Tag Archives: monuments

The desperation of Thailand’s Rabid Royalist Generals

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In 2017 I wrote that the Thai military junta was in the process of changing their relationship with the monarchy after the death of Pumipon [see https://bit.ly/2U73qEP and https://bit.ly/2Rwh8iO ].

I argued that the new king Wachiralongkorn was not fit for purpose and the military would be relying much more on its “National Strategy” for Guided Democracy, which was being elevated into a “sacred” ideology to enforce a conservative agenda upon all areas of society. I also argued that the new monarchy in the form of Wachiralongkorn would be less important for the junta and its conservative allies in the future.

Three years later, events have shown that things are more complicated.

Firstly, the “National Strategy”, which was basically a weapon to control any future elected civilian governments, turned out to be not so important because Prayut and his junta friends managed to fix the electoral rules and ensure that they stayed in power after the sham elections. The National Strategy has probably been put on the back-burner but could be used in the future.

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Secondly, Wachiralongkorn is still clearly not fit for purpose and is very unpopular due to his appalling behaviour [see https://bit.ly/37Ci62S ]. There have been some feeble attempts to “soften” the image of the present king by much less use of the lèse-majesté law and announced measures to reduce traffic jams due to traffic being stopped when various royals travel by car. But instead of the lèse-majesté law, the government have been using the computer crimes law.

It is impossible for the military to come out with believable “wise” quotes or policies to solve national problems in the way they did with his father. Yet, the military have not abandoned or reduced the importance of the institution of the monarchy as a tool to prop-up the military intervention in politics and the rule of the elites. Despite the fact that Wachiralongkorn, as a person, is not exactly the same as the institution of the monarchy, they are closely linked and any attempt to uncouple the two will result in huge contradictions. Never the less, the more rabid royalist military generals are hoping that they can promote the importance of the monarchy while trying to ignore Wachiralongkorn.

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picture from khaosodenglish

One symptom of this policy by the rabid royalist generals is the continuing attempt to erase all monuments which remind us of the 1932 revolution against the absolute monarchy. See https://bit.ly/2Rzm7Q0  and https://bit.ly/2GB4B7n . Various democracy monuments have been removed and the latest acts involve removing statues from military camps of some generals who helped lead the revolution. Field Marshall Pibun is one of the victims. But we do not have to be too concerned about him as he had fascist leanings! [See https://bit.ly/36Ax8Vt ].

Another symptom is the fact that people are being accused of not being loyal to the “Democratic System with the King as Head of State”. This kind of charge was unsuccessfully made against the Future Forward Party.

Fear of the consequences of a charge of not being loyal to the “Democratic System with the King as Head of State” is being used to beat people into being subservient to the present military government.

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It would be a mistake to think that Wachiralongkorn is pulling the strings behind these policies, as some misguided commentators believe. It is the military who are in the driving seat and Wachiralongkorn is manipulated by them [see https://bit.ly/2EOjsNL ].

Make no mistake, this military government, which is based on its parliamentary dictatorship, is a vicious, backward and incompetent regime without any democratic legitimacy. It cannot solve the problem of terrible air pollution and spends its time harassing people organising peaceful demonstrations. In addition to this it allows state officials who have committed murder to enjoy impunity. The latest case involves those who are responsible for the murder of the Karen environmental activist “Billy” [see https://bit.ly/2uBbsLF ].

Pro-democracy activists in Thailand will need to build a mass movement that challenges military rule and attempts to use the monarchy as a tool of terror. Hopefully, Wachiralongkorn’s behaviour and unpopularity will cause the project of the Rabid Royalist Generals to unravel. But there also needs to be a strong push from below.

 

Monument Wars #2

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In 2017 I wrote an article about “Monument Wars” after the disappearance of the metal plaque celebrating the 1932 revolution against the king. The latest casualty is the Lak-Si Democracy Monument, north of Bangkok, which commemorates the military victory against the Boworadet royalist rebellion one year after the revolution. This monument was removed at night, under the watchful eyes of soldiers, in late December. A democracy activist who took pictures of the removal on his phone had his phone confiscated for 24 hours by police.

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The history of the crushing of the royalist rebellion shows why the royalists wish to destroy the monument. In 1932 Prince Boworadet assembled rebel soldiers at Korat ready to move down by train to attack Bangkok and restore the power of the monarchy. The royalists spread propaganda that the government, and especially Pridi Panomyong, were communists who wanted to establish a republic. The rebels planned to assassinate leaders of the People’s Party when they entered Bangkok.

As soon as news of the royalist rebellion reached Bangkok, many citizens volunteered to form an army to fight off the rebellion and defend the constitution. Military reservists started reporting for duty even though the government had not yet issued any orders to report. Civilians also volunteered to help the police in intelligence gathering about those involved with the royalist rebellion. Boy scouts reported for duty to help keep the peace in the capital city and they also played an important role in supplying government troops with ammunition and other essentials. Trade unionists were prominent in volunteering to fight against the rebellion. Workers from munitions factories, aircraft maintenance workers, Siam Cement workers, boatmen, taxi drivers and railway maintenance workers at the Makasan repair shop, all expressed enthusiasm to join the fight against the royalists. This fight ended in defeat for the royalists and forever ended their dreams of restoring the absolute monarchy. [See https://bit.ly/2uXDfAT ].

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Historians have described the importance of monuments in modern day to day political struggles. This is part of what Gramsci would have called “the War of Position”. It is an ideological war between different sides or classes. The recent disappearance of the metal plaque celebrating the 1932 revolution and the removal of the Lak Si monument are part of this war.

The fact that these monuments were removed while leading members of the junta and various authorities all deny knowledge or responsibility, raises some interesting questions. Those who have questioned these acts have been harassed by the police and military.

A study of the works of Thai historians shows that the Democracy Monument, in the centre of Bangkok, is also part of the continuing Monument War. The Democracy Monument was in fact built by the military dictator Pibun in the 1930s as an anti-royalist monument. Pibun was a nationalist republican who favoured dictatorship over democracy. The monument was built in the middle of the “King’s Avenue”, a bit like giving the “middle finger” to the monarchy. It is worth visiting this monument to look at the modernist imagery which does not contain a single reference to the monarchy.

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The Democracy Monument in Bangkok is interesting because it shows that through popular struggle the meaning of monuments can change. Ever since the days of the royalist dictator Sarit, who overthrew Pibun, Thai citizens have seen this monument as a symbol of democracy. So far no dictatorship has ever dared to demolish it because of the strength of the democratic ideology among Thai people.

When Sarit came to power, he promoted King Pumipon in order to give himself more legitimacy and power. He never had any intention of giving Pumipon any power and Pumipon was never powerful. We need to remember that “political power” is concrete. It determines social and economic policies and international relations. Neither Pumipon nor his idiot son have or have ever had this kind of power.

Conservatives have constantly tried to cover up and dismiss the history of the 1932 revolution. That is why most Thais probably have never heard of the 1932 plaque or the Lak-Si monument. That is also why the conservatives built the moment of the deposed king Rama 7 in front of the present parliament after the 6th October bloodbath in 1976. It is like building a monument to King George in front of the US Congress!

In this Monument War, the progressives have fought back by building monuments to those who were killed by the military in 1973 and 1976. The latter monument is inside Thammasart University, which is also the location for a monument to Pridi Panomyong, founder of the People’s Party and a key leader of the 1932 revolution.

This is truly a “Monument War” in Thailand’s War of Position.

Monument Wars

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Many historians have described the importance of monuments in modern day to day political struggles. This is part of what Gramsci would have called “the War of Position”. It is an ideological war between different sides or classes. The recent disappearance of the metal plaque celebrating the 1932 revolution against the king is part of this war.

The plaque was removed in secret sometime in April this year and replaced with what can only be described as a ridiculous right-wing pro-monarchist “drain cover”.

The fact that the monument was removed, while leading members of the junta and various authorities all deny knowledge or responsibility, raises some interesting questions. Those who have questioned the whereabouts of the plaque have also been detained by the military for “attitude changing sessions”.

A study of the works of Thai historians shows that the Democracy Monument, in the centre of Bangkok, is also part of the continuing Monument War. The Democracy Monument was in fact built by the military dictator Pibun in the 1930s as an anti-royalist monument. Pibun was a nationalist republican who favoured dictatorship over democracy. The monument was built in the middle of the “King’s Avenue”, a bit like giving the “middle finger” to the monarchy. It is worth visiting this monument to look at the modernist imagery which does not contain a single reference to the monarchy.

Pibun also built a huge nationalistic monument in Ayuttaya in the shape of the old provincial administration centre and the clumsy “restoration” of three pagodas. The old provincial administration centre has statues of past kings, much like the king statues built by the Burmese junta or statues of past kings built by modern day despots in former Soviet republics. Neither Pibun nor the Burmese junta nor the despots of former Soviet republics wanted a return to the days of monarchy.

The Democracy Monument in Bangkok is interesting because it shows that through popular struggle the meaning of monuments can change. Ever since the days of the royalist dictator Sarit, who overthrew Pibun, Thai citizens have seen this monument as a symbol of democracy. No dictatorship has ever dared to demolish it because of the strength of the democratic ideology among Thai people. In fact all these dictatorships, including the present Prayut junta, have all had to claim that they are “democratic”. None have dared to openly celebrate dictatorship over democracy.

When Sarit came to power, he promoted King Pumipon in order to give himself more legitimacy and power. He never had any intention of giving Pumipon any power and Pumipon was never powerful. We need to remember that “political power” is concrete. It determines social and economic policies and international relations. Neither Pumipon nor his idiot son have or have ever had this kind of power.

Lak-Si

The 1932 revolution plaque was and still remains an anti-monarchy symbol, like the monument at Lak-Si, north of Bangkok, which commemorates the military victory against the royalist rebellion just after the revolution. At one time Sarit ordered the removal of the 1932 plaque, but it was returned to its original setting after his death. However, the conservatives have also tried to cover up and dismiss the history of the 1932 revolution. That is why most Thais probably have never heard of the 1932 plaque or the Lak-Si monument. That is also why the conservatives built the moment of the deposed king Rama 7 in front of the present parliament after the 6th October bloodbath in 1976. It is like building a monument to King George in front of the US Congress!

In this Monument War, the progressives fought back by building monuments to those who were killed by the military in 1973 and 1976. The latter monument is inside Thammasart University, which is also the location for a monument to Pridi Panomyong, founder of the People’s Party and a key leader of the 1932 revolution.

There are the usual conspiracy theorists who make up ridiculous stories about how King Wachiralongkorn ordered the removal of the 1932 revolution plaque. It is likely that the intellectually challenged new king was not aware until recently of the existence of this plaque.

Now a member of a strange right-wing sect called the “Smarn Si Ngarm Group” has claimed responsibility for removing the plaque. We shall have to see whether this is true or not. The “Smarn Si Ngarm Group” evolved from an earlier group set up by Communist Party turn-coat Prasert Supsuntorn. Prasert Supsuntorn joined with the military in opposing the CPT’s armed struggle. He then became a royalist. He and Smarn Si Ngarm use the language of the Left to promote pro-military ideology and royalism. Using secret funds from the military, they tried to spread their ideas among trade unionists and other political activists. They even provided some generals like Chawalit Yongjaiyut with “political education”.

But more importantly, we must not forget that for ten years now, the royalist anti-democrats have acted to destroy the democratic system and invite the military to take power. They acted on their own initiative, but the military was happy for the excuse to stage two coups. These fanatical royalist also threatened to take away the 1932 revolution plaque, especially after pro-democracy activists started to hold small ceremonies around the plaque coinciding with an increasing republican political mood in society. This is truly a “Monument War” in the War of Position.