Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The recent events in Catalonia throw up some similarities and lessons for understanding the struggle of the people of Patani. The independence movements in Catalonia and Patani both deserve our support and solidarity.
In both cases, a conservative constitution rules out the democratic right of self-determination for peoples in different regions. The Spanish constitution, which was drawn up by many of Franco’s nationalist supporters after his death, stipulates that the Spanish state is indivisible. For many people living in Catalonia and the Basque country, the unitary Spanish state was imposed upon them by force. In the years of the Franco fascist dictatorship their local languages were also banned. We have just seen the brutal violence of the national police and the hated Guardia civil in trying to prevent voting in the referendum and the Spanish king also went on television to condemn Catalan independence.
In Thailand, the first constitution, which was written under the guidance of Pridi Panaomyong immediately after the 1932 revolution, did not stipulate that Thailand was a unitary and indivisible state. Pridi even supported a level of autonomy for the Muslim Malays of Patani. But successive right-wing military dictators inserted the clause about an indivisible state in all subsequent constitutions. The formation of the Thai state was carried out using military force and an agreement with the British to carve up the independent state of Patani. The Thai state has also systematically tried to suppress the local Malay language in Patani and used brute force to enforce its rule. The Thai Queen is also on record as saying that she wished she could pick up a gun to fight against the Patani separatists.
The current Catalan government has introduced measures against evictions and energy poverty; a ban on fracking; a tax on nuclear power; a law promoting women’s equality at work and against sexual harassment; a ban on bullfighting… All of these measures have been overturned by the Spanish Constitutional Court.
In Thailand the Constitutional court has been used to axe progressive infrastructure improvements and to sack democratically elected governments
In recent years those who wish to see an independent Patani state have mainly resorted to taking up arms against the Thai state. This is quite understandable given the level of repression. A recent example of such repression is the massacre at Tak Bai in 2004.
In contrast, the recent independence struggle in Catalonia has taken the form of a mass movement, including organised labour. The mass of the population turned out to defend polling stations and dockers, fire fighters and other workers staged actions in support, including the general strike to protest against police violence.
In terms of the power to challenge the state, the Catalan mass movement is much more powerful than the armed struggle in Patani. Of course the small population in Patani and the low level of unionisation means that the struggle in Patani cannot copy the exact tactics from Catalonia. However, an emphasis on building a mass social movement and on attempting to win solidarity for their demands in other areas of the Thai state would be much more productive than the current armed struggle. Linking up with those who are opposed to the Thai military junta would also be vital. This would mean that those seeking independence for Patani should view ordinary Thai citizens as potential allies and ordinary Thai citizens need to be encouraged to support the people of Patani rather than listening to islamophobic politicians and priests. Progressive Thais need to oppose Thai nationalism and the current clause in the constitution about an indivisible Thai state. To achieve this we need to build a left-wing party. The present situation means that this will not be achieved easily in the short term but there is no objective reason why it cannot be done in the longer term.