Reconciliation failing in a climate of fear

27 08 2010

It is no surprise to learn from two stories in Prachatai and another in the Bangkok Post that that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government’s reconciliation “process” is on the rocks. In fact, the claims to reconciliation have always been a sham process because the regime has been more interested in that other R word – repression – rather than reconciliation.

In one story at Prachatai, we are told that the abbot at the Pathum Wanaram Temple has canceled a reservation by a group of red shirts to hold a religious ceremony to mark 100 days since the crackdown in May.  This temple is the one where red shirts were gunned down by army shooters on skytrain tracks that pass the temple. Activities marking 7 and 50 days since the crackdown had already been held at the temple.

Why has the temple locked out the red shirts? According to the report: “The abbot claims to have been pressured and criticized for siding with the red shirts.” The abbot “appealed to those making the request, telling them that he had been under a lot of pressure and had been reviled for siding with the red shirts.” The organizers agreed to move the event.

No reconciliation apparent in this instance. PPT recognizes that the government may claim that it is uninvolved, but the regime of which it is a leading element has created this political situation that allows red shirts no political rights.

Adding to this sorry tale is a story in the Bangkok Post, by Achara Ashayagachat, where she begins with the black comedy that is the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and the autopsies they claim to have considered in their “investigation” of the victims of the government’s two violent attacks on red shirt protesters. She tells readers that, in addition to DSI, the “government-appointed Truth for Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has also put forward its recommendation that the Abhisit administration release all necessary information about the death cases and remedy measures for the relatives, the status of red shirt demonstrators and those put behind bars. That suggestion has not been heeded.”

TRC chairman Kanit na Nakorn even said “he believed an apology might be a good start for reconciliation.” Another unheeded suggestion. But then his TRC decided that it was not about sheeting home any blame for the large number of civilian deaths and injuries.

Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch, asked “if we could really move the country forward from the painful past if the facts cannot be honestly told.” Others asked where the gestures of reconciliation were within the government. They asked why Abhisit and others involved in ordering and managing the violent crackdown had not sent “any consolatory bouquets to the hospitalised red shirt demonstrators or letters of condolence to relatives of the dead red shirt protesters…”.

The parents and relatives of victims say that the government-appointed reconciliation committees have not contacted them and nor has the now useless National Human Rights Commission. It seems that all the government has done is pay out monetary compensation.

No reconciliation in this instance.

In a second story from Prachatai, reproduced from The Nation, Pravit Rojanaphruk tells readers not of reconciliation, but of fear. He refers to the fear of one of the students who was attacked by a royalist lecturer at the royalist Chulalongkorn University. She’s fearful that her participation in a tiny demonstration will mean that she will be persecuted and may be unable to graduate. No wonder she is fearful when the yellow-shirted Dean of the Faculty of Political Science supported the lecturer.

Pravit explains that he “failed to convince her that she had nothing to fear and that it is the authorities, the prime minister and the lecturer who intimidated her who should be ashamed.” Then Pravit contextualizes this small event and the fear it generated:

This incident is probably a good indication of the fact that maybe both the government, and the ruling elite that are intimidating others, are afraid too. They are terrified of the changes that the major transitions in Thai politics and society will bring, and this was made clear by their claims that the red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra were allegedly plotting to overthrow the monarchy. These people are also afraid to admit that the rural and the urban poor have changed and now want a greater political say as well as a more equitable economic share.

They are insecure, and perhaps even paranoid, about what might become of Thai society in say five or ten years. And when the ruling elite is insecure, fearful and paranoid, they overreact by instilling fear in those they believe to be their enemies.

But all this does is perpetuate a cycle of fear in society.

Pravit then asks: “… why the government is refusing to stop and reconsider now that it has had Bangkok and its surrounding provinces under emergency for four months? How can an administration that claims to be working for national reconciliation and unity continue creating such a climate of fear?” The answer for PPT is that there has never been anything other than a sham or false reconciliation. The “natural” trajectory for this government and its regime is fear and repression.


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