Thursday, 21 January 2021

Hakom

Hakom
Remembrances of Red Trauma
Charuphat Petcharavej’s short story Hakom (ห่าก้อม) was first published in an anthology of Isaan literature, มวลดอกไม้ในยุคมืด (‘flowers in a dark age’). It was translated into English last year, and reprinted in Remembrances of Red Trauma: The Tenth Anniversary of the Political Violence of 2010 (1 ทศวรรษ พฤษภาฯ เลือดปี ’53), a collection of articles reflecting on the 2010 massacre and “Thai society’s deep-rooted culture of impunity.” (Pisitakun Kuantalaeng’s Ten Year project also commemorated the tenth anniversary of the massacre.)

Hakom is a supernatural tale of a phi pob spirit possessing an Isaan villager, though the story is also a political metaphor. The fictional village of Dong Bong is a microcosm of Thailand, and its former headman, Wan, is a proxy for Thaksin Shinawatra. Charuphat writes that Wan became persona non grata: “A group of villagers had driven him out of the village, forcing him to make a new home for himself on a hill, far away from the village.” This mirrors Thaksin’s self-exile following the 2006 coup against his government.

Wan’s sister, Buaphan, thus represents Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck, and the story describes her futile efforts to protect the village from its attackers: “Against these poisonous animals and fierce beasts out on the streets in a show of full force, the villagers [had] little at their disposal to fight back. So many of them went to see Nang Buaphan for help. But she had nothing to match the power of the attackers. She could only tell the villagers to endure this crisis until one day, the monsters would run out of energy and leave.”

This vivid description of a village under siege echoes the military massacre of red-shirt protesters in 2010, and the 2014 coup against Yingluck’s administration. Ukrit Sa-nguanhai’s short film The Pob’s House (บ้านผีปอบ) also employs a phi pob as a metaphor for political violence. In Ukrit’s film, an elderly woman is beaten by her fellow villagers, who believe her to be possessed by a phi pob. Like Hakom, The Pob’s House was also a response to the 2010 massacre.

Monday, 9 November 2020

Two Little Soldiers

Two Little Soldiers
Two Little Soldiers
Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang has produced a new short film for the Bangkok Art Biennale 2020 (บางกอก อาร์ต เบียนนาเล่). The film, Two Little Soldiers (สาวสะเมิน), begins with an homage to Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, though in this case the body in the woods is only resting.

The film’s seemingly idyllic scenario, in which two young soldiers and a local woman relax by a river, is contrasted by its soundtrack: a government statement (heard via a transistor radio) announcing a crackdown on protesters at Phan Fah in Bangkok. (Except for the radio announcement, the film is silent, with intertitles rather than spoken dialogue.) The film’s release coincides with a new wave of anti-government rallies: yesterday, protesters marched from Democracy Monument to the Grand Palace, to deliver an open letter to the King, though riot police used water cannon to prevent them from entering the Palace grounds.

The crackdown at Phan Fah took place on 10th April 2010, with the military deploying automatic weapons against red-shirt protesters. Twenty-five people were killed. Two Little Soldiers shows how military propaganda misrepresented the incident, with the radio announcement accusing the protesters of “the intent to incite violence” and denying the use of live ammunition: “False rumors have been spread that the military have used live fire on protesters and that the prime minister has ordered the killing of civilians. These are not true.”

This form of propaganda, broadcast via military-owned radio and television stations, has been utilised by successive Thai miltary governments for the past fifty years. Just this afternoon, army chief Narongpan Jitkaewthae held a press conference at which he accused yesterday’s protesters of inciting violence. Like Two Little Soldiers, The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) also shows how Thailand’s military propaganda demonised red-shirt protesters. Like Sayew (สยิว) and The Island Funeral (มหาสมุทรและสุสาน), Two Little Soldiers represents military crackdowns via radio broadcasts rather than reenactments.

Two Little Soldiers represents the first direct reference to contemporary politics in one of Pen-ek’s films. His documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย) ended with Thaksin Shinawatra’s first term as Prime Minister, thus omitting the political crisis that followed his re-election. When I interviewed Pen-ek for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored, he expressed some solidarity with the red-shirt movement: “If the ‘redshirt’ people can separate themselves from Thaksin, then I would become completely a ‘redshirt’.”

Saturday, 11 July 2020

10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown

10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown
10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown
10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown
For the current Conflicted Visions Again exhibition, Pisitakun Kuantalaeng created a series of posters and stickers to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the military massacre of red-shirt protesters in 2010. The twenty posters show maps of the protest sites, with markers to indicate the spots at which individual protesters were killed. Pisitakun also drew portraits of each victim, on sixty-three stickers. The project focuses on the last week of the crackdown, from 13th to 19th May 2010. (Tawan Wattuya painted portraits of protesters killed in April 2010.)

Pisitakun’s posters and stickers are available as a box set, limited to fifty signed and numbered copies (mine being no. 2). The set, 10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic], also includes a sticker album and a certificate of authenticity. Pisitakun is also a musician, and his provocative new album Absolute Coup will be released (with more stickers) at the end of this month, as a limited edition cassette and bullet-shaped flash drive.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Il Re di Bangkok

Il Re di Bangkok
Il Re di Bangkok
The graphic novel Il Re di Bangkok (‘the king of Bangkok’), was published in Italian last year, and has now been translated into Thai. The book was written by Claudio Sopranzetti and Chiara Natalucci, with illustrations by Sara Fabbri. (The Thai edition has been self-censored—on pages 93, 157, and 205—though the Italian edition is unexpurgated.)

The title character, Nok, is a blind lottery-ticket vendor from Isaan who travels to Bangkok for a better life. Economic migration from upcountry to the capital is commonplace, and was a standard theme of politically-conscious writers and directors in the mid-1970s. Nok becomes increasingly politically engaged during his time in Bangkok, as he lives through the ‘Black May’ massacre, the ‘tom yum kung’ economic crisis, the rise and fall of Thaksin Shinawatra, the 2006 coup, and the ‘red-shirt’ protests. The book ends as the red-shirts are massacred by the military, an event that took place exactly a decade ago.

For its Thai publication, Il Re di Bangkok was retitled ตาสว่าง (ta sawang), which describes the sense of political awakening experienced by Nok. Several of the Thai filmmakers I’ve interviewed have explained their own feelings of newfound political enlightenment. Pen-ek Ratanaruang (“somebody like me, who five years ago had no interest in politics at all”), Yuthlert Sippapak (“I never gave a shit about politics. But right now, it’s too much”), Chulayarnnon Siriphol (“I turned to be interested in the political situation”), Thunska Pansittivorakul (“I started to learn about politics”), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“I was politically naïve”), and Nontawat Numbenchapol (“I was a teenager, a young man not interested in politics so much”) all discussed their personal experiences of ta sawang.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Temporal Topography

Temporal Topography
Planking
Hocus Pocus
MAIIAM, Thailand’s most prestigious contemporary art venue, has expanded the space dedicated to its permanent collection. In addition to Feeling the 1990s, its more recent acquisitions are now also on show. These works, all dating from the last decade, are being exhibited under the collective title Temporal Topography: MAIIAM’s New Acquisitions; from 2010 to Present (แดนชั่วขณะ: ศิลปะสะสมใหม่เอี่ยมจาก พ.ศ. ๒๕๕๓ จนถึงปัจจุบัน). The exhibition opened on 30th March in Chiang Mai, and will run for exactly one year.

Highlights include Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s video Planking, in which a man lies down incongruously in public spaces while everyone around him stands for the national anthem. Chulayarnnon’s short, silent film is a characteristically satirical commentary on nationalist ideology and social conformity. It also addresses specific instances of state violence, as one of the filming locations, Thammasat University’s football pitch, is associated with the 6th October 1976 massacre. Students were forced to lie down on the pitch on 6th October, and Planking recreates this with an identical pose on the same spot.

Ruangsak Anuwatwimon’s Hocus Pocus (เผาเล่น ที่จริง) also commemorates an act of political violence. The installation includes a cracked pane of glass from CentralWorld, a shopping mall situated near the main red-shirt protest in 2010. There are bullet holes in the glass, physical reminders of the military massacre that took place. (Similarly, Ruangsak’s sculpture No Country Like Home also utilises a bullet-ridden artefact, namely a tablet from Krue Se Mosque, to memorialise another military massacre.)

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Amnesia

Amnesia
Tawan Wattuya’s exhibition Amnesia opened yesterday at 1Projects in Bangkok. The exhibition features his Red Faces series, painted in 2011 and previously shown at the Khonkaen Manifesto (ขอนแก่น แมนิเฟสโต้) group exhibition.

The series of eighteen portraits depicts red-shirt protesters who were shot dead by the military on 10th April 2010. A book commemorating the victims, วีรชน 10 เมษา คนที่ตายมีใบหน้าคนที่ถูกฆ่ามีชีวิต (‘heroes of 10th April: the faces of the dead live on’), was published in 2011.

The exhibition title, Amnesia, reflects the absence of the massacre from the collective memory. Like previous acts of Thai military violence against civilians - in 1973, 1976, and 1992 - the crackdowns of April and May 2010 have been whitewashed from history, with no prosecutions of soldiers or army officers. The exhibition runs until 14th July.

PDF

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

After the Coup

After the Coup
After the Coup: The National Council for Peace and Order Era and the Future of Thailand, edited by Michael J. Montesano, Terence Chong, and Mark Heng, is a collection of essays on Thailand's political situation since the 2014 coup. Contributors include influential commentators such as Duncan McCargo, Thongchai Winichakul, and Puangthong Pawakapan. (Montesano previously co-edited Bangkok, May 2010 and contributed to Divided over Thaksin.)

The political affiliations of Thais from the middle class, the south, the north, and the northeast are examined in four chapters. Middle-class and southern interviewees discuss their reasons for joining the PAD and PDRC, notably their devotion to Rama IX and their anger at Thaksin Shinawatra's "alleged disloyalty to King Bhumibol. Most interviewees cited this issue as a decisive factor in turning them against Thaksin." The book also confirms a widespread and patronising sense of middle-class superiority: "All interviewees stressed a lack of education among Thaksin's supporters as evidence that elections in Thailand lack legitimacy; the uneducated simply succumb to vote buying."

In contrast, two chapters on the north and northeast focus on the red-shirt movement and the UDD, asking two pertinent questions: "Why was there so little resistance to the coup? Why were there so few Red Shirt protests in the twelve months following the coup?" The junta's intimidation tactics provide the answer: red-shirts are closely monitored and coerced into renouncing all political activity, including one interviewee who "had to promise not to wear a red shirt, or even a checked shirt containing red in the pattern."

Other chapters have a broader focus. Prajak Kongkirati expands his earlier essay on the 2014 election (in Military, Monarchy and Repression) to analyse forty years of election-related violence. Surachart Bamrungsuk provides a potted history of Thai coups, demonstrating that, for the military, practice makes perfect: "The absence of external security challenges has left the army free to involve itself in political affairs and to become more skilled in political manipulation." Thongchai Winichakul (updating his essay in "Good Coup" Gone Bad) examines the prospects for royalist hegemony following the succession.

There are two especially interesting chapters on mass media and politics. Aim Sinpeng and Wimonsiri Hemtanon highlight the 'filter bubble' effect caused by Thailand's partisan media, though their essay includes an unfortunate instance of self-censorship. They discuss a 1995 Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ) corruption exposé "involving a high-profile member of the prime minister's Democrat Party" without naming the politician involved. (Duncan McCargo previously identified Suthep Thaugsuban as "the figure at the centre of the scandal" in his book Politics and the Press in Thailand.)

Puangthong Pawakapan surveys international media coverage of the monarchy since the 1960s, noting how critical reporting has increased since the 2006 coup: "The foreign press was instrumental in constructing a benign image of King Bhumibol in the international arena, and was thus complicit in entrenching the power of the monarchy. However, the political coverage of Thailand changed after 2006. The foreign press began to see the monarchy... as a crucial factor in the conflict that now engulfed Thailand."

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Histoire(s) du thai cinéma

Histoires du thai cinema
Gaze and Hear
The Six Principles
Rajprasong
Histoire(s) du thai cinéma, a marathon programme of Thai short films with political themes, took place over a weekend at Bangkok's Dam'n Cineclub earlier this year. The event, split into two twelve-hour sessions (18th and 19th August), was curated by Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa.

The selected films covered Thai politics since the democratic revolution eighty years ago. The Six Principles (สัญญาของผู้มาก่อนกาล), directed by Abhichon Rattanabhayon, examines contemporary public perceptions of the 1932 revolution. Octoblur (ลมตุลาคม), directed by Patana Chirawong, intercuts footage of the 14th October 1973 massacre with the funeral of Thanom Kittikachorn, the military dictator who ordered the attack. Suchart Sawasdsri's "Red" at Last (มนัส เศียรสิงห์) and Manussak Dokmai's Don't Forget Me (อย่าลืมฉัน) both include footage of the 6th October 1976 massacre: "Red" at Last is narrated by a survivor of the tragedy, while Don't Forget Me features incongruous narration taken from a vintage documentary on the Mlabri tribe.

Thailand's recent political polarisation was represented by films examining the PAD, UDD, and PDRC protests. In Prap Boonpan's The Bangkok Bourgeois Party (ความลักลั่นของงานรื่นเริง), a group of yellow-shirted Bangkokians murder a man merely because he disagrees with their ideology. (This dystopian satire later became a reality, when PAD guards killed Narongsak Krobtaisong.) The UDD movement is featured in Red Movie (แกะแดง), directed by the Underground Office collective, which ends somewhat idealistically with John Lennon's utopian song Imagine. PDRC demonstrations appear in Boonyarit Wiangnon's Lice in the Wonderland (เพลี้ย) and two films by Chulayarnnon Siriphol: Here Comes the Democrat Party (ประชาธิปัตย์มาแล้ว) and Myth of Modernity.

The films with the most powerful impact were Nil Paksnavin's Rajprasong (ราชประสงค์), Nontawat Numbenchapol's Gaze and Hear (สายตา รับฟัง), and Re-presentation (ผีมะขาม ไพร่ฟ้า ประชาธิปไตย ในคืนที่ลมพัดหวน) by Chai Chaiyachit and Chisanucha Kongwailap. Rajprasong ends with a black screen and the jolting sound of eighty-seven gunshots, representing the victims of the 2010 massacre in downtown Bangkok. Gaze and Hear is a parody of royalist propaganda, with a hypnotic voiceover and flashing lights inducing a trance-like state of obedience. Re-presentation ends with an artist unsuccessfully attempting to draw Democracy Monument, and tearing up his sketch to reveal a drawing of a Rama V statue on the page beneath, a reference to the established hierarchies underlying Thailand's elusive democracy.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Democracy after Death

Democracy after Death
Democracy after Death
Neti Wichiansaen's documentary Democracy after Death: The Tragedy of Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย เรื่องเศร้าของลุงนวมทอง) is an account of Thailand's recent political history, bookended by the coups of 2006 and 2014. These events are narrated in a voiceover addressed to Nuamthong Praiwan, a pro-democracy protester who committed suicide in 2006. Nuamthong was also the subject of Prap Boonpan's short film Letter from the Silence (จดหมายจากความเงียบ).

The film covers Thailand's polarisation between the PAD and UDD protesters, culminating in the military crackdown of 2010, "the most brutal political massacre in Thai history." As in Thunska Pansittivorakul's The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), former prime minister Abhisit is blamed for the massacre: "Directly responsible, Abhisit Vejjajiva holds Thailand's new record of the number of people shot by the military."

Democracy after Death is significant for its inclusion of sensitive political events excluded from Pen-ek Ratanaruang's documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย). It's also a refreshing counterpoint to Ing Kanjanavanit's Bangkok Joyride (บางกอกจอยไรด์), as it highlights the underhand tactics of the PDRC movement (extorting money and sabotaging the 2014 election). Whereas Bangkok Joyride is pro-PDRC, Democracy after Death is biased in favour of Thaksin Shinawatra, noting sympathetically that he "was forced to leave and has had to remain outside Thailand" though ignoring his corruption conviction.

The film's director is also living in exile, due to a previous lèse-majesté prosecution, and Democracy after Death has been self-censored to avoid further charges. A photograph of the junta and Rama IX on the night of the 2006 coup has been pixelated, and a soldier's pledge of loyalty to the king has been bleeped out. Like the short film Narayana's Arrow Spaceship: Between the Orbits of Mars and Jupiter (ยานศรนารายณ์ ระหว่างวงโคจรดาวอังคารและดาวพฤหัสฯ), the credits are also self-censored.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Storytellers of the Town

Storytellers of the Town
Storytellers of the Town, edited by John Clark, was published to accompany a 2014 exhibition by Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook in Australia. The catalogue includes stills from videos in which Araya addresses female corpses (Conversation I, I'm Living, and The Class), though it also features images of her more recent work, The Treachery of the Moon. For this twelve-minute video, Araya projected footage of the 2010 UDD protests onto her surroundings as she sat watching a lakorn (soap opera) on television. Araya's work was also included in Art and Words (ศิลปะกับถ้อยความ), though Storytellers of the Town has a more comprehensive bibliography.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

"Good Coup" Gone Bad

"Good Coup" Gone Bad
"Good Coup" Gone Bad: Thailand's Political Developments Since Thaksin's Downfall is an anthology of essays analysing the aftermath of the 2006 coup. Editor Pavin Chachavalpongpun also co-edited a similar anthology, Bangkok, May 2010, which was notable for its (partially successful) attempt to present arguments from both sides of Thailand's political divide.

"Good Coup" Gone Bad makes no such attempt at balance, as the cover illustration makes clear. There are essays on post-coup lèse-majesté, the decline of the PAD, and the rise of the UDD. In his opening chapter (from which the book takes its title), Pavin argues: "The 2006 coup that was staged amid joy among many Bangkok residents - some even calling it a "good coup" - has turned out to be disastrous".

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Bangkok, May 2010

Bangkok, May 2010
Bangkok, May 2010: Perspectives On A Divided Thailand is a collection of essays analysing the causes and consequences of the 19th May 2010 military massacre, when dozens of red-shirt protesters were shot by the Thai army. The book was edited by Michael J Montesano, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, and Aekpol Chongvilaivan; Pavin later edited a similar collection, 'Good Coup' Gone Bad, on the aftermath of the 2006 coup.

Bangkok, May 2010 is significant for the reputations of its contributors: it includes chapters by Chris Baker, Pasuk Phongpaichit, David Streckfuss, Duncan McCargo, and other leading scholars on contemporary Thai politics. Streckfuss discusses the UDD's accusations of double standards, observing that "By striking against double standards and impunity, Thai society has the rare opportunity to make justice and accountability a rallying cry." McCargo compares the PAD and UDD rallies to the Black May protests of 1992, noting that they fit a pattern of "manufactured crisis" and conform to the "Vicious Cycle" previously identified by Chai-anan Samudavanija.

The book is also notable for its attempt to present a diversity of perspectives, though as Montesano admits in his introduction, complete ideological balance was not possible: "Some, maybe most, of the contributions to this volume have interpretive or political agendas. Rather fewer, perhaps, are clearly "yellow" in their point of view than are unabashedly "red"." Firmly on the yellow end of the spectrum, Kasit Piromya accuses the UDD of armed insurrection and compares them with the Communists of the 1970s: "the battle had moved from the jungles to the streets of Bangkok."

James Stent's long opening chapter has a more nuanced analysis: "At one pole are those who say that the protesters are paid to attend rallies, and are heavily infiltrated by well armed "terrorists" under the direction and control of extremists taking their orders from Thaksin... On the other side of the debate are those who would paint the protesters as entirely peaceful, which is obviously not true. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two poles." Stent's assessment of Thaksin Shinawatra is also more balanced than most: "I see him in shades of grey - neither the messiah that his rural followers take him for even today, nor the devil incarnate that the Bangkok elite see him as being."

There is much discussion of the extent to which the red-shirt uprising was determined by social class (the rural 'prai' versus the establishment 'ammart'). Chairat Charoensin-o-larn presents the conventional interpretation that it represents a class struggle: "The unrest of May 2010 was a manifestation of the simmering new politics of desire of unprivileged Thais, and Thailand's ruling elites ought to pay close attention." However, Shawn W Crispin argues against this view: "These interpretations must transcend the simplistic and misleading discourse of class struggle that has been advanced by Thaksin's operatives for propaganda purposes and uncritically perpetuated by many foreign academics."

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Same Sky

Same Sky
Same Sky
Military and police officers have prevented the sale of three t-shirt designs at the National Book Fair in Bangkok. The t-shirts were being sold at the Same Sky journal's booth at Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, though Same Sky editor Thanapol Eawsakul was told to withdraw them from sale.

One of the shirts depicts a tree whose branches form the Thai words 'absolute monarchy' and whose extensive roots form the Thai words 'constitutional monarchy'. This design was previously used as the cover illustration for an issue of Same Sky (volume 9, number 1; 2011), and that issue was also notable as it included Thai translations of some WikiLeaks cables relating to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

Another shirt depicts the logo of the Steven Spielberg film The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which has been modified with the Thai words 'The Lost World of absolute monarchy'. The third shirt features an emoticon known in Thailand as Mr Grateful, with his mouth zipped shut. (This emoticon is sometimes used to parody the emotional responses of Thai royalists.)

Same Sky has faced several previous legal problems. Thanapol was detained by the military, following the coup earlier this year. Same Sky was banned in 2006 due to its interview with Sulak Sivaraksa, though the interview was later reprinted. The journal distributed VCDs of the 'Tak Bai incident' in 2004, although Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared that the VCDs were illegal.

The three Same Sky t-shirts are not the only clothing designs banned by the military. In June this year, soldiers in Chiang Mai prevented market traders from selling t-shirts featuring an illustration of a red buffalo standing on a cockroach. (UDD supporters are sometimes dismissed as buffalos, and the Democrat Party has been nicknamed 'the cockroach party'.)

On 19th November 2010, following continued unrest after the 2010 military massacre, Prayut Chan-o-cha (the current Prime Minister) issued an order banning any merchandise that might cause political conflict. As a result, several vendors were arrested for selling flip-flops bearing images of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Abhisit himself had not been not consulted on the order, and he publicly criticised it; Prayut rescinded it a week later.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

coup d'état

At 4pm today, the Thai military launched another coup. Army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha confirmed the coup in a live television announcement broadcast on all channels, and all civilian broadcasting has been suspended. A night-time curfew has been imposed. The constitution (itself drafted by the military following their previous coup) has been abrogated. Including today's takeover, there have been a dozen successful coups since Thailand's first constitution in 1932.

Since their declaration of martial law on Tuesday, the military had been acting as a mediator between the UDD, the PDRC, the Election Commission, Pheu Thai, and the Democrats, with representatives from each group meeting for negotiations at the Army Club in Bangkok. Prime Minister Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan did not attend the meeting, though Niwatthumrong, the cabinet, and former prime ministers Yingluck Shinawatra and Somchai Wongsawat have been ordered to report to army HQ.

This afternoon, Suthep Thaugsuban, Jatuporn Prompan, and other UDD and PDRC leaders were arrested during the Army Club negotiations. Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has also been detained. It's not clear whether the army launched the coup because the negotiations were not progressing, or whether the coup was premeditated and the negotiations were a pretext to detain the protest leaders. The UDD and PDRC protests have now been dissolved.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Quote of the day...

The Nation
Suthep Thaugsuban issued a threat to UDD protesters before the 2010 military massacre. Three years later, and Suthep is now attempting to "shut down Bangkok" using precisely the tactics that he formerly condemned.

In another example of hypocrisy, Suthep is campaigning against corruption despite his own reputation as a corrupt MP. Previous quotes of the day: the army chief on the GT200, a PAD leader says Thailand should be more like North Korea, the ICT Minister openly admits to violating the Computer Crime Act, and a patronising Ministry of Culture official.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Simple Truth

The Simple Truth
The Simple Truth (an English translation of the Thai ความจริงไม่มีสี) is Abhisit Vejjajiva's account of the 2009 and 2010 political protests in Thailand. Abhisit was Thai Prime Minister from the end of 2008 (when the Constitutional Court dissolved the ruling People Power Party) until 2011 (when he was defeated by Yingluck Shinawatra in a general election). His term of office was dominated by a series of protests by the UDD. These culminated in the massacre of May 2010, during which Abhisit authorised the use of lethal force by the army, and more than ninety people were killed.

The book begins with a foreword by Korn Chatikavanij, justifying the use of military force against the protesters though regretting that "over 90 soldiers, civilians and protesters died". (Note that he lists soldiers before protesters, implying that the army suffered the most casualties, when in fact less than 10% of the victims were soldiers.) Korn even claims that the army's use of live bullets was part of the UDD's strategy: "The rationale used by the protest organisers was that, for the government to lose, protesters must die. For that to happen, the army must be armed with real bullets. And for that to happen, the army must first be attacked with real weapons".

Abhisit constantly links the UDD protesters with violence and weapons. For instance: "People could have been injured or died. I could have been the first Thai Prime Minister to die on the road", "I came face-to-face with hysteria and blind hatred that could kill", "The Red Shirts were mobilising across the entire country, effectively calling for bloodshed", "I shudder to think what might have happened had they opened fire on the troops", and "men were entering the temple, perhaps even with arms and other weapons" [my italics]. Notice his subtle linguistic device: each reference to violence is speculative or hypothetical, a rhetorical association of the red-shirts with violence.

Abhisit attributes some of the casualties to 'black-shirt' snipers who allegedly infiltrated the protest sites: "On the evening of 10 April 2010, a black-clad militia with military assault weapons launched a brutal attack on peacekeeping forces, leaving both soldiers and protesters injured and killed". As for Black May itself, he is adamant that there was no military massacre: "one thing is clear: there was never a mass killing of 90 people as the Red Shirts keep claiming". He offers no alternative explanation for the extensive bloodshed, except for another hypothetical: "could it be that the armed militia... were continuing with their strategy to destabilise the government?"

He insists that he worked tirelessly for a peaceful outcome: "I can assure you that all of us - the government and the security forces - tried our best to prevent casualties". This, of course, is at odds with his decision to order soldiers to open fire on citizens of their own country. (In contrast, he accuses Somchai Wongsawat of a "brutal suppression of PAD protesters on 7th October 2008.") One wonders who Abhisit is trying to convince. His core supporters (middle-class Bangkokians) supported the military's actions all along, and he has no need to justify his actions to them. On the other hand, anyone sympathetic to the protesters would be alienated by Abhisit's constant demonisation of the UDD.

There are some appendices, including a bizarre analysis by Philip J Cunningham of a 2012 Abhisit interview. Abhisit was interviewed by the BBC's Mishal Husain, who questioned him about the Black May military massacre. (Dismissively, he told her: "unfortunately, some people died".) Cunningham uses most of his article to suggest others whom the BBC should also interrogate, such as Thaksin Shinawatra, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, and even Mark Thompson. When he does finally turn to the Abhisit interview directly, he claims that "Husain went after Mr Abhisit - battering him with rote questions, shouting down his soft-spoken voice, playing up the lurid aspects of the case". He paints Abhisit as a helpless victim, though Husain was asking pertinent questions about civilian casualties.

Monday, 31 May 2010

'Black May' 2010

CentralWorld
Bangkok is again recovering from the aftermath of a military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. A state of emergency was declared on 7th April and, three days later, the army opened fire on the UDD protesters who had gathered around Democracy Monument since March. Twenty-five people were killed.

The protesters then intensified their demonstrations, establishing city-centre protest camps at Siam Square and Sala Daeng. On 14th May, the camps were surrounded by armed soldiers, leading to a week of street battles between soldiers and protesters. Public transport in Bangkok remained closed throughout the week. The army fired live rounds, and the areas around the camps were designated as 'live-fire zones' by the army, with military snipers carrying out a shoot-to-kill policy. Thirty-nine people were killed.

On 19th May, armoured personnel carriers were dispatched to demolish the camp at Sala Daeng, and soldiers then began advancing on Siam Square. The protest leaders surrendered, and most protesters disbursed, though arsonists set fire to Siam Theatre, CentralWorld, and several other buildings. The King, who had intervened during the Black May massacre of 1992, made no statement. Even the Prime Minister remained at army HQ and made no public appearances.

A total of eighty-five people were killed, a death toll exceeding the most notorious military crackdowns in modern Thai history (October 1976 and May 1992). However, anti-UDD government propaganda (portraying the protesters as violent terrorists), and censorship of UDD media, have prevented a widespread public outcry against the military.

[A photograph of CentralWorld, depicting Ravinder Reddy's golden sculpture The Head and a torn Thai flag in front of the burning building, has become an iconic image of the massacre and its aftermath. It was taken by Adrees Latif for Reuters, and has been syndicated internationally; it appeared on the front page of The New York Times on 20th May.]

Monday, 22 March 2010

Democracy Monument

Democracy Monument
Democracy Monument
UDD protesters in Bangkok have painted pro-democracy images and slogans in blood, and wrapped the paintings around the city's Democracy Monument. At a UDD rally last week, thousands of UDD supporters donated 10cc of blood each, which was then symbolically poured onto the ground outside Government House and other political sites in Bangkok. (Government House was illegally occupied by the PAD in 2008.)

The current UDD campaign was launched after last month's seizure of Thaksin Shinawatra's assets by the Supreme Court. The protesters are also opposed to the 2007 constitution (drafted by the military), the 2006 coup (allegedly organised by the Privy Council), and the governing coalition (formed by the military following the dissolution of TRT and the PPP). Unlike the riots last year, the current UDD demonstrations are peaceful, despite scaremongering by Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban.

[Thai artists Pornprasert Yamazaki (Suicide Mind), Kosit Juntaratip, and Manit Sriwanichpoom (Flashback '76) have also used blood in their work. Kristian von Hornsleth collected Thai blood donations for his Deep Storage Art Project.]

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Monday, 13 April 2009

United front for Democracy
against Dictatorship

Two residents of Bangkok's Nang Loeng district have been shot dead by United front for Democracy against Dictatorship protesters. Residents in several districts, especially tenants in Din Daeng apartments, have clashed with the UDD in Bangkok today.

The red-shirted UDD movement originally prided itself on protesting peacefully and legally, in stark contrast to the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy. The UDD's demands (for the army and Privy Council to stay out of politics, for the violent PAD protesters to be prosecuted, for the reinstatement of the 1997 'people's constitution', and for a new general election) are justified, though of course they are likely to lose any public sympathy after the violence yesterday and today.

Early this morning, the army began advancing on a group of demonstrators at the Din Daeng intersection near Victory Monument, firing shots into the air from M16 rifles. After several hours, and dozens of injuries, the protesters dispersed. UDD leaders claimed that six protesters were killed, a rumour which Thaksin repeated in live CNN and BBC interviews this evening. Also on CNN, Thaksin pleaded for royal intervention: "I humbly urge His Majesty the King to intervene, please".

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in Bangkok yesterday, and the UDD reacted by raiding several government ministries and attacking the PM's car. Several buses and gas tankers have also been hijacked by UDD demonstrators.