False and real fears

5 01 2010

Kavi Chongkittavorn in The Nation (4 January 2009) has an article that purports to explore the reasons Thais “are today more afraid of everything than before…”. He then lists the “ten greatest fears must be wrestled with and brought to ground.”

Some of them warrant comment for there is some merit deep amongst the bile. Others are Kavi’s frequently stated love for the Abhisit Vejjajiva government and the prime minister or the kind of mandatory swipes at red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra that is the trade mark of The Nation.

Reflecting the huge shift in attitudes that have taken place in recent years is his no. 1 fear: “Concern over his majesty.” Acknowledging that Kavi says some odd things to begin (e.g. how dumb does he think Thais are when he says that they “have taken for granted that their King would live forever.” But he adds some useful ideas that need to be considered: “Sooner or later, the people of this country will have to decide on their political future – as nobody else can or will.” He seems to believe that this must also include open discussion of the role of the monarchy. That would be an innovation.

Kavi also seems to recognize that the past is the past: “The … Land of Smiles and Amazing Thailand is no more.” He asserts that a “new Thai way of life that is more dynamic and multicultural will emerge incorporating traditional and new values. How can we stay free, as the word Thai means, if we remain static, narrow-minded, passive with agonised faces?”

He also refers to ugly national tendencies [that] have popped up. Right-wingers and nationalist extremists rear their ugly heads once more and are making news headlines everyday, recalling lost glories and territorial integrity. Fear of autonomy, in terms of lexicon, has blocked many doable resolutions of century-old violence in southern provinces.

Kavi makes the good point that: Without freedom of thought, local citizens would be left out of information chains, crucial for the country’s survival and progress. Thai society should not fear intellectual freedom. We are a resilient people and capable of absorbing the severe shock of harsh realities.

But the yellow-tinted glasses also prevent him being totally serious. He attacks Thaksin and the Peua Thai Party for manufacturing lies and compares them with Goebbels. This is really the pot calling the kettle black. The Nation’s pages, especially op-eds, are festooned with fantasies and seldom troubled by facts. And, to tarnish the red shirts without even mentioning the yellow media seems more than a trifle biased. Perhaps even an example of the things Kavi claims are inappropriate in others.

Not recognizing Abhisit’s own remarkable capacity to bend the truth and to lie about, for example, important human rights issues, is also a major failing for a journalist who once had huge international respect.

One fear that is real is the fear of recognizing the nature of conflict. PPT has to admit that the recent spate of claims that Thailand has changed as never before are annoyingly trite. All societies change. But what is irritating is the failure of the privileged to notice that the schisms they now identify as wrecking Thai society have been there for decades. That they are more easily revealed in times of political conflict doesn’t mean they are new; it means that the repressive forces that kept them in check are being shaken to their very foundations.


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5 01 2010
5 01 2010
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