Meet The "Moustache Brothers," Staring Down Myanmar's Regime With Slapstick

I spot a missing moustache.
I spot a missing moustache.
Viola Schenz

MANDALAY - A narrow little street between two houses, filthy walls on both sides, baby clothes hung out to dry - is this really where the enemies of the state reside? But the taxi driver is sure. He gets out of his car, walks down the alley and turns to wave me on. We reach a fence behind which stands a kind of garage containing a large straw mat and about a dozen pink plastic chairs.

This is where, every day at 8:30 P.M., a one-hour rebellion against Myanmar’s military dictatorship takes place, led by brothers Par Par Lay, 64, and Lu Maw, 62, with their cousin Lu Zaw, who’s not saying how old he is but whose face is as deeply furrowed as those of the two brothers.

The trio have turned their facial hair into a trademark, going by the name of the "Moustache Brothers." Their show is the answer to vaudeville in this country many still call Burma, with puppets, costumes, dance, music (emanating from an ancient cassette player), and slapstick. There are also some jokes, such as: "Why do the Burmese go to Thailand when they need a dentist? Because in Myanmar you are not allowed to open your mouth."

The Moustache Brothers have been putting on their show for 30 years, which means that for 30 years they have been persecuted by the military junta in power. And now the opening up of the regime -- that since 1962 has oppressed Myanmar’s people with violence and the much-feared Special Branch intelligence service -- is a victory for their patient, pinprick dissent. A year ago, the regime released several hundred political prisoners and announced reforms, such as loosening its grip on web censorship and the press. The junta even recognized the victory of the Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) in April’s parliamentary elections.

Labor camp

At first, the trio traveled with other family members around the country, performing at weddings, parties and funerals. However in 1996, a performance attended by Peace Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, then under house arrest, proved to be their undoing. On a video of Par Par Lay performing his “Government Dance” – which depicts a government official stealing money from the poor -- Suu Kyi looks like she is amused. The generals were not amused, however, and struck the performers off the list of state-licensed artists. Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw were subsequently hauled away in the night and sentenced to seven years labor in a work camp up north.

Here they spent grueling days hammering rock into gravel. For months on end, their relatives had no news of them. But it didn’t stop them from putting on their show for fellow prisoners before they were separated and sent to two different camps. Thanks in part to a campaign to free them conducted by British and American actors and comedians, they were released after five and a half years. Par Par Lay, aka “Brother Number One,” also took part in the Saffron Revolution of Buddhist monks in 2007; he was imprisoned but this time only for a month.

If Lu Maw escaped labor camp it was because he was not at the fateful 1996 performance. With the other two gone, he had to perform alone. He got around the ban on performing by staging the show in his own home. To draw foreigners, he taught himself English and had little placards made that said “KGB” or “Stasi” or “CIA” that he could hold up when referring to the Burmese equivalent so that his audience would understand.

There’s nevertheless quite a bit about the show – the dance routines, Lu Maw’s English -- that escapes foreign audience members. The other two and their wives do not speak on stage. Around 9 P.M. there’s a power outage, apparently routine, so there are battery-run Chinese LED lights on hand to light the stage that Lu Maw’s one-year-old grandson periodically crawls across. These amateurish touches appeal to audiences. They keep coming, mostly out of admiration for the courage and staying power of the men. "There could be a raid at any moment," Lu Maw warns spectators: four Germans, two Britons and a Frenchman. "Then you’d be in for it too, because it’s illegal to be here. But don’t worry: the government likes tourists -- it needs your dollars."

Neighborhood watch

Despite the loosening up of censorship, putting on the show is still a risky business. When the performance is over, Lu Maw explains: "We have a neighborhood watch on the look-out every evening for suspicious-looking people. They warn us of danger so we could make our escape out the back door.” However, there has yet to be any need of this: performing for foreigners offers a kind of protection. Headlines such as "Myanmar: American Tourists Arrested in Cabaret" would be uncomfortable even for the unscrupulous regime.

So the Moustache Brothers make the best of it, and encourage the audience to speak out: "We need you to tell the world what’s going on here,” Lu Maw announces over the defective microphone. He then calls on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to send the CIA to Myanmar. "Do an Arab Spring here! We don’t have oil, but we have plenty of opium and prostitutes!”

But aren’t they facing another danger? The next elections in 2015 could mean a win for Aung San Suu Kyi – and democracy. Wouldn’t their show then lose its purpose? "It will all happen very slowly,” says a now serious Lu Maw. "But whatever way the elections go, we observe and criticize all governments -- democratic ones too."

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]


Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.


Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.



China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.


7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

➡️


"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.


​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.

Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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