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.

 

 





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.





On stupidity

19 03 2018

After a few days of social media attention, the mainstream media has taken up the official letter written by Khon Kaen Deputy Governor Suchai Butsara where he refers to locals as stupid (ngo) and how to erase such stupidity from the people in the province before a visit by The Dictator.

There should be no surprises that an official uses such terms. After all, the military dictatorship has, over more the four years, placed its people at all levels of leadership, and its people are determined anti-democrats. The anti-democrat rhetoric and deep belief is that all people supportive of views that are not ultra-royalist, ultra-nationalist and pro-military are stupid, duped or paid (by Thaksin Shinawatra and his cohorts).

In other words, Deputy Governor Suchai wrote what he felt to be true, in terms he uses regularly and in a political environment – the militarized administration of the province – where such views are de rigueur.





Updated: Absurd defenses of feudalism

16 10 2017

Update: A reader rightly points out that our headline is potentially misleading. Let us be clear: the absurdities are all on the side of those implementing, using and defending the feudal lese majeste law.

PPT has had several posts regarding the efforts of a couple of retired generals, public prosecutors and a military court’s decision to go ahead with investigations of a lese majeste charge 85 year-old Sulak Sivaraksa. He dared to raise doubts about a purported historical event from centuries ago. (In fact, the prosecutors have until 7 December to activate the charge or let it lie.)

We have been interested to observe how parts of the media seem to far braver in pointing out the absurdities of this case than when it is workers, farmers, labor activists or average people who are charged in equally absurd cases. If these people are red shirts or fraudsters, there’s often barely a peep from the media.

Conservative, middle class, aged, royalist and intellectual Sulak, who has also been anti-Thaksin Shinawatra, is far easier to defend than those in more uncomfortable political and social locations for some reporters and writers.

His case also generates more international attention, as his cases have always done since 1984, when international academics supported him (and an alleged communist) under the administration led by General Prem Tinsulanonda.

Just in the Bangkok Post, there have been three op-eds and one editorial that each point out the ridiculousness of the case against Sulak. These include:

Yellow-hued, anti-Thaksinist Veera Prateepchaikul writes that the latest case is “unique in its absurdity.” He says he sees two troubling issues with the case:

First, … why did it take police three years to decide to send this case to the prosecutor — a military prosecutor in this case because we are now under the junta regime?

The second issue concerns the police interpretation of the lese majeste law or Section 112 of the Criminal Code in a way which makes the law look like it has an infinitely long hand which can delve into an event which took place some 400 years ago. The land on which the elephant duel was said to take place was not even called Siam.

Kong Rithdee, who has been pretty good and brave in calling out the lese majeste fascists, points out the absurdities of the case:

Another day, another lese majeste story. This time the interpretation of the contentious law goes back much further, to 1593 to be precise, to a dusty battlefield somewhere before “Thailand” existed.

The use of a military court to possibly sentence an 85 year-old to 15 years in jail is also mentioned as absurd.

Kong makes some connections that warrant more attention:

The scope of interpretation of Section 112 has been one of the central bristles of modern Thai politics, and while there have been cases that raised your eyebrows and body temperature (that of Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa, to name just one), this wild reading of the law to cover an event from 400 years ago borders on dark comedy.

He asks if the absurdity of Sulak’s case tells Thais that they must not discuss or adopt a critical perspective on history. It seems Thais are expected to accept schoolbook nationalism and the jingoism of royalist film-makers.

Ploenpote Atthakor takes up the blind royalist nationalism. She observes that, in Thailand, there is no “dialogue” about historical events, “especially the parts concerning historical heroes or heroines, or even villains, hardly exists. Anyone who dares to question particular historical episodes may face trouble.” She notes how the history that got Sulak into trouble has changed several times and is disputed by historians.

Ultra-nationalism blinds Thais. The red hot pokers have been wielded by feudal-minded royalists and military dictators.

The Bangkok Post editorial extends the discussion to law and injustice:

In what appears to be an attempt at law enforcement, authorities in the past two weeks have taken legal action against two prominent public figures by resorting to what appears to be a misuse of both the law and its principles.

One is Sulak’s case and the other person is Thaksin, one of his lese majeste cases and the retroactive application of a law. The Post states that the cases “not only put the Thai justice system under the global spotlight but will also jeopardise law enforcement in the country.”

The editorial questions the police’s interpretation of the law, saying it:

is worrisome and has prompted questions about how far such a law should be applied. If Mr Sulak is indicted, it would create a chilling climate of fear and hurt the credibility of Thailand’s justice system….

In proceeding legal actions against the two men, the authorities must realise any abuses of the law can set bad precedents with a far-reaching impact on Thai citizens.

All these perspectives are right. We applaud these journalists for daring to defend Sulak and, in one instance, even Thaksin. At the same time, it would be brave and right to point out the absurdities that face many others charged with lese majeste. The military dictatorship has gotten away with being absurd for too long.





Royalist myth-making

12 10 2017

A story at The Nation caught our attention. It is about the absurd lese majeste case facing conservative royalist Sulak Sivarasaka.

As we know, Sulak is being charged under Article 112 for daring to “wonder aloud whether King Naresuan’s famous elephant duel in defence of 16th-century Ayutthaya actually occurred.”

The possibly mythical battle between Naresuan and a prince from what is now Myanmar “is regarded in Thai mainstream history as a momentous event that freed Ayutthaya from the threat of Burmese rule.”

The modern military, which has no relationship at all to Ayutthaya thinks that the date of the “battle” was 18 January and makes this Armed Forces Day.

Thais are taught that Naresuan was “Great” and they are told that he is to be “revered” as a “national hero.”

The Nation states that the “reality [is] that the combat took place centuries before the Thai nation-state came into being and thus cannot be confined within modern political boundaries.”

It then tilts at other elements of “Thailand” and “Thainess,” including muay thai which is regional as is Songkran.

It says “monopolising the story surrounding King Naresuan is especially damaging because it misguides everyone, especially Thais, into believing there is only one version of history.”

It adds that the elite “discourage[s] any further study of history because for them the official version – or the version that supports the powers-that-be – is the correct one and everything thing else is wrong.”

Examples of similar ultra-nationalist furors stage-managed by the elite include the “graduate student questioned whether the historical figure of Lady Moe had actually existed.” She was threatened with being lynched.

Back to Naresuan, “Thailand’s history textbooks criticise many Ayutthaya monarchs for failing to protect their kingdom. Why should King Naresuan be an exception? The dismal answer is that he is admired by the military, and the military are now in power.”

Naresuan did ally with the (now) hated Burmese for a considerable period, if chronicles are to be believed.

On Sulak’s case, it observes:

The fact that the case was not thrown out the minute it was raised three years ago is a strong indication that Thailand’s authorities and many of its citizens have lost any sense of that normality.





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.”





“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).