Monarchy and military mutuality

9 05 2015

Thailand’s monarchy has pretty much given unflinching support to military junta’s since 1957. When it has gotten a bit tremulous about military regimes, it has usually been when palace officials and the monarch have felt slighted or that the military regime’s continuance was not in the palace’s best political interests. Despite this, as PPT has complained recently, the media continues absurdly in portraying the monarchy as apolitical and as creating some kind of political solidarity for the country.

This is one reason why we were pleased to see a revealing story on Thailand at the Financial Times. The FT draws the obvious and important link between a new piece of palace propaganda and the country’s military dictatorship when it refers to a “tale of two Thailands [that] is about to be played out in London’s most prestigious traditional concert venue and the jails of Southeast Asia.”

It seems that “a gala show at the Royal Albert Hall will next month honour a Thai princess, in a performance of a masked court dance last staged there for Queen Victoria 130 years ago.” At the FT points out, in Thailand, “student dramatists and even a bookseller languish in prison cells because they are deemed to have insulted the very same Thai royal family.”Sirindhorn

The FT quite correctly connects the two events as representing “a two-pronged campaign by the ruling generals in Bangkok to shore up power and preserve the existing social order.”

Yes, yet again the palace is supporting military authoritarianism.

In Thailand, the military runs a chilling campaign that has seen scores of people jailed for royal whim and for regime maintenance. In London, the Ministry of Culture forks out taxpayer funds to “celebrate” the already passed birthday of Princes Sirindhorn, giving away tickets by the dozen.

The price of a ticket is 20 pounds, should anyone be foolish enough to actually pay, and is far below the cost of most events at the Royal Albert Hall. (Bryan Ferry appears a few nights before and costs 80-100 pounds a ticket.) The filching of the taxpayer also involves the cost of getting a 60-strong cast and all their gear and hanger-on, and the princess and her entourage to London.

The only reasons for doing this is to propagandize for the military dictatorship and/or polish the royal posterior.

The latter is not uncommon, and in the past, the Thai taxpayer has subsidized “concerts” in the UK by the limited and long forgotten “talent” of a royal sibling’s daughter. Not to mention the support of European ventures including the alleged fashion “skills” of another royal granddaughter and the acting ambitions of an aging royal daughter.

The military junta’s vicious political crackdown “is far removed from the lavishly-costumed and junta-endorsed spectacle of the khon dance, due to be performed on June 18 at the Albert Hall…”. The junta expects to get brownie points from the royals and to curry a bit of favor in Europe through such propaganda exercises.

As the FT points out, while the “khon is superficially apolitical, it is also rooted in a particular vision of the former absolute monarchy of Thailand.” It celebrates the monarchy and is a performance once monopolized by the court. It is certainly not a popular dance and as one source notes, “never really caught on with the general public.”

The value for the military in royalist propaganda is that the “show also chimes with the 12 core Thai values imposed by the junta and compulsorily taught in schools which are strong on deference to authority. That checklist of virtue has driven other post-coup government initiatives, such as the national tourism organisation’s ‘Discover Thainess’ campaign.”

The royals are never lost when the military is running government, paying attention, polishing posteriors and lashing out from the public purse for propaganda and support. The relationship has long been based on mutuality.


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