Tag: Yingluck

Protest culture: June ’12 – July ’13

More protest culture examined (thank you Gigi for your translation!) at this recent protest at Sanam Luang (สนามหลวง) with its melange of anti-government groups lingering on this royal cremation ground where kings and queens and other highly born have been burned since the time of King Rama I.  Where else but at a protest in Thailand would we see such a syncretic display of resentment against the powers that be.  From free haircuts to a Siamese King’s interpretation of an English poet’s war poem to the basest of insults, to masked allusions to a 17th century English rebel.

Yingluck’s speech in Mongolia  back in April at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies enraged many ultra royalists.  Her money quote:

“This is because there are people in this world who do not believe in democracy. They are ready to grab power and wealth through  suppression of freedom.  This means that they are willing to take advantage of other people without respecting human rights and liberties.  They use force to gain submission and abuse the power.”

Thanong Khanthong is the oracle of the mystical Siam and offers a poetic way out of the troubles in Thailand.


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“Donation point: central cooking.”

If there is a protest in Thailand there is going to be protest cuisine to be sure. Both Napolean’s army and Thai protesters march on their stomachs.

“Your brother’s fault—you see a mountain
your fault—it’s the hair on your arm
your brother farts—sewage
you fart—a flower
virtue is not for sale— it comes from within.”

Citizen poetry loosely translated.

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“What do you think?  How do we solve the nation’s problem together?”

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“The Cremation Area Salon: Free Barber Gentlemen & Ladies”

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“Travel from afar to save the Kingdom.

At this moment only our power can save our land.”

A poem is also shown:

“Come and protest with us and if you die you are a soldier.

You will have paid back something to the country.”

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A translation of excerpts from William Wordworth’s “The Character of the Happy Warrior” (1806) commemorating the famous British naval commander Horatio Nelson’s death in the Battle of Trafalgar.  King Bhumipol’s translates the English into a Thai poetic version.  A translation below:

“Who is the happy Warrior…

That every man in arms would wish to be?

—It is the generous spirit…

Who, doomed to go in company with Pain,

And Fear, and Bloodshed…

Turns his necessity to glorious gain…

And in himself possess his own desire…

And therefore does not stoop, nor lie in wait

For wealth, or honors, or for worldly state…

And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law

In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw.”

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A group from southern Isan pleading for people to come and “volunteer to protect Thailand.”

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Gotmai (means law, but with the final consonant absent means dog law, an insult.)

“We don’t use yaw yak (Thai consonant) because the government uses the dog law to rule the country.  Dumb people are dogs who take money.”

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Donation boxes: donate and  get dvd’s of political propaganda.

“Sign to show you don’t support decision of world court.” (Regarding World Court’s decision about Preah Vihear.)

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“His ancestors were water monitor lizards.”

This piece of post modern art is referring to none other than Plodprasop Suraswadi, a Deputy Prime Minister, known for his nuanced bedside manner in dealing with opponents, various environmental groups, who he described as ai hia, water monitor lizards.  He later apologized.

I don’t know why this monitor lizard is the Thai patron saint of assholes, but I will certainly try to get to the bottom of this.

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“Our country is not a toy, Mr Taksin, it’s not something you can play with…”

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“The government fund is to steal (gin: eat)

The country is for sale

The law is for breaking

Our votes are bought

Media is for propaganda

Democracy is a facade.”


More images below from the anti-government rally back in November:




Below editorial cartoons from the Thai newspaper Manager last November translated by 2Bangkok.com:

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“Thaksin Shinawatra says to his sister: Stuff in as much as you can, Nong Daw. Don’t worry about those who are making noise outside. So long as we have these 15 million buffaloes to prevent them, we can keep stuffing ourselves… ”


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On shirts of the men: Taxpayers
Man on the left: Let’s go to the King Rama V ground tomorrow.
Man on the right: I surely am going!!!
Caption: After 1 year of suppression… they start to find a way out.
[Red buffaloes refer to Red Shirt group’s supporters who have benefited from the government’s populist policies. This cartoon encourages people to join the November 24 protest to stand up against government policies to benefit the Red Shirts.]


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In the U.S. President Barack Obama’s hand reads: Thaa
President Obama: I don’t want it… But she forced it [into my hand].
Caption: A souvenir from Yingluck
[At Obama’s side is the U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. On the rear building’s ladder are Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Foreign Minister Surapong Towichakchaikul. The point being made is that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ‘gave thaa’ or ‘hai thaa’ to President Obama. ‘Hai thaa’ in Thai is saying means ‘flirting’ or ‘seductive.’ Like other women who dare to present themselves in a prominent way in the Thai world, Yingluck is criticized for being flirtatious.]


Below a montage of the red shirt protest in June 2012.  Notice their own use of the monitor lizard and water buffalo.  A few royalist counter protestors thrown in for good measure:

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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