Tag: thailand protests

Buffaloes, Crabs, Lizards: Thai protests October-November 2013



Thailand is a land in perpetual protest about, well, just about everything.  Thai protests bring new meaning to the expression “24/7” as their stages don’t stop at all during these protests.  It’s all day and all night talking, speaking, cajoling, screaming, singing.  Thailand also brings an entirely new meaning to the Occupy Movement where one doesn’t merely occupy a street or an area around a symbol of corruption—one actually occupies the symbol.  And of course a Thai occupation must be in style with proper protest food, music, and branding of all sorts: clappers, t-shirts, whistles, wristbands and the sort.  Profanity and politeness exist together closely at these protests with nasty graffiti about Yingluck and her brother, insults at police officers, the next minute it’s prayers and flowers for everyone.  Monitor lizards and buffaloes are seen all throughout the artwork.

Below are propaganda images from the anti-Thaksin protests:

At issue is a majority in parliament pursuing its interests over the will of the minority, corruption, and vote buying.  The commentariat has provided an array of perspectives from both sides.  Thai mainstream commentators from the English language press have offered much of the same in their treatment of Thaksin as an evil octopus with his tentacles reaching every part of the realm poisoning everything he touches.   The Nation’s Pornpimol Kanchanalak, editorialist and fugitive from American justice, weighed in.  In an editorial she lectured the Western media about the assumptions that cloud their understanding of Thai politics.  Ms. Kanchanalak discusses Thaksin Shinawatra’s role in Thai politics, conceding that Thaksin had his strengths:

“His adviser, Pansak Vinyarat, genuinely cared about the rural poor, and together they executed numerous populist policies and hand-outs, including the Bt1-million village fund, one village-one bicycle scheme, one village-one scholarship, one village-one buffalo, one village-one product, welfare housing, welfare taxis, and so on. Thaksin’s first year in office was his finest as a public servant. The rural poor looked to him as their saviour, someone who really cared. They knew they were only getting the “crumbs” of Thailand’s wealth, but at least they were getting something for a change.”

She then goes on to discuss where Thaksin went wrong when the lure of power and money blinded him.  She makes many allegations, but offers no evidence, save for this bit about specific jobs for Thaksin’s cronies:

“Please also look into those who occupy the boards of state enterprises. You will find plenty of red-shirt leaders, their families and cronies among them. And please take the time to read the well-researched accounts of just where the rivers of money have flowed from all the government subsidy programmes.”

Much is said about “corruption” but we see little evidence in the form of statistics, state jobs and political affiliation, or charts and graphs of where “populist” monies go.  Kanchanalak’s argument is thus dissipated.  Thailand could use some quality investigative journalism in this area.

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Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a professor at Kyoto University, offers a different point of view of the recent political turmoil:

“The Thai crisis has partly echoed the anxiety of the Bangkok elite as Thais are approaching the sunset of the Bhumibol reign. This shift of political landscape will cause an impact on their wealth and social status. The anxiety has served as a driving force behind the hatred campaign against Thaksin, seen as an adversary of the monarchy.”

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a moderate observer of Thai politics offers a middle path:

“In the future, the forces of elected power will have to show more integrity and policymaking skill. They will need to bolster the trust of voters and avoid abuses of power. The forces of appointed and unelected authority will have to come up with electoral legitimacy and policy delivery to cater to the vast majority of the electorate. They need to at least have a chance at triumphing at the polls.”

Lizzie Presser  offers a great view of a woman from Isan who has been helped by Thaksin’s programs.

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Yes, those are chopped off heads!

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1. Thai people pay tax so prostitute can have a holiday (criticizing her taking so many trips)

Red Shirt-Yellow Shirt—No Vision

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Red Shirts were out in force today commemorating the violent end to the protests two years ago.  It was nice to see all the madness again, everything red, the Isan music, the dancing, sleeping, the endless public speaking.  And as always so much said with the symbols. The man above was doing a piece of performance art about the deaths of Japanese cameraman Hiroyuki Muramoto and Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi both shot while covering the protests.  Little was written about how foolish both were in placing themselves in extremely dangerous areas during these protests.  Muramoto had no bullet proof vest and Polenghi wore exactly what he shouldn’t have worn: the color black and a motorcycle helmet, thus looking like a paramilitary operator the army was ready to shoot:

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My apologies to his family for showing this photo, but hopefully photojournalists covering wars and social upheaval abroad will take notice.  Notice too how is carrying some sort of black bag which could have been easily taken for explosives of some kind.  At least he was wearing a vest.  What a tragedy.

The Committee to Protect Journalists should spend some time teaching common sense.

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His street installation included the monitor lizard, a sniper rifle, and a likeness of a bloody victim of the violence inflicted upon protesters. To call someone a lizard (เหี้ย) in Thailand is a grave insult; we see political placards festooned with these lizards at many of the protests.  Perhaps I have become more aware of the cultural and political images and artifacts because I am unable to understand most of what is being said on stage.  I saw subversion everywhere.

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I continue to see images of King Taksin at these Red Shirt protests and have wondered why he is venerated by the Red Shirts.  I bumped into three monks right outside of the Amarin shopping complex at Ratchaprasong and they pointed out that his name was indeed similar to Thaksin.  King Taksin liberated Siam from the Burmese after the fall of Ayutthaya and united the country more than 200 years ago.  He moved the capital to Thonburi and spent much of his time fighting wars and expanding the Kingdom.  He was an excellent warrior and led from the front.  According to one scholar, he encouraged Chinese immigration who then became resented by the nobility of the old Ayutthaya.  Taksin’s death remains controversial.  The official story is that he had gone mad becoming a religious fanatic and thus executed to be succeeded by Buddha Yodfa Chulaoke, the founder of the Chakri dynasty.

I don’t know if these images of Taksin are a direct challenge to the Chakri dynasty.  And if so why?  Or perhaps he was a leader that Isan people more readily identify with.  Below is a shrine to Taksin that was at the 2010 Red Shirt protests:

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Nearby were a collection of photos of victims of the protests with no regard to the privacy of the victims or their families:

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Images from the ideological left:

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From left to right: Che Guevara, Agentine Marxist revolutionary; Surachai Saedan, leader of the communist Red Siam movement;  Pridi Banomyong, civilian leader of the overthrow of absolute monarchy in 1932; and Chit Phumisak, a communist who was killed by villagers after he had served six years in prison, and author of the controversial Faces of Thai Feudalism.  Surachai Saedan is currently in prison.

More food for thought below:

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Chairman Mao, Gandhi, and Karl Marx all make their appearances at these Red Shirt protests.  The protest literature that I have seen at these protests has been interesting to say the least.  And not just at Red Shirt protests.  Often contradictory messages are being conveyed which can be quite amusing.  I’ve seen book stands with pictures of all sorts of communist leaders and the image of the Thai King right above them.  Abraham Lincoln appears also, however mangled his eternal words.  From the 2010 protests:

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There’s something terribly poignant about some of the most powerful words from one’s own culture borrowed and placed in an entirely different context.  All culture is borrowed as Edward Said has always said.  Reading this poster one gets a sense of an emergent voice waking up.  Loved it when I first saw it.

If anything the communists had wonderful political art:

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 And of course the beloved Shinawatra’s are a ubiquitous presence at these Red Shirt gatherings:

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It has been interesting to observe the reaction of the Bangkok-based middle class to Yingluck.  The simple truth as far as I can sense is that they don’t find her nearly as scary as her brother, who was seen as disloyal to the King and shamelessly corrupt.  Yingluck has been an antidote to all of this with her quintessential Thai femininity; my guess is that Thai middle class women see a lot of themselves in her in her being a professional woman, mother, and dutiful daughter to that most sacred of institutions:

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For many Democrats I have spoken with Yingluck is simply not Prime Minister timber, with her English skills wanting and her background, both professionally and in terms of education, simply unfit for executive leadership.  Her honeymoon will be ending soon with her government’s support for an amnesty bill which will exonerate her brother.

Robert Amsterdam was in town at Ratchaprasong looking like he had just got off the third shift working the fry station at McDonald’s:


Lawyer for Thaksin and on retainer for numerous wealthy clients around the world, Amsterdam wore a proletarian red shirt and jeans speaking in the language of the oppressed, downtrodden, masses with his “my brothers and sisters” rhapsodizing like he was some Third World soul brother in a nation and culture he does not understand. Speaking on stage to a people he would merely peer at through tinted windows in his chauffeured BMW, he invoked Huey Long-like invective at Abhisit and the amaat.

It all seemed a bit much.

Not that having an international lawyer brought in to criticize a coup d’etat is wrong, but who is he to speak at Ratchaprasong? Very few foreigners have the right to speak on stage at such a gathering.  I was approached by some Red Shirts in 2010 to speak at a smaller gathering and simply declined because I just don’t think it’s my place as a foreigner to lecture to people of another culture about politics.  Other forums, such as an online blog, are more appropriate.

And of course he wouldn’t be Canadian if he didn’t bash America.  I always wait  for it.

Such is the behavior of a citizen of so inconsequential a nation having to forever live in the shadow of greatness.

Both sides of their problems needless to say.  The Red Shirts need an intellectual grounding that ties together the issues of inequality, the democratic aspects of Buddhism, and the role of monarchy in a constitutional monarchy within a Thai context.  The Yellow Shirts need put forth a vision where students debate and discuss how monarchy and democracy will exist together in Thailand in the future (respectfully).  Because there is no discussion, idiots reign supreme all over the internet debasing their revered Thai institution.  Red Shirts are spending too much time calling Abhisit a liar and condemning the Thai army for massacres.  Yellow Shirts are spending too much time hating Thaksin.  Both lack vision and if both had better clarity about the future of Thailand in regards to its central institutions, Thailand would be progressing politically.

Yellow Shirt Protest

Last Wednesday I stopped by the yellow shirt protest at the Royal Plaza and got to chatting with several of the protesters and as always it was an interesting experience.  There’s a visceral loathing of Thaksin in them and a profound fear of his returning to Thailand.  I have heard this before.  “He will return and crown himself king and turn Thailand into a republic,” one group of these yellow shirts said to me in her plastic sheet in a light drizzle.  “He’s Hitler!” another one said.  “All we have are stupid soap operas with women slapping each other across the face on TV now…Thailand is becoming capitalistic like America…the Red Shirts are not following the King’s sufficiency economic plan…”

Evidently these protesters are unaware of Obama’s Communist healthcare program.

Unfortunately I can’t share any photos as my backpack was stolen right out from under me in a tuk tuk by a motorcycle thief.  Perhaps I’ll add blog post about thieves on motorcycles later.

From today’s Bangkok Post:

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