Festivals for sharing, not for sale

Numnual  Yapparat

There was an absurd piece of news late last month about the Songkran Festival. Some people have raised their concern that Singapore is competing with Thailand to organise the Songkran Festival. Tourists might choose to visit Singapore instead!

The “Songkran-Nationalists” suggested that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) should apply for a copyright for the Songkran Festival. There has been much discussion in a well-known web board for a while. Not all people agreed with applying for a copyright for the Songkran Festival. Some of them also asked whether we should stop celebrating the Christmas, Valentine and Halloween festivals. The TAT office came out to calm down the debate by saying that they did not have the power to apply for such a copyright. Fortunately the TAT explained Songkran is a common festival in South East Asia as well as some parts of South Asia. “Songkran” itself is a Sanskrit word. This is a good example of why we should oppose nationalist propaganda.

Thai people have been bombarded with invented facts about our own history. The ruling class regard neighbouring counties with contemp. They unconvincingly portray Thai royal ancestors as brave and wise, while painting a picture of the rulers of Burma or Cambodia as barbaric and cowardly. Therefore, the story goes, Thailand could stay gloriously independent, whereas our neighbours became western colonies. However, progressive historians try to encourage students to study our own history by comparing the facts from different point of view, including Burmese and Cambodian accounts.

Not only do reactionary people not study international history or current affairs, but they also shamelessly claim that Thailand “owned” large parts of neighbouring countries. I believe that many readers might experience some Thais trying to shut out different views by arguing that Thailand is “unique” and therefore we cannot make any international comparisons. Unsurprisingly, some of them are awfully prejudiced and stupid, claiming that foreigners can never understand Thailand.

How are we celebrating Songkran these days? Mostly, people just have fun with it by playing with water. Lots of workers take the chance to go back home to their villages because of the long holiday. Thai authorities use Songkran to promote tourism, like at Kao Sarn Road in Bangkok. The ugly face of Songkran is that some men take this festival as a golden opportunity to harass women. We need to promote sexual equality, mutual respect and freedom without falling into the trap of adopting conservative morals.

The ruling class love to control women and claim to be our moral defenders. In 2011, there were drunken girls who had a topless dance on a car in public. The media and the authorities condemned their behaviour hysterically. They accused the young girls of destroying Thai tradition. Yet, the elites own and control strip bars where women are exploited on the very same street. In the previous year many red shirts were killed by the military and the anti-Democrat Party because they demanded democratic elections. But in this case the media and those moralists in power stayed silent. Hypocrisy is the dominant traditional culture among our rulers!

Painting by Sompop Budtarad