Forgive but don't forget, Myanmar comedian-turned-activist says
Zarganar, a comedian who is now a political activist, focuses on ways to ensue the atrocities of Myanmar's past are recorded and not forgotten by future generations.
For a man who has spent most of his life cracking jokes, Myanmar's most famous comedian and political dissident, Zarganar, has a sober view of the world and takes his self-appointed role as a custodian of the past seriously.Skip to next paragraph
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Since his release from jail in October under an amnesty for political prisoners, Zarganar has focused on ways of ensuring the atrocities of the past are recorded and not forgotten by future generations.
Zarganar hopes a similar center can be built in Myanmar (formerly Burma), perhaps by 2013. It would be a test of the Southeast Asian country's transition from military rule to democracy, since many of those implicated in the abuses are still in power today.
"As we embark on the democratization process, 1988, 1990, 2007, and 2008 are four historical years we cannot forget," Zarganar, whose real name is Ko Thura, told AlertNet.
"We need to document what happened," he said, denying that revenge was a motivation.
"We know who committed those atrocities, but we don't want revenge. We have a saying that you shouldn't retaliate [against] hostility with hostility. It would be a vicious cycle. We won’t be able to move forward."
Zarganar said individuals should no longer face being thrown into jail or being forced to take up arms because of their political beliefs.
"We can forgive but it's impossible to forget what happened because we were the ones who suffered," he said.
In 1998, soldiers from the military junta that ruled former Burma for nearly 50 years following a 1962 coup gunned down hundreds of unarmed pro-democracy students and protesters, arresting hundreds more.
Two years later, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won the 1990 election by a landslide but was never allowed to take power.
There were pro-democracy protests again in 2007, with Buddhist monks leading the so-called Saffron Revolution. It was brutally quashed with scores of monks and civilians killed and arrested.
Zarganar, who had been a focal point for the informal relief effort by private citizens into the delta, was sentenced in 2008 to 59 years in prison after criticizing the junta for its slow response to the cyclone.
Clad in a white T-shirt and colorful shorts, and sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor of his living room in Yangon, Zarganar said he hopes the new center would record past and present events, from revolutions to land grabs and rights abuses.
"There's a village in Monywa where a company is trying to evict the villagers. We've gone there and documented what's going on," he said proudly.