28 September 2021

“Distortion that incites youths to be led astray...”


Family Club

The Ministry of Education is investigating a series of eight children’s picture books published this month. A spokesperson for Deputy Minister of Education Kanlaya Sophonpanich announced yesterday that Kanlaya has set up a panel to urgently inspect the books, as she believes they stir up hated and promote “distortion that incites youths to be led astray.” She also threatened the publisher with legal action.

The books were published by Family Club, who advertised them with a knowing wink as suitable for children aged five to 112. (The lèse-majesté law is article 112 of the Thai criminal code.) Rather than spreading hatred, as Kanlaya claims, they promote the opposite: tolerance, freedom, and equality. Three of the titles refer directly to the current anti-government protest movement: The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย); Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?); and 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’).

One of the books, Children Have Dreams (เด็กๆ มีความฝัน), features a quote from protest leader Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul on the back cover. Another title, Hack! Hack! The Fire Dragon (แค็ก! แค็ก! มังกรไฟ), was written by protest leader Sombat Boonngamanong, though its theme is environmental rather than political: he works as a firefighter in Chiang Mai, and his story is about the dangers of forest fires. The others in the series are Who Has No Head? (ตัวไหนไม่มีหัว), The Call of the Birds (เสียงร้องของผองนก), and Chit Phumisak (จ จิตร ชีวิตอัจฉริยะไทยผู้ใฝ่เรียนรู้ จิตร ภูมิศักดิ์).

26 September 2021

Broken Heartlands: A Journey Through Labour’s Lost England


For his new book Broken Heartlands: A Journey Through Labour’s Lost England, journalist Sebastian Payne travelled throughout the ‘red wall’, the traditional Labour heartland constituencies won by the Conservatives in the 2019 election. Payne is a political correspondent for the Financial Times, and presenter of the excellent Payne’s Politics podcast.

In an interview with Payne, Prime Minister Boris Johnson emphasised his (somewhat vague) ‘levelling up’ agenda, and he also seemed to reject the Thatcherite centralisation of economic power: “The Treasury has made a catastrophic mistake in the last forty years in thinking that you can just hope that the whole of the UK is somehow going to benefit from London and the south-east.” Asked about ‘culture war’ debates around statues being removed, he dismissed the issue as “fundamentally bollocks.”

Payne analyses the reasons for the collapse of the ‘red wall’, concluding that Brexit was a major factor: “In every place, in almost every single conversation, Labour’s stance on Brexit and the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn were top of the list of why the party lost its fourth election in a row.” Labour’s support for a second Brexit referendum and “Corbyn’s equivocation on the EU question” contrasted with Johnson’s deceptive yet effective rhetoric (“Get Brexit done”), giving the Conservatives a landslide.

Assessing the challenge for Labour in rebuilding the ‘red wall’, Payne argues that—as Bill Clinton put it—it’s the economy, stupid: “there is a clear consesus about what needs to be done for the people of the red wall. The majority of interviewees have highlighted that the issues are primarily economic, not cultural.” He proposes a reversal of “decades of underinvestment on infrastructure”, and the decentralisation of power: “The House of Lords needs to be scrapped... devolution is going to be critical to rebuilding England after the pandemic into a better society.”

25 September 2021

บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112



The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD), one of the key student groups leading the current anti-government protests, has released a new booklet, บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112 (‘speeches on 112’). It features a collection of speeches delivered at past protest rallies, all in support of the UFTD’s campaign to abolish the lèse-majesté law (article 112 of the Thai criminal code). The booklet’s main title is a quote from the 1932 revolutionary manifesto by Pridi Banomyong, ประเทศนี้เป็นของราษฎร ไม่ใช่กษัตริย์ตามที่เขาหลอกลวง (‘our country belongs to the people—not to the king, as has been deceitfully claimed’).

Naturally, in today’s political climate, publishing such a booklet is legally perilous. Copies were given away at Three Kings Monument Square in Chiang Mai on 21st September, and yesterday the UFTD announced online that they planned to distribute it at a rally outside BACC in Bangkok today. This announcement caught the attention of the police, who intercepted some copies that were en route to the rally today. Nevertheless, the booklet was available at the rally, and was handed out in exchange for a token donation.

This is the third booklet on the monarchy to attract unwanted attention from the police. 10,000 copies of Arnon Nampa’s สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย (‘the monarchy and Thai society’) were seized in March, and 50,000 copies of the UFTD’s ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August’) were confiscated before they could be distributed at a rally in September 2020. (Arnon’s booklet was later given away at a rally at Ratchaprasong in Bangkok on 3rd September.)

Of course, by announcing their intention to distribute these booklets, the protest groups are essentially daring the police to ban them, and the censorious authorities are only too happy to oblige. Aside from their provocative contents and their brushes with the law, the three booklets also have a common colour scheme: Arnon’s has a blue cover, the first UFTD booklet is red, and the new one is white. These correspond with the colours of Thailand’s tricolour flag, symbolising the monarchy, the nation, and religion respectively.

Thai Soaps: An Analysis of Thai Television Dramas


Gerhard Jaiser begins his book Thai Soaps: An Analysis of Thai Television Dramas by distancing himself from “people who appreciate lakhons as entertainment or even as an art form”, admitting that “I myself do not.” Thai soap operas (known as lakhon or lakorn) are justifiably dismissed as nam nao (‘dirty water’), though they still deserve to be analysed, and Thai Soaps is the first book to do so.

Jaiser’s book (published in 2017) begins with a detailed examination of lakorn narrative structure, character archetypes, and other conventions of the genre. The second chapter makes nuanced comparisons between various original series and their modern remakes, helpfully guiding the reader through the sometimes confusing multiplicity of lakorn versions.

A chapter on lakorn and politics notes how censorship is determined by the political climate. For example, the Thaksin Shinawatra satire เหนือเมฆ (‘beyond comparison’) was uncontroversial in 2010 because “at that time, the Democrat Party, favorable to the Yellow Shirts (and to Channel 3), was in power”, whereas its sequel was censored in 2012, when Thaksin’s sister Yingluck was in office. Ing Kanjanavanit’s film Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) suffered a similar fate for the same reason.

Jaiser is surprisingly uncritical of the deeply problematic representation of minorities in lakorn. He does discuss the asexual nature of gay characters, the increasingly negative stereotyping of Westerners, and the almost total absence of black people, though he doesn’t call this out as homophobic or racist. He even seems reluctant to condemn the reprehensible depiction of rape in lakorn, noting that they portray it as “an act that can even increase the love of the female victim for the rapist” yet criticising this in only mild terms as “questionable”.

Thai Soaps includes a valuable appendix listing major lakorn series, with their Thai titles, plot synopses, and (in most cases) original transmission dates. It’s a good example of not judging a book by its cover—which features a fairly unappealing snapshot—because this is a first-rate study of a second-rate genre.

24 September 2021

Specter


Specter Specter Specter
Specter Specter Specter

Specter (ปีศาจ), an exhibition organised by the protest movement Thalu Fah, opened at Angoon’s Garden in Bangkok on 18th September and runs until 14th October. Since the opening, more works have been added to the exhibition, all of which relate to the 6th October 1976 massacre. (Specter marks the 45th anniversary of the massacre, in lieu of the annual commemoration at Thammasat University, which will not take place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

The additional works all incorporate elements of Neal Ulevich’s infamous photograph of a vigilante hitting a hanging corpse with a folding chair, a single image that has come to stand for the entire massacre. The photo itself is reproduced as part of a collage by Lucky Leg. (Due to the sensitivity of the exhibition, many of the artworks are credited to pseudonyms.) In a drawing by Sinsawat Yodbangtoey, the vigilante and the corpse appear in an hourglass.

Ulevich’s photo is now so iconic that even isolated elements from it are immediately recognisable. In one painting, the man wielding the chair appears in silhouette. In a painting by KKTKKKH, the corpse hangs not from a tree as in the photograph, but from an ornate lamp post with a kinnaree finial. A painting by Rattapob Sirichom shows a crowd of onlookers and a tree trunk. Finally, a painting of a folding chair with a guillotine blade presents the chair as a weapon.

23 September 2021

The Adventures of Little Duck


The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย) is one of a series of eight children’s picture books published this month, some of which refer directly to current Thai politics. The title character has become a symbol of the anti-government protest movement after protesters used rubber ducks to protect themselves from water cannon. Since then, yellow ducks have appeared on calendars and coupons, in a painting, and in the short films New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่) and Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship. The author is credited only by the pen name สะอาด (‘pure’). The book series—perhaps inspired by Hong Kong’s similar ‘sheep village’ (羊村) books—promotes values of tolerance, equality, and democracy, and other titles include Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?) and 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’).

10 ราษฎร


10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’) is one of a series of eight children’s picture books published this month, some of which refer directly to current Thai politics. 10 ราษฎร is entirely visual, featuring portraits of ten people charged with lèse-majesté. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, editor of Voice of Taksin, is included alongside leaders of the recent anti-government protests such as Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (who was arrested yesterday), Arnon Nampa, and Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan.

10 ราษฎร was illustrated by Chalermpol Junrayab, the political cartoonist who created the Amazing Thai-Land comics. The book series—perhaps influenced by Hong Kong’s similar ‘sheep village’ (羊村) books—promotes values of tolerance, equality, and democracy, and other titles include The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย) and Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?).

Mom, Where Are You Going?


Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?) is one of a series of eight children’s picture books published this month, some of which refer directly to current Thai politics. Mom, Where Are You Going? is based on a story by the actress Intira Jaroenpura, who starred in Nang Nak (นางนาก), and shows her at some of the recent anti-government rallies.

Intira not only supports the protesters, but she has also publicly acknowledged that she funded some of the protests. The book series—perhaps influenced by Hong Kong’s similar ‘sheep village’ (羊村) books—promotes values of tolerance, equality, and democracy, and other titles include The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย) and 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’).

22 September 2021

Luk Thung: The Culture and Politics of Thailand’s Most Popular Music


Luk Thung: The Culture and Politics of Thailand’s Most Popular Music, by James Leonard Mitchell (published in 2015), is the first English-language study of luk thung, a genre that’s usually characterised as Thai country music. Luk thung takes its name from a 1964 television show, and this period was the genre’s golden age, mostly due to the popularity of Suraphon Sombatcharoen—“the King of Thai Country Song”, whose most famous single was สิบหกปีแห่งความหลัง (‘sixteen years past’)—and the success of the blockbuster musical film Monrak Luk Thung (มนต์รักลูกทุ่ง).

Mitchell’s revisionist history covers the genre’s origins in Isaan during the Phibun and Sarit era, when “censorship combined with better economic conditions encouraged songwriters... to abandon social commentary and move into writing commercial and sometimes nationalistic luk thung.” These included a series of stridently nationalistic songs such as เขาพระวิหารต้องเป็นของไทย (‘Preah Vihear Temple must be Thai’), protesting the 1962 judgement that the Preah Vihear Temple was part of Cambodian soil.

The book concludes with an account of the politicisation of luk thung by the red-shirts and yellow-shirts, and provides a detailed analysis of the pro and anti-Thaksin songs played at their respective protest rallies. This final chapter (expanded from Mitchell’s excellent journal paper Red and Yellow Songs) is both a fascinating study of popular culture as propaganda, and a groundbreaking recognition of luk thung’s political dimension. It also situates luk thung within the tradition of Thai ‘songs for life’ following the 14th October 1973 uprising (a tradition that continues today with protest songs in support of the anti-government movement).

18 September 2021

Specter


Specter Specter Specter
Specter Specter Specter
Specter Specter Specter

A new exhibition marking the 45th anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre opened today at Angoon’s Garden in Bangkok. Specter (ปีศาจ), organised by the protest movement Thalu Fah, runs until 14th October. Its full title, ปีศาจแห่งกาลเวลา (‘devil of time’), comes from a novel by Seni Sawaphong. Like last year’s Unmuted Project, Specter includes some risqué artworks, and its opening was monitored by the police.

Most provocatively, a crown has been added to Gustav Corbet’s L’Origine du monde (‘the origin of the world’), turning Corbet’s painting into a pejorative (‘cuntface’). To avoid official scrutiny, the work is signed with a pseudonym, Luckyleg. The same anonymous artist also created portraits of protest leaders including Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (who attended the opening) and Arnon Nampa.

Figures from Neal Ulevich’s iconic 6th October photograph inspired many of the artworks, including paintings of the hanging corpse, the man wielding the chair, and the laughing boy. Another 6th October press photo is exhibited on the floor, and a mannequin and folding chair are suspended from a tree. There is also a small painting of Choomporn Thummai and Vichai Kasripongsa, the two men whose extrajudicial hangings precipitated the 6th October massacre.

17 September 2021

New Abnormal


In a series of static shots and long takes, Sorayos Prapapan’s satirical short film New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่) takes aim at Prayut Chan-o-cha and his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. In one sequence, a paramedic reveals the scale of the problem: “It’s already mid-2021, our country’s people is still only less than 10% vaccinated.” Sadly and shamefully, the statistic is accurate.

Another scene eavesdrops on a meeting between Prayut, deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, and a civil servant. When the bureaucrat asks about bailouts for businesses affected by the lockdown, an irritable Prayut barks back: “Why do you always hand me problems? It’s tiring enough acting as Prime Minister, you know!” Meanwhile, Prawit remains slumped in his chair, fast asleep (as is often the case in parliament). Prayut is played by Phayao Nimma, who also portrayed the PM in The Cave (นางนอน); in the credits, he’s described as “Stupid Prime minister who did coup” [sic].

The film ends with a recreation of an anti-government protest (on a small scale, given the low budget), which is dispersed by riot police with water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets (the latter heard but not seen). In the last shot, wisps of tear gas swirl slowly around a solitary rubber duck. The end-credits song is an anti-government anthem based on the Hamtaro (とっとこハム太郎) anime theme tune.

Sorayos’s equally satirical Prelude of the Moving Zoo premiered at ANIMAL KINgDOM last year, as did his documentary Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship. His parody Dossier of the Dossier (เอกสารประกอบการตัดสินใจ) was shown at the 30th Singapore International Film Festival, and his comedy Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport (ดาวอินดี้) played at the 18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

11 September 2021

Pink Man Story


Pink Man Story is a lavish and complete retrospective of Manit Sriwanichpoom’s long-running Pink Man (พิ้งค์แมน) series, photographs featuring the incongruous figure of Sompong Tawee in a bright pink suit, a symbol of consumerism and superficiality. A small exhibition of Pink Man photos was due to be held at BACC earlier this year, though it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For the group exhibition History and Memory (ประวัติศาสตร์ และ ความทรงจำ), Manit created Horror in Pink (ปีศาจสีชมพู), digitally inserting Sompong into news photographs of three Thai massacres. In the exhibition catalogue, Manit explained that he was inspired by the inexplicable election of Samak Sundaravej, and his artist’s statement is reprinted in Pink Man Story: “Was this not the same Samak who back in October 1976 went on radio to urge that brute force be used against pro-democracy protesters, in the events that culminated in the most horrifying massacre in Bangkok history? I asked myself: Has everyone forgotten? Does ‘October 6’ mean nothing to us now?”

Pink Man Story includes a detailed analysis of Horror in Pink by art critic Iola Lenzi—A Man for Our Times—in which she discusses the “historical amnesia” that inspired the series. It also reprints Ing Kanjanavanit’s essay Poses from Dreamland (ท่าโพส จากแดน ช่างฝัน), which was first published in the catalogue for Manit’s Phenomena and Prophecies (ท้าและทาย) exhibition. (Ing’s essay has been somewhat over-edited in Pink Man Story: its first page is mistakenly printed twice, and half of the original text has been removed.)

04 September 2021

Wildtype 2021


Wildtype 2021, a weekend of film screenings curated by Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa, takes place today and tomorrow on YouTube. The screenings will also be shown at Ar(t)cade, a venue at the Arcade Market in Phayao. Both days include Politix, a selection of short films commenting on Thai political events.

This evening’s Politix strand begins with Veerapong Soontornchattrawat’s Official Trailer (อนุสรณ์สถาน), which intercuts footage of the 6th October 1976 massacre with clips from Love Destiny (บุพเพสันนิวาส), a popular historical lakorn. This is followed by a film referencing another massacre: Nil Paksnavin’s Rajprasong (ราชประสงค์), which ends with a black screen and the jolting sound of eighty-seven gunshots, representing the victims of the 2010 military crackdown in downtown Bangkok. (Rajprasong was previously shown at Histoire(s) du thai cinéma, another two-day film event programmed by Wiwat.)

The highlight of the evening is a more recent film, Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo, which begins subversively with a cylinder recording of the royal anthem, accompanied by footage of penguins seemingly standing to attention. (It was previously shown at ANIMAL KINgDOM, also programmed by Wiwat; and it was selected for the 24th Short Film and Video Festival.)

Wildtype concludes tomorrow, and the second Politix strand includes Prap Boonpan’s The Bangkok Bourgeois Party (ความลักลั่นของงานรื่นเริง), in which a group of yellow-shirted Bangkokians murder a man merely because he disagrees with their ideology. Less than a year after it was first shown, this dystopian satire became a reality when Narongsak Krobtaisong was beaten to death by PAD guards in 2008.

Chaweng Chaiyawan’s Please... See Us, which highlights the displacement of ethnic minorities, will also be shown tomorrow. This new film includes an extended sequence in which a pig is killed and dismembered, the helpless animal being a metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities in Thailand. It will also be shown later this month as part of Signes de Nuit, hosted by Documentary Club.

I Alone Can Fix It


Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year is billed as “the definitive behind-the-scenes story of Trump’s final year in office.” With much-anticipated Trump books from Bob Woodward (Peril) and Maggie Haberman around the corner, it’s too early to judge I Alone Can Fix It as definitive, but it is a chilling and authoritative account of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the 6th January storming of the Capitol.

Just in case readers were in any doubt as to the authors’ position on Trump, the prologue itemises his flaws: “He displayed his ignorance, his rash temper, his pettiness and pique, his malice and cruelty, his utter absence of empathy, his narcissism, his transgressive personality, his disloyalty, his sense of victimhood, his addiction to television, his suspicion and silencing of experts, and his deception and lies.” (To which I would add: his undermining of institutions.)

Surprisingly, though, there are moments early in the COVID-19 crisis when Trump said and did the right things. In a 7th February 2020 call to President Xi, he pressed for US access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (“All you have to do is issue the visas and they’ll be there”); and in an 11th March 2020 meeting, he recognised the need for a ban on travel from Europe (“We can’t get these lives back. We can make the money back. We’ve got to shut it down”). (These events were also covered, in less detail, in Woodward’s Rage, though according to Woodward, the Xi call took place a day earlier.)

Like Leonnig and Rucker’s previous book, A Very Stable Genius, I Alone Can Fix It’s ironic title is taken from a typically braggadocious Trump quote. Trump declined an interview request for that earlier book and, as the authors explain, he “attacked us personally and branded our reporting a work of fiction.” Consistently inconsistent, Trump then readily agreed to an interview for the second book, wining and dining the authors at Mar-a-Lago. (“For some sick reason, I enjoyed it”, he tells them after the interview, which appears in the book’s epilogue.)

Most of the other sources are quoted anonymously, though it’s clear that Trump campaign manager Chris Christie and former Attorney General William Barr were among the major sources. A self-serving Christie portrays himself as the voice of reason, as he did in A Very Stable Genius, here contrasting his advice to Trump with Rudy Giuliani’s wild conspiracy theories.

The most extraordinary quotes are those attributed to Mark Milley, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who apparently “saw parallels between Trump’s rhetoric of election fraud and Adolf Hitler’s insistence to his followers at the Nuremberg rallies that he was both a victim and their savior.” Astonishingly, Milley describes Trump’s undermining of the election as the “gospel of the Führer.”

Aside from A Very Stable Genius and Rage, I Alone Can Fix It is one of a dozen Trump books reviewed here during and after his presidency. The others are: Fear, Fire and Fury, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, Too Much and Never Enough, The Room Where It Happened, Team of Five, American Carnage, and The Cost.

02 September 2021

A Minor History


Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย) opened yesterday at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok. The work is a video triptych, filmed at a derelict cinema in Kalasin and other locations along the Mekong river. Apichatpong has previously written of his attachment to stand-alone cinemas in an essay for Unknown Forces (สัตว์วิกาล), reprinted with an English translation in Once Upon a Celluloid Planet (สวรรค์ 35 มม). The Mekong directly inspired his films Mekong Hotel (แม่โขงโฮเต็ล) and Cactus River (โขงแล้งนำ), though he has also filmed numerous other projects in the region.

A Minor History also includes a short story in text form, which describes a dream featuring Patiwat Saraiyaem (using his nickname, Bank). Patiwat is an actor and mor lam singer who was jailed for his performance in the play เจ้าสาวหมาป่า (‘the wolf bride’) and was subjected to further lèse-majesté charges after he took part in an anti-government protest on 19th September last year. He previously appeared in Apichatpong’s segment of the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand, and Wittawat Tongkeaw recently painted his portrait, titled The Unforgiven Blues (หมอลำแบงค์).

A Minor History was originally scheduled to open on 19th August, though it was delayed due to the coronavirus lockdown. Attendance is currently by appointment only, again due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the exhibition will close on 14th November. A second phase opens on 25th November, and runs until 27th February next year. 100 Tonson, previously a commercial gallery, became a non-profit foundation last year.

01 September 2021

Snap


In Kongdej Jaturanrasmee’s Snap, released in 2015, a high school reunion rekindles an old romance, and the film trades heavily on Millennial nostalgia, though—as in Kongdej’s other films—there is also a political undercurrent in the background. News of the 2014 coup is mediated through newspapers (a man reading the Bangkok Post, with a headline about martial law) and television (the female lead doing her ironing while the coup announcement is broadcast). Likewise, Kongdej’s Sayew (สยิว) begins with a radio news report on the ‘Black May’ massacre, and his Tang Wong (ตั้งวง) is punctuated by TV news updates on the red-shirt protests, making him one of the few mainstream genre directors whose films address Thailand’s political crises.

18 August 2021

ในดินแดนวิปลาส: บันทึกบาดแผลสามัญชนบนโลกคู่ขนาน


ในดินแดนวิปลาส: บันทึกบาดแผลสามัญชนบนโลกคู่ขนาน (‘in the land of madness: recording the wounds of ordinary people in parallel worlds’) was written by a female journalist who has covered the legal persecution of anti-coup activists, including various high-profile lèse-majesté cases. Like ห้องเช่าหมายเลข 112 (‘room number 112’), her book tells the human stories behind the headlines. The author is credited pseudonymously as รัช, a contranym meaning both ‘king’ and ‘dust’ (a subversive reference to ‘dust under the feet’, a Thai phrase emphasising the subservient position of subjects in relation to their monarch).

The cover illustration (also credited to a pseudonym, La Orng) shows a chess piece (the king) and Democracy Monument on opposite sides of the scales of justice, with the scales tipped in favour of the king. Images of Democracy Monument have been used to make similar political statements on other book covers. Wad Rawee’s การเมืองโมเบียส (‘Möbius politics’) depicts it as a military complex in a dystopian future, Jakkapan Kangwan’s Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า) shows it under construction—as does the June 2012 issue of Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine—and on the cover of Sulak Sivaraksa’s หกทศวรรษประชาธิปไตย (‘six decades of democracy’), it is represented as a jigsaw with one piece (containing the constitution) missing.

เหมือนบอดใบ้ไพร่ฟ้ามาสุดทาง


Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa was the first anti-government protester to call for reform of the monarchy, at a rally in 2020. He was arrested earlier this month, following a speech marking the first anniversary of that event. His portrait was painted by Witawat Tongkeaw, who dubbed him Captain Justice (ทนายอานนท์).

Arnon published a booklet outlining his proposals for a truly constitutional monarchy, สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย, and he cowrote a booklet with a manifesto for monarchy reform, ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา. They have recently been translated into English by PEN International online, as The Monarchy and Thai Society and The Day the Sky Trembled, respectively.

Arnon’s first book, however, was a poetry collection published in 2011. One poem, เหมือนบอดใบ้ไพร่ฟ้ามาสุดทาง (‘we subjects, as if mute and blind, have found ourselves at the end of the line’) also provided the title of the collection. It describes the legal persecution that followed the 2010 Ratchaprasong massacre, when red-shirt activists were charged with arson.

Arnon defended many of the accused, and the poem highlights the injustice of their trials. It concludes with a call to arms, which was eventually answered last year when the student-led anti-government protests began in earnest:

“So the law has turned to the rule of dogs;
We subjects, as if mute and blind,
Have found ourselves at the end of the line:
Submit or die—no other way.

History must be written in lives
To get the wheel of time unstuck;
Fly the red flag, friends, show your pluck:
Revolt! Bring down the robber regime!”

The book’s cover, by Kullawat Kanjanasoontree, reimagines Picasso’s Guernica as a depiction of the 2010 massacre. It was included in the Art for Freedom (ศิลปะเพื่อเสรีภาพ) exhibition at the Pridi Banomyong Institute in 2013, under the same title as the book and with an alternate English translation, As Blind as the Dead End. The Sanam Ratsadon website features two poems from the collection, newly translated by Peera Songkünnatham.

17 August 2021

“พบกระสุนปืนค้างอยู่บริเวณก้านสมอง...”

Yesterday, after the 9pm coronavirus curfew, clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters continued at Sam Liam Din Daeng in Bangkok. Police deployed rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannon to disperse the protesters, as they have on an almost daily basis throughout this month (most recently on 15th August). Last night, however, police at Din Daeng also fired live ammunition, shooting at least two people.

One of the victims, a boy aged only 15, was hit in the neck. He is currently in a coma at Rajavithi Hospital, and the hospital issued a written statement this morning to confirm that they had discovered a bullet lodged in his brain stem (“พบกระสุนปืนค้างอยู่บริเวณก้านสมอง”). When the statement was issued, his name and age were not known, though he was identified by his mother this afternoon.

Late last night, Din Daeng Police denied using live ammunition. This morning, they claimed that live rounds were fired by an unknown civilian, though there is no evidence of any such assailant. Live bullets were last deployed by police in Bangkok on 18th February 2014, after PDRC protesters fired at them. Abhisit Vejjajiva directed the army to use live ammunition against red-shirt protesters in April and May 2010, leading to the deaths of almost 90 people.

15 August 2021

“We will not try to defeat riot police. We will defeat General Prayut...”


Riot police have fired rubber bullets at anti-government protesters in Bangkok for the fourth time this week. As on previous occasions, this evening’s clashes took place at Sam Liam Din Daeng, when protesters were blocked by shipping containers from reaching Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence. A relatively small group of protesters threw small explosives (including fireworks) at police, who deployed rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannon to disperse them.

Today’s main rally was a Car Mob event organised by Sombat Boonngamanong and red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar, though the stragglers at Din Daeng were not part of this event. Once clashes between demonstrators and police began, Nattawut left the Car Mob to urge the protesters to leave, saying: “We will not try to defeat riot police. We will defeat General Prayut.” Riot police also fired rubber bullets at the same spot on 10th, 11th, and 13th August, and they have now been used on ten occasions this year.