plan to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. When will that meeting take place?

Actually, I missed meeting her yesterday (October 13). Many people have visited me, including journalists. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sent a letter to me and a book and once I’m finished meeting journalists I will definitely go and see her. October 18 there will be a birthday party for Min Ko Naing so I expect to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi before that day.

Zaganar arrives at Yangon airport on October 12.
Pic: Thet Htoo

How many times have you been in prison?

From October 1988 to April 1989 was the first time, then from the week before the 1990 election to 1994 was the second time. Third time was after the 2007 revolution, and the last one was June 2008 up until now. I spent three years and six months in Myitkyina prison. I have only been in Insein and Myitkyina prisons.

How are your family members?

My wife, my daughter and son are now live in US. My wife will be back here in two months. My children are studying there.

Many people are saying this government is different. Do you feel that things are improving, that Myanmar society is more free and open than before?

I noticed that the media – I could buy many journals in prison – it is more open than before. Because the media is more free and open, I expect to be able to speak more freely than before as well. [In prison] I had two points of view: one is from the comedian in me, the other from the activist. I have a lot of jokes that I made during my time in the prison, but this is not time to do that. Now there is great potential for us to be united. Leaders haven’t been able to find the issues that can unite people – that’s what I noticed. We need to be more in touch with people than before.

How do you plan on supporting yourself, your political activities, in the future?

I have no business but I know money is essential to be able to stand up for other people. My daily expenses are not much so I can use the money I saved from before. While I don’t want to spend much time acting, I know that I need to do it to make money. I’ve received many offers to act in advertisements and if I accept those ads I will have money to support my colleagues in prison. I could donate money to them.

You said you will apply to get back your identify card and passport and then you want to attend public relations training in the United States. Do you still plan to go there?

I was already accepted to attend this PR course but I didn’t get the passport. I think they should issue me with a passport. But I only want to do a short course. Then I also want to attend a media training course as well. I heard that many journalists went to attend training abroad. I have a strong desire to be an interviewer like Larry King.

You are a co-founder of Thee Lay Thee Anyeint and I heard you threatened to kick out the members of the troupe who returned from Thailand if they go ahead with their plan to perform at Myaw Sin Kyun at the end of this month. Is that true?

I came up with the name of this anyeint troupe, Thee Lay Thee, and also their names: Pan Thee, Sein Thee, Zee Thee and Kyal Thee. I told Sein Thee and Godzilla to postpone their performance and I have spoken to those who are yet to return and expect them to be back in December. Then we will hold our reunion performance. My other colleagues from the arts field will also be involved. I told them to wait until then.