No one truly reasonable can argue that Thammasat University law lecturer and spokesperson of the Nitirat group Worachet Pakeerat isn’t right when he says “people who talk about the institution in a contemptuous or offensive way will be punished, but we need to amend the law so these people receive reasonable penalties.”
Those who oppose any changes of the lese majeste laws do not do give an inch simply because they’re scared that many smart Thais will take a mile – not hurling abuse, but discussing, and eventually disassembling the Monarchy to its very core, only to discover that all those decades of semi-divinity, respect, reverence and sufficiency economy were only in place to keep the ruling oligarchy firmly in power.
Earlier today we saw dozens of people marching their Fearlessness Walk from Victory Monument to Ratchaprasong. The longer I observe Thai politics from afar, the simpler it all seems to me. Being a commentator of especially weird and incongruous variety, I am not growing more exasperated in any way. Nonetheless, I rather painfully realize that with every passing day I come closer and closer to committing some kind of lese majeste offence myself. And yet, the longer I stay in London, the more it evolves into something clearly defined and embarrassingly explicit. Stating here and elsewhere that lese majeste laws are, along with its shadowy Royal Thai Army, the biggest hindrance to Thailand’s progress among really well mannered, cultured and truly civilized countries, has become a matter of perhaps surprising urgency for me.
Thailand is entering a critical stage, and it will all get worse before it gets better. Thais have clearly been fighting a very odd civil war with themselves. For many of them the possibility of amending or abolishing its strict lese majeste laws remains sacrilegious, un-Thai, alien and thoroughly wrong.
It is perhaps foolish, and some would even say self serving and culturally supremacist to say there are lese majeste laws much more realistic, humane and fair in any of European monarchies than in the Kingdom of Thailand. Although I am aware of differences between more or less stable monarchies of The Old World and their volatile Siamese strain, the situation’s clearly unsustainable. Not being able to discuss the virtues of the Bhumibol Adulyadej‘s children in press, among other important issues (non-payment of taxes etc) is not healthy at all. And that is before even mentioning anything Andrew MacGregor Marshall has had to say so far.
The Monarchy in itself is not detrimental to Thailand’s future development, but it has to change. As I mentioned earlier and elsewhere: …the monarchy can’t exist on its own. Either it adapts, or ceases to exist. Expires.
Once again, Nick Nostitz’s masterclass images, published as usually in New Mandala leave me in awe both for their technical virtuosity and eerie calm that has followed the inundation.
Let’s hope the people of Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and the rest of Thailand will be able to rebuild their lives. Also, let’s not forget the emergency warning services must be improved and disposed of political interference for the sake of those who have perished. Those who have erred and underestimated the scale of impending disaster in recent months in order to accommodate misplaced priorities of saving Thai Crown Property Bureau commercial landholdings must be named, shamed and brought to justice. Will they..?!
Federico Ferrara’s paper “L’état, ce n’est plus moi: Popular Sovereignty and Citizenship over a Century of Thai Political Development” is an absorbing read; and what is yet more worthwhile, it uncovers a recent history of Thailand in light so piercing that many of those who follow the country’s developments might feel blinded at first…, or perhaps hear it ringing true in rather bizarrely uncomfortable flashbacks of “Oh, wait a minute, that’s what I’ve always thought!” Thought and never said – because that’s what Thailand is truly about.
The country of unseen and unheard. The country where simple truths are never pronounced.
Earlier this year, in my post called The Question of Thai Military I wrote, among other things, the following lines: “It would indeed take an act of revolutionary change to put the military meddling in politics to the end. I am not fully convinced that current red shirt movement, or its remnants that were not forced underground, will ever be able to become an agent of such a thorough upheaval.
I am inclined to say it would take many years and numerous elections till the majority of the population, regardless its social standing, fully realizes that they have had been lied and bluffed for many decades. One-sided, reactionary propaganda is too embedded in this society.”
I am not going to speculate whether there were no civilians shot or wounded by the Royal Thai Army during April and May protests, but I can’t fail to mention the pitifully ridiculous Colonel Sansern “Seh Kai Ou” Kaewkamnerd of “panda eyes” fame who once said:“Never think you are better than anyone else, because the world will carry on even after you’re dead.”
It has to be noted – Col. Sansern is no more than an unimportant army fop. It’s not him. Indeed, many would say the military has already been implicated. But alas… any military only mirrors the society it operates within. It’s the society, in its entirety, that has to be blamed. For many decades Thais have been living in the bubble of ‘societal rightfulness’, where traditions, real or perceived, matter the most, where seniority is sacred, where independence of thought is seen as vulgar and open criticism socially unacceptable.
And as a consequence, certain sectors of Thai society will perhaps need to learn to learn a new set of skills. They’re called honest self-criticism and higher self-awareness. It’s not easy as it takes time and effort. Some will never learn and will fall by the wayside. Some others can’t learn anymore as they belong to the past. Some of them will be remembered and forgiven. Some will be condemned and punished.
But I can’t read the future. It’s something I’ve never learned. I can only fight my doubts and hope for the best, and for the justice. And I can’t do any worse than quoting myself again: “Thai society will change forever. It will either truly democratize, or militarize yet further. There will be no middle ground left. And no reds, nor yellows either. Only people left to their own devices.”
People indeed die if shot. Just don’t blame the Colonel. He couldn’t say anything else. Blame all his bosses. From the bottom…to the top…
Patrick Jory, Adjunct Professor, Ohio University, reviews Streckfuss’s “Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason and Lèse-Majesté” http://bit.ly/hR81s6 (New Mandala)
David Streckfuss, through his brilliant book, reminds us how important it is to ask questions and seek answers, an uneasy task in Thailand, where any semblance of truth is marginalized and trivialized.
But then Streckfuss was able to discuss the same topic on pages of Bangkok Post back in 2007 http://bit.ly/fZQxi2 , and here is hoping that beauty and reason of academic debate will prevail over deceit and irrational hate spawned about by certain sections of Thai media and security agencies nowadays.
Hopefully, his extensive study of Lèse majesté will be translated to Thai – an uneasy task in itself – and thus made available to a wider Thai audience…before it gets banned…