People of 2006
covering burma and southeast asia
Monday, July 15, 2019


People of 2006

By The Irrawaddy DECEMBER, 2006 - VOLUME 14 NO.12



Min Ko Naing

Modest conqueror

By Jimmy

For many people, the high-profile background of Min Ko Naing (the pseudonym for Paw Oo Tun) which translates as “The Conqueror of Kings,” puts him second only to detained Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as one of the most respected leaders of Burma’s democracy movement. But he is uncomfortable whenever someone gives him a lot of attention and respect.

The 44-year-old former student leader who led the democracy uprising in 1988 is not in good health after 15 years in prison. He was arrested again in September, along with four comrades. Despite his years in prison, he has never shown antagonism toward his captors. Instead, he has a great sense of humor.

And he is not just a political animal. He loves to play the guitar and piano, he writes poetry and paints like his father, a respected artist.

As a close colleague, I greatly admire him and try to help him promote people’s peaceful participation in politics and to address the problems facing Burma.

Min Ko Naing says he wants to devote more of his time to writing and painting rather than political activism, but his status puts him in a special category.

Jimmy, aka Kyaw Min Yu, is a former student leader in the 1988 uprising and lives in Rangoon


Burma’s Charlie Chaplin

By Ludu Sein Win

I first met Zarganar as a shy and tight-lipped young Lone Ranger. But when I met him again in the early 90s in my small school room, he was no more a shy, silent lad. He was by that time a well-known former prisoner and a very famous comedian.

He came to see his old teacher just a couple of days after his release from the notorious Insein Prison. He was a chatter box now, laughing heartily and easily cracking jokes with his old classmates around him. I wondered what on earth had made that shy and silent lad into a tongue-lashing comedian and why his jokes had caused him to be imprisoned for so many years.

I looked at him laughing and joking with friends. But, was he really laughing?

I thought I heard another melody in his laughter. Actually, he was crying with each beat of his heart. Looking carefully, I could see tears in his laughing eyes. Yes, his eyes were crying. Crying with pain and agony. Not his own. But for his country.

“Crying” made him a comedian, cracking jokes about everyone and everything under the sun. No, he is more than a comedian. He is a Charlie Chaplin for the Burmese people. He is a social critic, and he is a voice of the people.

His jokes are really the unspoken words of the silent millions. He speaks aloud the words that Burmese people so badly want to hear, but dare not for fear of Big Brother. Yes, Big Brother is watching everyone from everywhere.

Zarganar is laughing with tear-filled eyes on behalf of his people. His jokes are as sharp as swords, and the witty puns are as swift as arrows.

But, I, his old teacher, hear a painful melody in his artificial laughing.

Ludu Sein Win is a veteran Burmese journalist in Rangoon

Thet Win Aung

Another fallen hero

By Min Zin

Thet Win Aung, who died in Mandalay Prison on October 16, was a close colleague of mine. We attended the same class and spent our teenage years playing guitar and soccer together. We shared the same hideouts when we were involved in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, or when we were on the run to avoid arrest by military intelligence. Now he has left us. The parting was untimely.

Since the early days of the 1988 uprising, Thet Win Aung played an instrumental role in the founding of our national high school student union. I remember how we produced student union statements in the attic of his house by etching characters into inked wax paper and rolling fluorescent-light tubes over the impressions in a crude homemade duplicating process. Thet Win Aung’s patience and ingenuity in working out these tasks and details were remarkable. He was also known among our fellow student activists as a great organizer.

In August 1997, Thet Win Aung and I, along with three other student activists, fled to Thailand. After almost a year in exile, Thet Win Aung felt a greater obligation to return to Burma to continue underground activities. He ignored pleas to stay in exile, and went back to Burma. But luck was not on his side. Military intelligence officers captured him in October 1998.

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