Erasing history and memory

7 01 2020

PPT is almost a month late in posting on Anna Lawattanatrakul’s Uprooting Democracy: The War of Memory and the Lost Legacy of the People’s Party, which appeared at Prachatai on 19 December 2019. We are posting now because we feel that this is an important article.

We won’t recount it all as readers should look at it in full. We’ll just highlight some basic points, all of them pointing to the efforts by the palace and state to erase the 1932 revolution from history and memories.

It is important to recognize that, from the day of the revolution on 24 June 1932, there most basic schism is Thailand’s politics was between royalists and those associated with the People’s Party that overthrew the monarchy all those years ago.

Because the royalists and the royal family were so incensed by being pushed aside and losing some of their privileges and power, generations of them have been struggling to scrub out the legacy and symbols of the revolution and the People’s Party.

As Anna’s article points out, this process has accelerated:

The war of memory has been more intense since the 2006 coup, through, for example, the demolition of the Supreme Court complex, the construction of the new parliament, the enclosure of Sanam Luang, the Rattanakosin Island conservation and development project and including the disappearance of the People’s Party plaque and the Constitution Defence Monument at Laksi.

That coup also saw the decline of King Bhumibhol and the rise of King Vajiralongkorn. This suggests two items of speculation. First, that there’s a feeling that the monarchy has been under threat from a new generation of republicans, and second, that Vajiralongkorn has inherited a mindset that demands a restoration of the monarchy’s political power and a rolling back of 1932.

The list of the destruction of symbols, including some fantastic modernist buildings, is long (and sad) but not comprehensive. For example, the zoo has been “given” to the king. This is not just a land grab, but is a part of the king erasing all symbols of 1932 from what he seems to think is rightly a “royal precinct” that he taking back (the parliament building, Suan Amphon, the Ananta Samakhom Hall, Royal Turf Club race track, Suan Sunandha, the Si Sao Thewes residence previously occupied by Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, and several large plots of land and bases formerly owned by the military). Interestingly, Sanam Luang, a public space since 1932, has now been fenced off.

Clipped from Prachatai

Then there’s the destruction, by theft and vandalism, of symbols and monuments related to 1932: the People’s Party plaque, The Lak Si monument and many provincial memorials dedicated to the constitutional regime.

Many of the provincial memorials were in the northeast. The region was a political stronghold of the People’s Party and is seen today as politically dangerous for the Bangkok-based ruling class.

Back in the 1930s, the “People’s Party representatives from the northeast played an outstanding role at the time and the population was politically very active.” At the time of the revolution, “in Udon Thani province … the people listened incessantly to the news on the radio…”. They knew that the king was “under the law, citizens had equal rights, government officials were the equivalent of being the employees of citizens with the duty to help relieve the sufferings and maintain the happiness of the people.” Northeasterners flocked to the government side against the royalist plotters led by Prince Boworadej in 1933.

Hence, the rubbing out of symbols and memories has been intense in the northeast: “At present there remain only 5 constitutional monuments in the northeast: in Maha Sarakham, Surin, Roi Et, Khon Kaen and Chaiyaphum.”

The military has been a willing accomplice in all of this:

As the legacy of the People’s Party was disappearing piece by piece, on 9 October 2019, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha presided over the opening of the Si Sitthisongkhram Room and Boworadet Room in the Royal Thai Army Museum in Honour of His Majesty the King.  The two rooms are named after Prince Boworadet, leader of the Boworadet Rebellion, and Colonel Phraya Si SithiSongkram (Din Tharab), a core leader of the Boworadet Rebellion and the grandfather of Privy Councillor Gen Surayud Chulanont.

Other officials either willingly or out of fear support the great rub out:

In March 2019, the Dean of the College of Politics and Governance, Mahasarakham University, made a request to install a replica People’s Party plaque as a learning resource for students, but the University refused, giving as a reason that it was a symbolic expression and not within educational objectives.  It also feared that it would create division within the University.  Finally there was a compromise that the finished plaque would be placed on a shelf for display.

This process of enriching the palace’s land bank while rubbing out 1932 is likely to continue throughout 2020. Vajiralongkorn seems energetic in these efforts.


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4 responses

8 01 2020
Erasing a concubine | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] doing a bit of catching up and on the topic of erasing, the fate of the king’s favorite and then dumped concubine should get some attention, not […]

11 01 2020
Remembering | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] posting about the erasure of history and memory, PPT was delighted to come across Prachatai’s 2019: […]

12 01 2020
Remembering II | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] goes on to mention other monuments that have been destroyed or removed to unknown locations. Pravit rightly […]

22 01 2020
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[…] effort to re-feudalize contemporary Thailand has been gathering pace since the 2014 military coup and since King Vajiralongkorn ceremonially […]

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