Tag Archives: Nationalism

Repression, Nationalism, Racism & anti-women: Thailand’s Parliamentary Dictatorship

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

It is difficult to spot the difference between one year ago under the rule of the military junta, and today under the rule of the military Parliamentary Dictatorship. In fact the only difference is that after the fixed elections earlier this year, the junta is using parliament as a fig-leaf for the continued dictatorship.

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Following the brilliant ant-junta protests a week ago, the police have filed charges against the organisers of the peaceful and legitimate protests in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. This is yet another example of the continued repression against the right to protest. It is hoped that any prosecutions will be met with an escalation of action on the streets.

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To prove who is really in charge, the Ministry of Defence has come out and condemned these pro-democracy protests. This again highlights the militarisation of Thai society and politics which has been going on since the 2014 coup.

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Added to this is the ridiculous accusations of lèse majesté by ultra-conservatives against people posting pictures of the protests with posters of the dead king in the background. These anti-democratic dinosaurs wish to make previous monarchs into holy relics. Yet, the individual most responsible for bringing the institution of the monarchy into disrepute, in the eyes of Thai citizens, is the present king Wachiralongkorn.

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This is due to his debauched life-style in Germany, his insulting behaviour towards women and his never-ending greed. This is why the Thai ruling class need to keep putting up posters of his dead father in their desperate attempt to prop up royalism.

The junta is trying to stir up racism and nationalism to deflect attention away from the lack of democracy and the deteriorating standard of living for most Thais. The Parliamentary Junta’s aristocratic Minister of Labour has been mouthing off about the need to arrest so-called illegal migrants who he accuses of “stealing jobs from Thais”. This is an age-old process of racist scape-goating. It is never true. Migrant workers fill low income and dirty-job niches vacated by locals. The Thai economy would be in a serious state without migrant workers.

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Rescuers carry body of civilian killed by military rangers

In Patani, the hated military rangers have murdered three innocent civilians in the province of Naratiwat. The rangers planted weapons and ammunition around the corpses and tried unsuccessfully to claim that those killed were insurgents. Eventually the military were forced to admit this and issued an “apology”. But that is not good enough. The rangers are hated and feared by local Malay Muslims for their trigger-happy and racist behaviour. The situation is made worse by having a military national government and by the deep racism and nationalism supported by the Thai ruling class. Peace can only be achieved if the military are forced to withdraw from Patani and national politics and citizens are able to exercise self-determination.

Thailand is one of the most unequal societies in the world. This is due to the monopoly of power by the conservative elites. Yet the present military government has defined women’s sanitary towels as “luxury” items for tax purposes. Women’s sanitary products are more expensive in relation to Thai incomes than in Western societies. This injustice has quite rightly caused a storm of indignation on social media. Sanitary products for women should be supplied free of charge as a necessary service to all women. They are not things that women can choose to buy or not to buy.

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As we turn the corner to 2020, it is to be hoped that the level of protests against the Parliamentary Junta will increase and the military will be forced out of politics. For that to happen it will take organisation.

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Military Party MP makes racist remark in parliament and gets away with it.

Krung Srivilai, former B-movie actor, and now MP for the Military Party, made a racist comment in parliament about Rangsiman Rome, Future Forward Party MP.

Krung Srivilai referred to Rangsiman Rome’ mixed heritage in a derogatory manner.

No one objected and the Speaker did not demand an apology or ask the racist to leave the meeting. Yet another opposition MP was expelled from the parliament for merely saying that Prayut had fixed the election, which is true.

This is just another symptom of how deeply ingrained racism is in Thai society.

The Thai State cares little about ordinary people

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Now that we have heard the good news about the successful recue of the young football team from the cave, we are in a position to draw some serious lessons from this event and also from the tragedy of the sinking of a tourist boat off the southern island of Puket, where a number of people drowned. We should also not forget the death of a Thai diver during the cave rescue operation.

There are three important lessons which I wish to discuss.

Firstly, safety standards for ordinary citizens and visitors to Thailand are extremely poor. We must not blame the football coach or the parents of the football team who got stuck in the cave. They have suffered enough and are clearly in a position to learn lessons. It is about collective responsibility in society for safety standards, not about the actions of an individual. The political situation in Thailand means that the Thai State has never given priority to the safety of citizens. There are few regulations and enforcement is lax. In the West adults who take children on outdoor activities have to be fully trained and have to follow strict guidelines. Access to places like caves which are liable to dangerous flooding would be strictly controlled.

Transport safety standards in Thailand are extremely bad. The tourist boat that sank off Puket put out to sea in storm conditions. There seems to have been little coordination between the harbour authorities and the meteorological office. There were no strict enforcement of safety standards for different sized boats and the greedy tour operators were allowed to get away with murder, literally. This is similar to the total lack of safety standards for road transport, where unacceptably high accident rates occur during public holidays due to a lack of good public transport and long working hours with few days off for many working people. Instead of the police trying to ensure safe travelling all the year round, many motorists experience being stopped by corrupt police in order to collect illegal payments.

The Thai State cares little about the safety of ordinary citizens, children, tourists, or workers in construction and manufacturing industry. It is a state which is blatantly run by and on behalf of the upper classes. It is only through pressure from trade unions and social movements that this situation can change.

Secondly, the Thai State has neglected the creation of rescue organisations and other types of infrastructure to protect citizens. Thailand needs a properly organised emergency service throughout the country, including rescue teams. The use of soldiers, who are not properly trained for such duties, is just not good enough. These teams need to be locally based, properly funded and they need to be civilian organisations run by experienced permanent crew. Instead, we still see emergency ambulances, where they exist, stuck in traffic with no one clearing the way for them. In contrast, we see much police activity to clear the way for various royals and big-shots when they want to travel.

The neglect by the Thai State of the rights of citizens to enjoy high standards of safety and decent government services is due to decades of military rule and/or rule by the elites, with little political input from below. The Left and the trade unions are still too weak. This is why Thailand still does not have a welfare state funded by progressive taxation of the rich and large corporations.

Many have rightly praised the role of the governor of Chiang Rai. But the elite and hierarchical nature of society meant that he had to start his press statement by praising the king and the fact that the royals had somehow shown great concern for the safety of the football team. The genuine concern shown by millions of people in Thailand and other countries was just ignored. It should be emphasised repeatedly that the efforts of hundreds of ordinary volunteers was crucial. Needless to say, the king did not fly in and roll up his sleeves to help with the rescue work!

Thirdly, there is the role of Nationalism in Thai society, fostered by the elites. The “Nation, Religion and Monarchy” ideology is constantly used to exclude people and to enforce obedience towards the upper classes. This has resulted in many racist comments in social media about the drowned Chinese tourists and the Chinese tour operator. Ordinary Thai citizens may count for nothing as far as the Thai State is concerned, but foreigners count for even less as far as the racists are concerned. [See https://bit.ly/1JaeTJY  ]. In addition to this, there are thought to be a million or more stateless people living in Thailand. The Thai government has refused to grant them citizenship. Some of these stateless people were among the members of football team stuck in the cave. One of them was the one with the best language skills who was able to communicate with the British divers. We need to demand that all stateless people be granted citizenship.

Those who support the junta and its plan for Guided Democracy have said that the spirit of cooperation shown in the rescue of the football team proves that Thais can unite across political differences and no doubt forget the destruction of democracy. But for me, the spirit of cooperation shown during the cave rescue shows the potential to build a new and inclusive society in Thailand based upon democracy, equality and socialism.

Ayuttaya was a multicultural trading city

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In South-East Asia the process of nation building occurred in the mid nineteenth century. It involved centralisation of the polity, the drawing up of national boundaries and enforced unity, often based on a single national language. The catalyst for this process was Western imperialism and this nation building took place, both in the European colonies, such as Malaya, Indonesia and Indo-China, and also in Thailand. Before this process was completed there was no such thing as “Thailand”. The country was created to defend the interests of the rulers of Bangkok in the face of competition from the West. Bangkok became the centre of a new local imperialist nation in its own right.

Naturally, an important part of this nation building process was the creation of “national myths”. In Thailand, the nationalist discourse claims that all Thais are ethnically pure and indivisible. Myths are also associated with nationalist “monuments”. An important nationalist monument in Thailand is the ruined city of Ayuttaya. This was a favourite location for the ultra-nationalist dictator Field Marshal Plaek Pibun-Songkhram. Not only did he order the construction of the fascist-style provincial headquarters of Ayuttaya, with an architectural style similar to the Democracy Monument and the Central Post Office in Bangkok, but he very crudely “restored” three prominent pagodas in a key temple. Army recruits and school children are brought here to marvel at the “greatness of Thailand”. The Ayuttaya provincial headquarters built by Pibun is now a museum. But on the outside of the building are grotesque statues of former military heroes.

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The military juntas in Burma and Thailand have taken the building of statues to military heroes to new heights.

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A study of history and a visit to Ayuttaya soon dispels the nationalist myths. Ayuttaya was an important trading city with sea links to other areas of South-East Asia, but also to Europe, the Middle-East, China and Japan.

There are archaeological sites of Japanese and Portuguese settlements. Portuguese mercenaries fought for the king against the “Burmese”. The Portuguese were also partly responsible for introducing a number of important South American food plants to the area, such as chillies, papaya, sweet corn and tomatoes. Before that, “Som-Tum” either did not exist, or it was made with unripe local fruits like mangoes. The only “fire” in the local cuisine would have come from peppercorns.

In the Ayuttaya museum, we see that trading contact with England came to a temporary halt around 1640; the year when England’s bourgeois revolution took place. The rising capitalist established a short-lived republic under Cromwell after beheading King Charles I.

However, the most interesting fact about Ayuttaya was that the official language on the trading docks was Chinese and Malay. People obviously spoke many languages, just like in other old cities around the world. The local population was clearly very ethnically and culturally diverse.

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Sheikh Ahmad

A visitor to Ayuttaya would be well advised to spare a few moments to visit the local teachers’ training college, near the old provincial headquarters. Inside the campus of this college is a Muslim tomb. It is the tomb of the chief port official of Ayuttaya who dealt with trade from Europe, India and the Middle-East. He is the primary ancestor of the powerful and aristocratic Bunnag family. Sheikh Ahmad was a Persian merchant, a native of Qom in Safavid Iran, south of Tehran, who settled in Ayuttaya around 1600. He was also appointed to oversee the affairs of all Shiites in Siam.

So much for the purity of the “Thai” heritage!

Junta whips up nasty nationalism

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

In an attempt to prove itself to be even more repressive and “manly” Prayut’s vile military junta is playing the nationalistic and racist card.

Hundreds of thousands of workers from Cambodia and Burma are being persecuted and driven out of the country. As usual the junta claims they are “cracking down” on “illegal” workers. But the Thai ruling class has long used a hypocritical and repressive policy towards workers from neighbouring countries.

On the one hand, important sections of the Thai economy are reliant on cheap unskilled labour. This demand is met by migrant workers from Cambodia and Burma who do the dirty, dangerous and low paid jobs in sweatshops, agriculture and fisheries. Migrant workers also work in the catering industry and as domestic workers. Thai workers, who have developed more skills and are better educated, are no longer prepared to endure such poor working conditions. They work in higher paid, higher skilled jobs. Some Thai workers also become migrants themselves, working in Taiwan, Korea or the middle-east.

There is no question that the Thai economy and Thai capitalists need migrant workers from Cambodia and Burma and to throw them all out on a permanent basis would create an economic crisis. But the junta are just playing with peoples’ lives to make them nationalist and racist scape-goats. Soon they will return because they are desperate for work and the employers are desperate for labour.

Intermittent crack downs on “illegal” workers, together with cruel and pretend schemes to “register” foreign workers legally, is a long used tactic to keep migrant workers in a constant state of fear and illegality. The registration process is too difficult and costly for most migrants. This helps to keep down wages, prevents the formation of trade unions and also acts as an obstacle to unity between Thai and migrant workers. This is especially important in factories which employ a core permanent workforce of Thai workers alongside casual contract migrant workers.

Police and gangsters also benefit because they can demand bribes and vicious employers can often deny full payment of wages.

While playing this racist card against migrants in a pathetic attempt to win domestic support, the junta is also trying to promote a nationalist film about King Naresuan who led a victorious battle against the Burmese during the Ayuttaya period. Naresuan is portrayed as a “Thai nationalist hero” who defeated the Burmese King while riding an elephant. Free tickets to the cinema have been given out as part of the junta’s “happiness programme”. What next? Perhaps they’ll give the population free tickets to boxing matches or even gladiator fights to the death, Roman style! You can see how the military despise ordinary people. But this will never be enough to make the army popular.

The Naresuan story is just pure fiction anyway. No such thing as the Thai nation existed in the Ayuttaya period, Naresuan’s father collaborated with the Burmese kings as part of an internal power struggle, and most ordinary surfs who were forced to fight in various wars loathed and hated their exploitative masters who lived off their backs and stole their daughters.

It seems to have escaped the junta that Taksin’s popularity was based on real policies like the universal health care scheme, job creation and modernisation of infrastructure. Free tickets to the cinema and vicious racist gimmicks don’t come anywhere near to matching this.