Patrolling boundaries I

27 04 2020

Over several decades, Thailand’s royalists have been prompted by palace and state propaganda to patrol all manner of images, names, positions and readings of history that are considered to define “being Thai” and “Thainess.”

One of the odder elements in this has been a development of a protectiveness about the monument to Thao Suranari, a statue created by an Italian sculptor and put in place in January 1934. The legend of Thao Suranari, known as Ya Mo in Korat, is exactly that, a legend, with little reputable historiography behind it. What is odd about this statue and the legend is that it has become a part of a royalist “protection” racket and the royalist legend has been widely consumed in the province.

So it is that officials jump into action when a transgression is imagined.

According to Khaosod, the “legal office of this northeastern province has been instructed [by the governor] to track down a man for legal action after he pasted an image of his own face over a picture of the monument to Thao Suranari, the province’s heroine, and posted it on his Facebook page…”.

The report states that the “post was shared on the Facebook page of a public group called “Ruang Lao Khao Korat”, drawing wide criticism and condemnation from the people of Nakhon Ratchasima and other provinces.” Well, some criticism and certainly not from all “the people” of the province.

We imagine that the charges to be used will relate to computer crimes. However, this is not the first case this year. Back in January, a similar Facebook post was considered “illegal,” and caused Korat governor Wichian Janotai declare the “culprit” to be “mentally deficient” and stated that she “would face criminal charges for posting the photoshopped image on social media…”. Then, Wichian said “provincial lawyers are already looking at using defamation law to prosecute…”.

Presumably he meant that the “people” of Korat felt defamed as an inanimate object can’t be defamed. We have not seen any actual legal action taken on this case and we are left to wonder what happens to the latest “case.” Perhaps it is sufficient to “protect” the boundaries of “Thainess” by expressing “outrage” and threatening.

Thao Suranari is “revered” because legend has it that she helped the Bangkok-based Chakri monarch maintain his control over Korat and against an invading Lao army.

As so often happens, this story is not easily defended when historians look at the legend. Back in 1996 there was another kerfuffle when a History Masters dissertation became a book and questioned the legend. The “protectors” at that time were quite threatening indeed and the whole story was deeply politicized.

Quite a bit of the story is recounted by Charles Keyes in a chapter in Cultural Crisis and Social Memory: Modernity and Identity in Thailand and Laos edited by Charles F. Keyes and Shigeharu Tanabe and published in 2002. We found we could read a bit of it at Google Books.

When it comes to approved versions of “national” identity, the stakes are high because it is only the royalist story that is permitted.

 

 


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12 07 2020
Patrolling boundaries III | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] late April, PPT posted on efforts by rightists and royalists in Nakorn Ratchasima tp protect the “honor” of […]

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