Nationalism, slavery and conflict

20 10 2019

Some reading for our followers, in place of a long post:

An article worth reading is “Nationalism and Anti-Statehood in Thailand” by Gabriel Ernst at a site new to PPT: “New Bloom is an online magazine covering activism and youth politics in Taiwan and the Asia Pacific, founded in Taiwan in 2014 in wake of the Sunflower Movement. We seek to put local voices in touch with international discourse, beginning with Taiwan.”

The Irish Times has a story by Ian Urbina which, for all we know of the fishing industry’s cruel hunt for profit is still eye-opening. “Thailand’s sea slaves: Shackled, whipped and beheaded” is sub-headed: “Every year, tens of thousands of migrants to Thailand are sent to brutal lives at sea.”

Then there’s “Is Thailand risking another massacre?” by Sheith Khidhir at The ASEAN Post, writing of the militant right-royalist saber-rattling.

Finally, readers who like free access to academic articles might like to look at almost 40 articles by various editors of the Journal of Contemporary Asia, from the 1970s to today. There’s some of Thailand interest.

Ultra-nationalism opposed

11 08 2017

PPT wants to draw attention to a thoughtful op-ed by Paritta Wangkiat, a young reporter at the Bangkok Post. She takes on Thai nationalism, which she sees as increasingly malicious.

It has come to the point where, like other countries where rabid nationalism is promoted, it is virtually impossible to criticize any aspect of Thailand or Thais society without engendering a nasty ultra-nationalist backlash. Thailand, like pretty much everywhere else, has problems. Ultra-nationalists don’t want them discussed and go bananas when someone suggests that Thailand isn’t the greatest place on Earth.

In politics, Parrita notes that “colour-coded political conflicts pitting the yellow shirts against the red shirts, malicious nationalism plays its role. The former pride themselves on their ‘mission to save the nation’ while rebuking rivals for ‘not loving’ Thailand enough.” And, she’s right to note that “vengeful nationalism” is not new in Thailand’s politics. After all, the military, running coups and murdering citizens, claim to be saving the nation. Look at the claims of the latest bunch of military fascist-nationalists. “Saving the nation” has a lot to do with “protecting” the monarchy, which has also promoted ultra-nationalism in its own political interests.

Parrita is right when she says that ultra-nationalism’s “hidden agenda has been to maintain the status quo of the rulers and bureaucrats.” She continues”

No matter what definition is used, this kind of tainted nationalism will lead to deeper political divisions, not a “stronger” nation.

This is the kind of nationalism that blames others for not loving the nation enough.

A kind of nationalism that demands the rural poor hand over land they have lived on for generations to the state for development.

A kind of nationalism that calls for transparency in state expenditure, but condemns the use of tax money to promote equality through social welfare schemes.

A kind of nationalism engrossed in the glory of independent Siam that can’t tolerate opposing views.

She concludes: “The haters will only instil conflict and lead us nowhere. To march forward, we must first conquer the enemy within ourselves.”

What Trump can learn from the military dictatorship

11 11 2016

In a recent post at New Mandala, a supposedly populist Donald Trump – now U.S. president-elect – was compared with another said to be a populist, Thailand’s  Thaksin Shinawatra. The comparison was a little silly, with the differences seemingly to far outweigh the similarities.Udomdej

Such comparisons might include bad hair and the wide public acceptance of comb-overs. Trump has heinous hair, but so too do many leaders in Thailand. Think of the failed and corrupt General  Udomdej Sitabutr.

Trump can learn that one should never allow that comb-over to get out of control. One must maintain the orderliness of one’s appearance, for appearance can be considered to overcome a dark heart, ignorance or boorishness.trump1

This kind of comparison is no less silly than the one mentioned above. However, we can take this further and consider the characteristics of quite different political leaders.

General Udomdej’s carefully sculpted comb-over and his inability to allow any greying to appear has a lot to do with conceit and arrogance, and the forever orange-tanned and “blonde” Trump certainly displays such characteristics by the truckload.

In a list of characteristics of Thailand’s military regime, and of The Dictator himself, one that ranks high is arrogance.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha has demonstrated remarkable arrogance, dominating the media, as all dictators do, and establishing his “values” as those for the nation. He even “pens” songs that Thais are forced to hear, again and again. The Dictator demands that Thailand be more like him. Narrow, loyalist and conservative.

Trump can learn a bit more about narrow nationalism and enforcing conservatism from the draconian actions of the military dictatorship. Of course, Trump is well known for his arrogance and remarkable hubris. This derives from privilege, wealth and the loyalty of jellyback servants in a hierarchical and dictatorial business organization. For the military dictatorship, loyalty and subservience also rank high. However, The Dictator’s arrogance derives not so much from wealth as from a surplus of power at the head of a murderous and hierarchical organization. The Dictator has shown how to enforce that jellyback subservience by weeding out “opponents” in the state’s organizations. Trump may seek to do similar things in the U.S.Prayuth angry

Related, as we emphasize through our labeling of General Prayuth as The Dictator,  narcissism and egoism drive him. These characteristics are most certainly defining of Trump. Some argued that he has shown the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Yet narcissism is not just a “disorder.” It is a political style that emphasizes authoritarianism and a personality cult.

One characteristic that The Dictator has taken to a remarkable level is disingenuousness. Just lie. Whenever anything mildly disturbing to The Dictator personally or is considered “threatening” to the regime, just lie. We are sure that Trump will have no difficulty following this example. Making stuff up is the essence of an authoritarian regime.

The Dictator and his regime also show the way on double standards. Under this military dictatorship, there are no standards that are not double standards. Again, we have no trouble believing that Trump can quickly adapt this when he becomes president.

Authoritarianism defines the military dictatorship. Liberal values and liberal patience for dissent are expunged. They are expunged from law, practice in the bureaucracy, in the media and educational institutions. In Thailand, this was made easy by the “tradition” of military authoritarianism and interventionist feudalism in the form of the monarchy. In the U.S., Trump will surely build on an illiberalism that has been built in civil society, much of it fostered by religious fundamentalism and conservative nationalism or “patriotism.” We can see him moving against institutions identified with U.S. liberalism. trump2

Anti-liberalism and authoritarianism in Thailand has long been associated with a deeply conservative emphasis on orderliness. This fetish has been fostered by the hierarchy of military and monarchy. Trump is unlikely to rely on the military, although many in the military will be ideologically drawn to him. He may seek to make his family more monarchical, just as The Dictator has adopted characteristics of the dead king.

Misogyny and boorishness have been defining elements of The Dictator’s personality and regime. As we know, Trump has little to learn from The Dictator on these scores. Yet we might understand that these characteristics are a part of a conservatism that allocates privilege to selected groups in society.

Ignorance is another central characteristic of the military dictatorship. The Dictator and his closest colleagues have little knowledge of the world.This group gained its leadership position based on royal posterior polishing and adherence to hierarchy. They have no experience of a real world, even in the military. Trump, for all of his investments, is essentially a New York property developer. He can learn from the military dictatorship that such narrowness simply doesn’t matter when your constituency is boorish and narrow too.

The final characteristic is an inability to “fail” or “lose.” The military dictatorship is never wrong and never gets anything wrong. The problem is “others” who are undermining the regime, opponents of the regime or duped by nasty politicians. Trump can learn from this. He certainly knows that even defeats must be reworked as “wins.” However, the targeting of opponents will likely become his excuse for all kinds of nastiness.

Thailand has demonstrated that authoritarianism is a slippery slope. The country is now at the bottom of the slope. The U.S. is no liberal heaven but Trump can easily knock away some of the remaining checks and balances and the slope gets steeper and the slide down it accelerates.

No monarchy, no Thai, no yellow, no religion

27 08 2015

The Straits Times Lifestyle section reports on the making of the action thriller “No Escape,” which contrary to some claims, is approved for screening in Thailand. The film reportedly was shot in Chiang Mai in 2013, so under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, which was also required to be appropriately royalist for fear of claims of disloyalty.

Co-writer Drew Dowdle says: “We worked very closely with the Thai government…”. He adds: “we had a very good relationship with the Thai authorities, and I think they were happy with the movie.” That relationship involved boundary setting to “protect” the monarchy and tourism. As Dowdle states: “… there were a lot of things they wanted us to shy away from.”No Escape

This means that “although the film shows a coup breaking out in a South-east Asian city … it never specified the country.” Given that Thailand is about the only currently coup-prone nation in the region, this is a bit odd.

Dowdle states: “We were very careful not to make it Thailand in the movie, so there was no Thai language used…. None of the signage is Thai and most of the language that the native population is speaking is a combination of Laotian, hill-tribe languages and other languages.” That’s enforcement of the view that Thailand is monocultural, which is clearly one of those 20th century royalist-nationalist myths.

The film-makers were told “not to use images of the Thai monarchy and to … never show the king or the colour yellow because that’s the colour of the king.” Tell that to the yellow shirts!

And, “no Buddhas.”

Nation, religion, monarchy and the tourist loot. Now that the military has conducted another coup in Thailand and the military regime seems attentive to all of these items, the last one seems to be falling apart as it enforces on the others.


Updated: Prayuth still whining about foreigners

1 02 2015

The Dictator, self-appointed premier, self-appointed television personality, self-promoted ideologue and more, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has become even angrier than usual.

At Khaosod it is reported that Prayuth’s weekly televised rant at the nation, he made a very kingly call for national unity. Prayuth’s unity is with “his mission to ‘reform’ the country…”.

He added that this unity was better than “complaining to foreign nations.” On this point, he went further:

They like to accuse this person, that person. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You like to whine about your problems to all the foreign nations. Stop doing that….

… I have never denied the fact of how this government came into power, but everyone must understand that we did it to take care of the country…. If we cannot take care of each other and solve our problems, should we let other nations do it for us? Thailand is an independent country. We were never colonized by anyone. Today, why are we letting some people air their problems to this person or that person to solve problems for us? It’s shameful.

He probably means the Americans, ignoring the fact that he is giving contracts to the Chinese for infrastructure like a drunken sailor buying drinks for strangers in bars.

We at PPT are not sure who Prayuth identifies as complaining to foreigners. A couple of people have pretty quietly applied for political asylum. Like us, some write blogs and use social media, but we see no organized effort to engage foreign governments.

In fact, the interest of governments like that of the U.S. are driven by self-interest and by the neanderthal actions of the military dictatorship itself. The opposition to the junta is a result of its blunt and politically-stupid repression.

A resort to anti-foreign xenophobia is a tactic used by fascist regimes, and it would be no surprise to see Prayuth using it more extensively.

Update: At the Bangkok Post, Chulalongkorn University political science professor Surachart Bumrungsuk is cited as saying “he was worried that the naivety of the current Thai leadership on diplomatic affairs would drag down our global clout, which has already been diminishing.” He added that “[t]hroughout history, elites in Thai society have realised we could not ignore Thai-US relations, as it has been the cornerstone of our foreign and security policies…”, yet the military dictatorship was being “pouting and childish” about the US representative’s comments. Strikingly, he noted that “[t]he post-coup attitude of leaning towards no-rebuke China … might be a bit off-side…. We should learn the lesson of our neighbour Myanmar that after years of walking in the Chinese shadow, they now have to walk back into the arms of the West.”

Royalist hypocrisy

2 04 2012

This story at the Bangkok Post appeared a few days ago and we are late getting to it. However, it does tell us a good deal about the thinking of some of the elite think about the issues of the day and manage a schizophrenic logic.

Kasem Wattanachai is a former minister in the first Thaksin Shinawatra cabinet, but fell out and was quickly sucked up into the Privy Council and was publicly critical of Thaksin.

The first thing to note is that Kasem appears to accept a report by a law lecturer at the National Institute of Development Administration and sponsored by the Ombudsman’s Office, that claims foreigners “own vast amounts of land in Thailand via local nominees.” In fact, the report claimed that “up to one third of land in Thailand is owned by foreigners.”

This claim is complete nonsense and this doesn’t require much brain power to work out. The idea that “foreigners” now “own” about 170,000 km2 of the country boggles the mind. Even if this area was restricted to arable land and land in urban areas, the claim remains unbelievable.

So we have a privy councilor who chooses to believe an unbelievable and outlandish claim.

He then proceeds to lectures “people” should “not let ‘greed’ draw them into cooperating with these foreigners because farmland should be reserved for Thai farmers as their place of work and for their livelihood.”

And while the claim is of “foreigners,” Kasem chooses to single out “rice fields are being sold and rented to investors from the Middle East.” He warned Thais “against helping foreigners acquire land” and urges these farmers to defend their land. As might be expected, he tells them to follow the king’s advice and keep farming and “love” their land.

Ignoring the inherent racism and the royalist banter, it strikes us that the statements are hypocritical.

First, a representative of the richest conglomerate in the country, with extensive foreign joint ventures and large international investments, is telling poor farmers what’s best for them.

Second, as far as we can tell, the Crown Property Bureau’s international investments include landholdings. For example, the Kempinski Hotels group, majority owned by the CPB, with “an international portfolio of 62 hotels” and a “further 43 hotels … under final development or construction in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia” would wonder about being prevented from buying or renting property.

Third, in its early years, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the CPB played a critical role in facilitating the investments of Chinese business people, many of who were recent migrants to the country, and rented and sold plenty of land to them. Post-1957, the CPB also played a direct and pivotal role  in joint ventures with foreign investors. So too did its Siam Commercial Bank (and all the other commercial banks). In addition, the monarchy itself went out and “sold” Thailand to foreign investors.

Were they being greedy too? Is nationalism only for the poor?: if they have no rice, let them eat nationalism and sufficiency “economics”!

As a footnote, it is noted that the CPB  is probably the largest land owner in the country, and owns vast tracts of rural land, and we know little about how the CPB uses that land. A Forbes report the CPB has “vast land holdings that Forbes used as the basis of its estimate: “In central Bangkok, the king owns 3,320 acres; town and country holdings stretch to 13,200″ acres.

Royalist minds

4 02 2012

The opposition to Nitirat and discussion of the lese majeste law has been reported extensively. It has been pretty threatening, not least because some of the comment from high levels has been meant to strike fear and to silence people.

That’s why it is so encouraging to see some of those supporting freedom of expression speaking out and being reported. We acknowledge that doing this is a brave act as those speaking out risk public scolding and out of the limelight, threats and worse. Hate emails are especially common, and these usually include threats.

It is in this turbid, even rancid, atmosphere that The Nation reports on academics speaking out.

Most outspoken – at least that is how it comes across in the report – was political scientist Kasian Tejapira. He points out that some Thais “have not left the absolute-monarchy system.” He explains:

Some Thais still relate to the monarchy institution as if they lived under an absolute monarchy, leading them to become enraged when faced with people they think want to criticise the institution…. This outlook also causes them to regard anyone who wants to repeal or abolish the lese majeste law….

Comments like this, pointing out a conservative royalism, should not be controversial for they are absolutely obvious. The ultra-royalists would prefer an absolute monarchy. However, in the current atmosphere, Kasian will likely be seen as driving a stake into the hearts of ultra-royalists.

That’s even when he urges “those critical of the monarchy and the lese majeste law to refrain from using hate speech or strong words and bear in mind that they’re dealing with people who believe they love the institution ‘most’.”

In fact, though, most of the hate speech originates with those opposing Nitirat and lese majeste.

Panus Tassaneeyanond, a former dean of Thammasat’s Law Faculty pointed out that the media has fanned “hatred through the supply of one-sided information.” Panus agreed with Kasian:

He also acknowledged that many ultra-royalists did not care about details of the proposed amendment, and simply regarded supporters of the move as anti-royalists. The mentality of these ultra-royalists is that of people living under an absolute monarchy….

As PPT alluded in an earlier post, this conservative royalism is not so much a hangover of an earlier historical period as a constructed ideological position. We would place the effort to build royalism, while always there for the palace as it battled to re-establish its power and wealth after 1932, it was the Cold War that brought the military, the palace and the bureaucracy together to build royalism and nationalism into an anti-communist brew that had “loyalty” at its core.

Security, yellow shirts, south

22 01 2011

The Bangkok Post reports that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva “has called a meeting of chiefs of security agencies … to discuss the escalating southern unrest problem following the recent militants attack on a military camp in Narathiwat’s Rangae district where four soldiers were killed and several others injured.”

It needs to be noted that it was only a matter of a couple of weeks ago that Abhisit and his security chiefs were touting their success in the south and how well things were going.

As an aside the ever acting-allowing-him-to-keep-sponsored-housing government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn managed toassure hyper-nationalists that the “cases of [yellow-shirt] Veera Somkwamkid, a coordinator of the network, and his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaibul, facing charges with espionage will also be discussed.”

It makes little sense to consider the long-festering and bitter civil war in the south and a bunch of so-called patriots trying to provoke Cambodians and stoke nationalist royalism. But, then again, perhaps Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon and army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha can see connections between royalism, nationalism and the need to maintain a huge military presence in the south.

Prachatai has an excellent report from Krungthep Thurakij newspaper that outlines the cost of the southern conflict for the state and taxpayers. It says that the total expenditure in the south since 2004 has been a whopping 145 billion baht:

The government budget for each year is as follows: 13,450 million baht (2004), 13,674 (2005), 14,207 (2006), 17,526 (2007), 22,988 (2008), 27,547 (2009), 16,507 (2010) and 19,102 (2011).

These budgets are, however, for government programmes, and do not include the salaries of government officials, compensation for those affected by the unrest, the current government’s Thai Khem Kaeng programme, and arms procurement by the army through special procedures.

Over the 7 years, there have been 11,523 violent incidents, including 6,171 shootings, 1,964 bombings and 1,470 arson attacks. 4,370 people have been killed (3,825 civilians, 291 soldiers and 254 policemen) and 7,136  injured.

And the dopey yellow shirts deserve attention too??

With 4 updates: PAD is on the march

18 04 2010

The People’s Alliance for Democracy has been organizing various pink shirt and “no color” rallies in support of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government over the past few weeks, opposing the red shirts. Now they are mobilizing in a more serious way. The Bangkok Post has this telling headline: “Thai govt given ultimatum by “Yellow Shirt” allies.” The article says: “Thailand’s elite-backed ‘Yellow Shirts’ vowed Sunday to take action if the government failed to deal with their rival red-clad demonstrators in Bangkok within a week, a spokesman said.”

A PAD spokesman said: “In seven days we hope that the government will deal with the terrorists from Thaksin immediately otherwise we will show our voice to protect the country and the royal family…”. Terrorists, Thaksin, nationalism, monarchy. This mix is meant to galvanize opposition to the red shirts and to push the army to action.

Update 1: PAD gets considerable support in the mainstream media. Of course it has its own media in ASTV/Manager, which is venomous in its attacks on anyone considered “soft” on Thaksin Shinawatra, and it hates the red shirts. In the English-language press, the Bangkok Post is owned and managed by Democrat supporters and funders, with Chirathivats (Central Group) and Vejjajivas included. The Nation is often foaming at the mouth in its editorial pages in support of anyone who opposes Thaksin and the red shirts. The recent blog, pointed out be a regular reader, by the ever maniacal Thanong Khanthong of lying on ABC TV infamy, is barking mad, but reflects the yellow-shirted fear and fight. He argues that Abhisit Vejjajiva must smash the red shirts now or risk a red-yellow civil war.

As we have said before, Thanong is a pretty good bell weather of PAD discussions and thinking. He says it is “clear that one of the hidden agendas of the Red Shirts is to take over the state before downgrading or removing the Monarchy from the facets of the Thai society.” His scenario, warning Abhisit, is that “Thais from all colours will come out to kill each other because by that time they can’t differentiate who are their friends or foes.”

Thanong makes 6 points:

1. The “Military and the Police have not exhibited any signs of urgency to take on the Red Shirts.”

2. The “security forces and the Police have yet to nab the 25 Red Shirts leaders…. The attempt to arrest Arisman … at SC Park Hotel on Friday turned into a farce. It reflects a dark plot to repeatedly show that the Abhisit government is no longer in control of law and order. The Police are in full neutral gear mode.”

3. Abhisit “is hanging on his premiership by a tiny string. Both the Military, the Police, the Red Shirts and the coalition partners are applying tremendous pressure for him to resign or to dissolve Parliament immediately. Within the Democrats, Abhisit is also losing his control.”

4. The red shirts will get “more confrontational and violent.” mode. They are “now attempting to stage a Revolution to change the Thai regime. The high profile role of the left-leaning faction of the Red Shirts is evidence of this movement.”

5. The military is divided. The “flip-flop announcement of the leadership restructuring of the Emergency Operation Command shows that Abhisit’s power is being eroded.”

6. The PAD 7-day deadline to Abhisit will put “pressure on Abhisit to act on the Red Shirts. So far Gen Anupong and his Army are reluctant to take on the Red Shirts…. Many are raising doubts about the ambiguous stance of Gen Anupong.”

Thanong concludes that Abhisit must act against the red shirts now or there will be civil war.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post has a short story:

PAD co-leader Somsak Kosaisuk – Sondhi Limthongkul has been missing for months, perhaps in China – reportedly said “Thailand has never experienced a deep division like this one before. The red-shirts are using the words ‘commoners’ and ‘elites’ to create such division.” In fact it might have been wealthy PAD backer Arthit Urairat saying this as the report is unclear. Arthit is reported as opining that the “country belongs to everyone of us but there are some people who are destroying the country to gain personal benefits…”. The alway grinning but exceptionally dangerous former mercenary and PAD co-leader Chamlong Srimuang said the red shirts were made up of the “MPs who work in the House of Representatives, the demonstrators and the insurgents.”

In fact, the PAD meeting appears to have been rather more rabid than these reports indicate. Some of the tweets indicate this.

Update 3: It seems that PAD reckons that the government killed no one on 10 April. AFP cites Parnthep Pourpongpan, a PAD spokesman fas demanding that the red shirts “value their own lives by not making any untrue statements saying that the government killed the people…”. Continuing with this threatening line, he added: “The Red Shirts should save their lives by stopping the rally…”. Very clear and to the point and very reminiscent of statements by the frenzied right before the blood-letting on 6 October 1976.

Update 4: The Nation reports that Chamlong Srimuang said the “red shirts have caused polarisation with words like ‘prai’ and ‘ammat’ but their real intention is to mobilise the masses as a means to transform the political system…”. PAD leader Pipop Thongchai “blamed fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Pheu Thai Party chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyudh for the April 10 violence.” He also claimed that “[h]ardcore leftists and certain remnants of the nowdefunct Communist Party of Thailand had teamed up with the red shirts to try to trigger a civil war…”.

PAD issued a statement “condemning Thaksin and his army of red shirts for trying to incite a rebellion. Pheu Thai Party, the red shirts and a private army were seeking to agitate the public, leading to an uprising, it said in the statement.”

This might all sound far-fetched but these notions are believed and accepted by their supporters. The inciting of right-wing rage is required to justify strong, violent and probably deadly  action against the red shirts.

New: Pravit on ultra-royalism

12 01 2010

Pravit Rojanaphruk has a useful take on the political use of royalism in The Nation (12 January 2010).

Recalling that it was the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that has long used “ultra-royalist and xenophobic discourses as political tools to discredit and crush political opponents”, he notes how red shirts are now doing something similar.

In an article titled “Expose the Monarchy-Abolition Movement,” in the Voice of Thaksin red-shirt political magazine, Pravit observes that PAD leaders are accused of not being the “real” royalists. The article has several examples and the yellow-shirted responses.

Whoever uses it, “ultra-royalism” is a dangerous ideology to play with, lending itself to authoritarian and xenophobic Thai nationalism. It says a lot about contemporary Thailand that the monarchy is the center of political debate and conflict.

One wonders about Prime Minister Abhisit’s statement in the Financial Times (7 January 2010) where he stated: “We have been very fortunate that His Majesty has been an incredible unifying force, but Thai society has got to mature to a point where we can sort out our own problems…. Perhaps Abhisit realizes that the ideological claim to unity is now one that is too problematic to maintain these days …

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