Royalist propaganda for the new reign

23 12 2017

Royal and royalist propaganda has not decreased with the new reign. Indeed, there has been a dogged determination to make the new reign look a bit like the old reign,

One of the reasons for this is that the military dictators view royal myths and propaganda as the keystone of the conservative political order.

The Nation reports reports on a new and permanent exhibition at Museum Siam that claims to display “the evolution of Thai culture” but which is little more than royalist propaganda.

The exhibition is claimed to explore “diverse aspects of Thainess” but there’s little “diversity” in the underlying codes of royalist determinations of “Thainess.” It does this “through 14 rooms spread across two floors.”

While the exhibitions play with notions of “Thainess,” there is nothing but standard and approved views of monarchy. One curator is quoted:

It is believed that the King has divine status and the architecture related to the monarchy is traditionally fashioned around this belief. To Thais, the King is the heart and soul of the nation….

So all of the playing with “Thainess” is okay when it is popular culture but not when it comes to the keystone of official “Thainess.”

The “Thailand’s Three Pillars” room has official “Thainess” in its invented traditionalism:

The core concepts of Thailand’s three deeply rooted institutions, nation, religion and monarchy, which collectively reflect the expression of Thainess, are featured in the “Thailand’s Three Pillars” room.

Using trendy gimmickry visitors are “invited” to accept this royalist traditionalism in a periodization straight out of school textbooks hammered into reigns.

In all of this standardization of “Thainess,” the 1997 economic crisis is highlighted as leading “many Thais to recognise the wisdom of the ‘sufficiency economy’ espoused by … King Bhumibol Adulyadej…”.

Royalism is “hipsterized” and made “normal” and “standard.” No alternatives views allowed. That’s royalist propaganda for a new reign.





The old propaganda tricks

22 10 2017

We at PPT haven’t spent much time on the dead king’s upcoming funeral.

That said, we did have a critical post yesterday that was about venal propagandizing for the monarchy. We did that because Thitinan Pongsudhirak locates himself as a commentator of contemporary Thailand for the West. When he makes stuff up, there’s a chance that his readers might just believe his hagiography.

Sure, there has been a lot of this, in Thai and in English. In fact, it is as if the last few years of critical attention to the monarchy has been erased.

Indeed, that has been the task of the military dictatorship. It has wanted to erase discussion, debate and contention over the monarchy. Lese majeste has just been one of the repressive and blunt neuralyzers used.

This has extended further by the dictatorship, in alliance with the palace, by seeking to erase memories of any moments when the monarchy was criticized, put in its place and opposed. Symbols of such periods, like the 1932 plaque, are stolen and disappear.

One of the untruths pedaled by Thitinan is that the dead king “owned no fancy vehicles or other trappings that would have been seen as extravagant and lavish…”.

We take it that “owned” is not a way to hide a lie, seeking to separate the man from his family and palace. But it is simply a lie but one that has been endlessly repeated by palace propagandists.

Forget all those luxury vehicles, erase all knowledge of the wealthiest monarchy in the world, blur images of palaces all over the country, and all the other lavish accoutrements of royal position, power and wealth. Forget how much the taxpayer has subsidized the wealthiest monarchy in the world.

In relation to this, we were interested in a Reuters report on the upcoming funeral. It states:

The military government has set 3 billion baht ($90 million) aside for the lavish funeral. Preparations took almost a year to complete, with thousands of artisans working to create an elaborate structure of gold-tipped Thai pavilions in a square in front of the glittering Grand Palace.

We think this is a gross underestimate, but let’s accept it and observe that it amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of roughly $2 million for each year of the reign.

One outlet, using the Reuters story had this headline: US$90MIL … FOR A FUNERAL –ISN’T THAT TOO MUCH? BUT IF YOU SAY, YOU CAN BE JAILED FOR ‘LESE MAJESTE’: THAILAND REHEARSES LAVISH SEND-OFF FOR LATE KING.

Reuters also includes one paragraph that pokes at the huge propaganda about the monarchy in general, observing that the:

revival in the monarchy’s popularity [following 1932 and especially since 1958] was helped by a formidable public relations machine –- the evening news in Thailand includes a daily segment dedicated to the royals and the late king was often featured in his younger days crisscrossing the country to meet the poor and disenfranchised.

That period was actually rather brief – in a period following the king’s fatigue-wearing counterinsurgency activism and into the General Prem Tinsulanonda period, when the taxpayer took over royal projects – but has become one of the lasting images that the palace and various regimes have not wanted to neuralize.

The hagiography associated with the funeral has reproduced every single piece of royal propaganda and all the old and familiar (approved) images.





Updated: Ultra-royalist professors attack students

4 08 2017

The desire of royalists to see everyone kowtowing to monarchy has become a crusade for many, egged on by the royalist regimes of recent years. The ballooning use of lese majeste is only one element of this. There’s also the multitude of “little” enforcements, many aimed at students, making them acknowledge hierarchy and status.

One might have thought that by the time students got to university, such childish royalism might have been more limited. But in Thailand’s infantile world of royalists who think they need to make the “children” kowtow to the seniors/teachers/royals, there’s uniforms, royalist ceremonies (many “invented” recently and said to be “traditional”) and royalist propaganda deluging universities (not to mention military thugs and other “authorities,” in uniform and plainclothes).

One of the saddest stories we have seen coming out of Thailand under the military dictatorship is from Chulalongkorn University, a bastion of ultra-royalists and political yellow shirts.

The Bangkok Post’s story is of the “freshmen initiation ceremony at Chulalongkorn University,” itself a ridiculous effort to enforce hierarchy and to instill royalism, said to have “descended into chaos and controversy when a group of students staged a walk out and one of them was put in a chokehold by a lecturer.”

Yes, you read that right, a university-level “lecturer” attacked a student. It is Khaosod that identifies the “lecturer” as “assistant professor Ruengwit Bunjongrat.” We clipped this picture from his page at the Botany Department, where he is listed as holding a Masters degree.

Khaosod also has some video of the event, where another unnamed professor tries to stop it being filmed, cursing the student filming as an “asshole.” It says the student who was assaulted by the royalist Ruengwit was Supalak Damrongjit, who is a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Economics and also vice president of student council.

This royalist assault took place at one of the invented traditions at Chula which had students dressed in white uniforms made to sit on the ground in a very light rain and “prostrating themselves to pay respect to the monument of the university’s founder, King Rama V, and take an oath before the monument.”

Student activist and president of Chulalongkorn University’s Student Council Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who “has campaigned against sitting on the ground and prostrating during the ceremony,” claimed “a deputy university rector promised that the university would provide an area for students who did not want to sit on the ground.”

He says “the lecturers broke these promises as all students were ordered to sit on the ground to pay their respects…”.

Netiwit walked out. That was when the assistant professor grabbed another student in a headlock and abused him.

One of the university’s deputy rectors, Associate Professor Bancha Chalapirom, babbled that “the university did not force students to sit while it was raining. He said there was a slight drizzle and students agreed to carry with the ceremony and were given raincoats.” He says no one was forced to sit or prostrate.

That seems neither here nor there as the professors tried to stop students leaving the ceremony.

Bancha “described” the events leading “up to the professor restraining the student…”. He says:

“The freshmen paid respects three times, recited their oath and sang the song. But during the ceremony, Netiwit and his friends came out to pay respects in an awkward way as the student council. This made the officials overseeing the ceremony come out and pull them aside, and though it looks like an assault, it wasn’t…”.

Bancha said royalist Ruengwit is “hospitalized for stress after the incident went public.” We have no sympathy. But Bancha went further declaring the attacker as “a person who loves students and didn’t want anything to happen, so he went to pull out the students…”. Royalist love can be tough love. Ask those who have survived murderous royalist attacks in the past.

When all Thais should be ashamed, yellow shirt social media is fulsome in its praise of the royalist thug professors.

Update: Kong Rithdee at the Bangkok Post has an insightful op-ed on this shameful royalist assault

… you just can’t manhandle your students like that, no matter how many wrestling matches you’ve watched or how detestable you find youthful activism. Physically restraining a student who might or might not have shown disrespect, by a professor of all people, and in a public gathering being observed by reporters? What can we expect next? Baptism by fire? A crucifixion?…

Like everything in Thailand these days, the Chulalongkorn incident is symptomatic of a heavily polarised nation. Every dispute, every conflict, every argument reignites the debate between tradition and progress, between the reactionary and reformist, between the headlocker and headlocked. Even the most respected institute of higher learning, supposedly the nation’s cradle of intellectualism, has become a mud-filled, gladiatorial pit where underdog fighters face the wrath of their Roman rulers. They got the thumbs-down and look what happened….

Like everything in Thailand these days, the Chulalongkorn incident is symptomatic of a heavily polarised nation. Every dispute, every conflict, every argument reignites the debate between tradition and progress, between the reactionary and reformist, between the headlocker and headlocked. Even the most respected institute of higher learning, supposedly the nation’s cradle of intellectualism, has become a mud-filled, gladiatorial pit where underdog fighters face the wrath of their Roman rulers. They got the thumbs-down and look what happened.

And that’s fine. A university should be a battleground for ideological contests. What isn’t fine is anger manifesting itself through violence. Without being alarmist, sometimes it’s good to remember that Oct 6, 1976 didn’t happen in a vacuum. One thing lead to another, and another, and then to something that could never be undone.





Updated: Lese majeste as blasphemy

28 04 2017

Prachatai reports on yet another weird legal charge and conviction involving long dead royal figures.

On 25 April 2017, the Provincial Court in  Lamphun sentenced 23 year-old Songpol Phoommesri to one year in prison and fined him 5,000 baht for having “violated” the Computer Crimes Act. The court suspended the sentence.

He was accused of having posted a Facebook message deemed by some localist and royalist zealots as defamatory of a legendary “queen” of the ancient Hariphunchai “kingdom.”

Songpol was deemed to have violated Article 14 of the Act. That article states:

Whoever commits the following acts shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand Baht or both:
(1) input into a computer system wholly or partially fake or false computer data that is likely to cause damage to another person or the public;
(2) input into a computer system false computer data in a manner that is likely to undermine national security or to cause public panic;
(3) input into a computer system computer data that is an offence against national security or terrorism according to the Criminal Code.
(4) input into a computer system pornographic computer data that is accessible to the public;
(5) publish or forward any computer data with the full knowledge that such computer data is under paragraph (1), (2) (3) or (4).

As far as PPT can determine from the information available, Songpol did not violate any of these five items. There was no fake or false computer data, there was no threat of public panic or likely to create panic,no terrorism, and no pornography.

Rather, it seems that he has been convicted of something closer to blasphemy (“the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk”).

His blasphemy related to a posting on “Facebook on February 2016 deemed defamatory to Chammathewi, the queen who is believed to be the founder of Hariphunchai Kingdom in the 7th century located in the present day Lamphun.”

Indeed, Prachatai confirms this when it states:

After he posted the message on his Facebook account, a group of local people in Lamphun filed a complaint against him, accusing him of using obscene language to defame the queen who is widely regarded as a matriarch of Lamphun.

In fact, is simply impossible to definitively prove that Chammathewi ever existed or that she was a “queen.” The only “evidence” is found in an ancient chronicle. No chronicle is necessarily reliable as they were repeatedly copied and re-written. Rather, the story of Chammathewi is a legend.

It seems that in royalist Thailand, even the legends of ancient “royals” and founding myths are to be protected. That is, blasphemy is effectively recognised by the royalist courts.

Update: A reader says our headline is misleading. We understand her point. The conviction discussed above was under the Computer Crimes Act. Yet many lese majeste charges are coupled with the computer crimes law. Both are used to repress and oppress.





“Uneducate” them young

22 12 2016

This post is a companion piece to our recent post about education.

A Prachatai story states that the Royal Thai Army is training kindergarten students in nationalism, monarchy and military. All dictatorships believe that its important to get at the children and shape their thoughts and ideas as early as possible.

The most recent “training” was on 21 December 2016 in Kanchanaburi Province, where 180 kindergarten children and their teachers were unlucky enough to “participate in a program called ‘Land Defender Battalion’…”. The tiny kids were dressed in the uniform of Thailand’s murderous military and “instructed” in things like “military operations” – a photo with the article suggests they were taught how to throw grenades. The military may think this might come in handy when the tykes become fully-fledged anti-democrats and need to stir up a little “unrest” so the military can intervene again, and again and again.

They were also “taught” the so-called patriotic values that The Dictator thought up, which is a kindergarten-like mantra of “nation, religion and monarchy.” Needles to say, other fairy tales and bogus stories such as “sufficiency economy” were also crammed into the kids, filling them up with propaganda.

We guess these kinds of programs are what the military junta thinks amounts to “education.” It wants ultra-nationalists and ultra-royalists (who know their place in society).





Military on monarchy

10 12 2016

Thailand’s military dictatorship is reportedly arranging “special events” for the new king. This is a part of the military-palace propaganda exercise meant to hoist the new king into a position where he is “revered” (to use the international media’s favorite term for the dead king).

Deputy Prime Minister, junta leader and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan states: “We are in the process of arranging the events,…”. He added:

All of the military personnel are delighted with His Majesty. And they would like to see Thailand have the monarchy institution forever. We need the monarchy to remain as the country’s major institution. The monarchy has always taken good care of Thailand….

You get the picture. This propaganda exercise will require plenty of investment of public funds, whitewashing a poor past, the increased use of lese majeste and other means of repression.





Loyalty “pledges”

22 11 2016

The military dictatorship, gearing up for its “election,” pouring money into populist programs, is now engaging in mass propaganda events demanding statements and oaths of “loyalty.” Such stage-managed propaganda events are also preparing for a new monarch.

An AFP report states that:

From civil servants to school children, soldiers and celebrities, tens of thousands of Thais took part in a mass “oath of loyalty”…

Tuesday’s ceremony, which was ordered by the country’s arch royalist junta leadership, was a vivid illustration of …  how the country’s military rulers have further ramped up the kingdom’s well-oiled royalist propaganda machine since Bhumibol’s death.

Of course, such displays are ingrained in the small-minded military outlooks of junta members. Apparently, they consider such mass rallies as a reinforcing of tradition and hierarchy that is central to their Thai society. For its political purposes, the junta prefers a nation royalist automatons rather than thinking citizens.

The Dictator “led 3,000 civil servants in a ceremony in Bangkok in front of a giant portrait of the king.” General Prayuth Chan-ocha declared:

“We will remain in allegiance to all the kings of the Chakri dynasty until we die,” Prayut said in the oath, which called on Thais to “respect the law” and emulate the king’s teachings.

The scene was repeated up and down the country with all public servants, state employees and armed forces personnel expected to take part.

Note that the oath is to the Chakri dynasty. The junta continues to say that the accession of the new king will be on 1 December, when the puppet national assembly will issue a proclamation.

Private companies and even embassies were roped into displays of royalist propaganda and mass oaths of loyalty, declaring “to continue to do good for the nation, religion and the monarchy followed by the singing of the royal anthem.”

The junta’s displays and use of public funds for political purposes continue to indicate that it still has the jitters over succession and opposition to rule under the military boot.





Get ’em young

28 05 2016

Royalists like to get their propaganda started young. Many readers will have seen the Prachatai story on the kindergarten in Khon Kaen that instills “discipline” and, presumably, notions of hierarchy by making the children wear military-style uniforms once a week.

In fact, while this school is getting ’em young, one of the reasons the education system in Thailand is so awful is because schools are designed to promote loyalty, hierarchy and royalism as values far more significant for the elite than educating children more broadly and critically. That’s all one of the reasons that “reforming” education is so bitterly resisted by the elite who prefer servile and cheap labor rather than educated persons coming out of schools and universities.

Like others probably did, we thought of Nazism and children and notions of loyalty and nationalism.

The most revealing part of the report was this:

Arun Phosi, the kindergarten’s head teacher, told the media that the uniforms are part of the school’s ‘Little Soldiers of Princess Mother’ project, which aims to teach students discipline and educate them about the contribution of the late Princess Srinagarindra, King Bhumibol’s mother.

“Educate” is clearly the wrong word. Arun must mean “indoctrinate.”





Bike for Dad “success”

13 12 2015

The Dictator and royal bootlicker General Prayuth Chan-ocha has declared the Bike for Dad event a “great success , in correspondence with the aspirations of … Crown Prince … Vajiralongkorn…”.

The usual claims of huge support are made:

The actual number of people taking part has not been released, but 703,792 cyclists were officially registered nationwide, including 99,999 in Bangkok.

No one will ever know the truth because palace and royalist propaganda demands that there must have been huge support for every royal event.

But what are the numbers on this great “success”?

A Public Health Ministry report obtained by the Bangkok Post showed that one person died and 528 accidents were recorded during the event. A student was killed and 20 others injured when a truck carrying students and teachers who had taken part in the event was struck by a pickup in Nakhon Ratchasima on Friday night.

Bangkok led in accidents with 177 cases, followed by Chon Buri and Khon Kaen with 20 each, Samut Prakan (19) and Chai Nat (15)….

When we add that death and remarkable number of accidents to the related deaths in custody and associated lese majeste arrests, “assassination plot” arrests and those who have fled, and celebrating “dad” seems to have quite a body count.





Royal propaganda and lese majeste

20 06 2015

The propaganda associated with promoting the monarchy and royalist ideology is intimately related to the lese majeste law. This may seem obvious to many, for one of the points of lese majeste is to prevent any questioning of the propaganda. At the same time, those who wield this blunt instrument attempt to separate the monarchy from the law, as in the specious reference to the king’s speech on lese majeste that was, in fact, an attack on Thaksin Shinawatra.

Three recent reports at Khaosod illustrate this important intertwining of propaganda and lese majeste.

The first may seem relatively innocuous in the pattern of royalist propaganda and repression. It is a story about Prince Vajiralongkorn and a cycle ride to “honor” his aged and infirm mother, Queen Sirikit.

Titled “Bike for Mom 2015,” the event is said to have been “conceived” by the prince for his mother. If she gets there, she will be 83 on 12 August. It is announced that the prince “will lead [the] mass bicycling event.

This is surely propaganda, for the event was announced by the military dictatorship. More than this, the cycling event is from the so-called “Royal Plaza to the 11th Infantry Division headquarters in northern Bangkok on 16 August.” That military base has been politically significant in recent years as a center of the Army’s planned attacks on red shirts.

It is also a part of well-established palace propaganda that has designated Thailand’s Mother’s Day to be the queen’s birthday, as Father’s Day is the king’s birthday. These designations are attempts to establish a paternalistic hierarchy that is critical to royalist domination.

The military dictatorship builds on this, basing its propaganda and rule on hierarchy, paternalism and royalism. Its announcement brings all this together, claiming that this event will “reinforce unity” and states it is an “open opportunity for all groups of people across the country to join the event to express their loyalty to the monarchy, express their love for their mothers and the Mother of the Land…”. the statement says, using a common epithet to refer to Queen Sirikit.

The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced the prince’s involvement, saying that the prince “has … ordered officials to take care of the participants’ safety. The important thing [for him] is that the people are happy.” We are not sure which laws give the prince the power to give orders to officials. Prayuth also reveals that the military dictatorship receives constant messages from the palace as a matter of course. In other places, such actions by a constitutional monarchy cause problems. But, then, Thailand’s constitutional monarchy has been transformed over many years into something that is highly politicized.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej

In a second report, Khaosod tells us that The Dictator considers “Thainess” and being “Thai” to be associated with uncritical support for the monarchy.

Prayuth was commenting on the constant efforts to extradite those accused of lese majeste who have fled the dictatorship and threatened incarceration in Thailand. Of course, if any returned, they would be convicted. Indeed, in recent days, as in the 30 or so lese majeste cases initiated through Prince Vajiralongkorn, all victims have been forced to plead guilty and their “trials” have been perfunctory.

Prayuth states that Ekaphop Luera, now living in New Zealand, is no longer ‘Thai.” He declared: “Since he fled this country to another, it shows that he is no longer a Thai person and he cannot stay in Thailand…”.

This links directly to the prince’s cycle event in the sense that Ekaphop is defined as being outside the norm of royalist Thailand that makes the monarchy central to any definition of “Thainess.” Hence, Prayuth considers it his “duty” to jail those who reject the royalist norms: “We are not neglecting this duty. We simply cannot neglect it. The Ministry of Justice is working on it, the Royal Thai Police are working on it [extradition]…”.

The third story at Khaosod links notions of duty and lese majeste to the enforcement of hierarchy and authoritarianism through lese majeste repression. Prayuth, is described as “a hardline royalist,” and the report reminds us that he has declared that “defending His Majesty’s authority” is a top priority for his military junta.

He has received a communication from a “group of ultra-royalists in northern Thailand” who have declared their gratitude to The Dictator for “defending” the monarchy through “his strict enforcement of the country’s lese majeste law.”

These royal fascists have a “local association called People Who Love the King, [and] submitted the group’s thank-you letter through Phrae province’s governor…”. They assert that they “are impressed by Gen. Prayuth’s ‘dedication’ to enforcing Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Codes, a law known as lese majeste that criminalizes insulting the king, queen, heir-apparent, and regent with up to 15 years in prison.”

The fascists believe that, “In the past, officials responsible for law enforcement have neglected their duties, and there were many serious insults and accusations against the monarchy, both in open and secretive ways…”. They believe that this led to more attacks on the monarchy because “there was no fear of committing the crime…”.

Such a claim makes a nonsense of the history of lese majeste, but the point is that these ultra-conservatives appreciate Prayuth’s efforts to roll back electoral politics and reinforce royalist hierarchies. They prefer the old order and many laud a military dictatorship as a faux absolute monarchy. Royal and palace propaganda and the extreme implementation of the feudal lese majeste law are essential for the maintenance of the social, economic and political rule of the royalist elite.