(Interview) – Thee Lay Thee traditional dance troupe leader comedian Godzilla, and comedians Sein Thee, Zee Thee and dancer Chaw Su Myo returned to Burma this week after four years in exile. Comedian Pan Thee, Kyel Thee and dancer Mya Sabai Ngone have remained in Thailand. Comedian Zarganar formed the popular dance troupe. In 2007, members left Burma after severely criticizing the former Burmese junta in performances inside the country and in foreign countries. Zarganar was arrested in June 2008 while helping Cyclone Nargis victims. He is serving a long prison term in Myitkyina Prison in Kachin State. Before the troupe returned to Burma, Mizzima correspondent Kyaw Kha talked with Godzilla about the decision to return and their future plans.
Q: Although President Thein Sein has invited Burmese citizens living abroad to return to Burma, some exiled Burmese think that they should return home only after the government gives exiled people amnesty via an official law or regulation. What motivated your decision to return now?
A: Some people say that they cannot trust it [the President’s offer] because there has been no written notification. However, the president holds the highest rank in Burma. We trust in the words of the person who has the highest political position. We accepted his speech. If I have to say on behalf of the four people who returned to Burma, we returned because we trust in and respect his speech.
We don’t know whether other people will trust his offer or not. I cannot talk for them. As for us, we trust in the president and his actions. That’s why we decided to return to Burma.
Q: Did you need to do anything special with the government in order to return?
A: There was no give-and-take. The president of the nation invited us back. So, we requested to return to Burma. The government demanded nothing from us. It [the government] did not tell us to do anything.
Q: Comedian Zarganar organized the Thee Lay Thee dance troupe and led the group. How do you think Zarganar, who has been imprisoned, feels about your return?
A: He is in prison, and we don’t have any contact with him so we can only imagine what he may think. He will welcome our return. We reviewed ourselves during our four-year exiled period. Our performances were not as effective as they should have been. When we knew that we could not achieve our aim, we decided to return. We will explain everything to Zarganar when he is released from prison. I believe that Zarganar will accept it.
Q: Thee Lay Thee was disbanded during your leadership. What do you want to say about that?
A: It cannot be said that Thee Lay Thee was disbanded. We are just doing things separately now. Even a relationship among siblings can break down when they disagree with each other. Our case is similar to that.
Q: Some people said that Thee Lay Thee was disbanded because of inequalities in sharing money earned from the performances. How do you respond to that?
A: Rumours can go round with every artist. If someone loves the artist, they will say good things; if they hate, they will speak ill of the artist. When they love a person, they will be blind to their faults. When they hate, even if the person does many good things, they will say unkind words about the person.
Q: All the members of Thee Lay Thee left Burma together. Now, when you are about to return, some members are not returning.
A: They will remain [in a foreign country] because some of them have not finished their artistic work. They have things to do there.
Q: Will you perform in Burma under the name Thee Lay Thee or take a new name?
A: Our main aim in returning is to do our artistic work. Artists can do nothing except work in their art. We will perform traditional dances and make movies and videos in our name.
Q: Earlier, Thee Lay Thee criticized the former Burmese junta in humorous ways not only in Burma but also when you performed in foreign countries. Burmese people like your jokes. Do you think that you can say similar jokes now when you perform in Burma?
A: I think so. Because we already explained that we were criticizing the weak points of our country [and the authorities] in a constructive way. Our aim to return is to point out the weak points. But, we cannot only talk about the weak points; we have to talk about the good points too. Everyone has both good points and weak points.
The new government is taking steps toward democracy so I believe that it will grant things [freedom of expression] gradually. We wanted to return because we believe that.
Q: If your hopes are dashed because the government does not permit freedom of expression and makes restrictions, what would you do?
A: We don’t think that our hopes will be dashed. We believe that things will happen positively. We hope that the government will grant freedom and the relevant authorities act accordingly. We don’t believe that the government will restrict us [in freedom of expression].