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The future hasn’t started yet

June 28, 2010

“The post-totalitarian system touches people at every step, but it does so with its ideological gloves on. This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government; the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class; the complete degradation of the individual is presented as his ultimate liberation; depriving people of information is called making it available; the use of power to manipulate is called the public control of power, and the arbitrary abuse of power is called observing the legal code; the repression of culture is called its development; the expansion of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed; the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom; farcical elections become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views; military occupation becomes fraternal assistance. Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.” Vaclav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless” (1978) Excerpt from the Original Electronic Text provided by Bob Moeller, of the University of California, Irvine.

The above text is more than three decades old. It was written by the man who felt being a dissident is about keeping own dignity regardless the cost. Vaclav Havel, a playwright of Communist Era Czechoslovakia,  a reluctant revolutionary and the first post-communist president of Czechoslovakia, had lived through the false dawn of Prague Spring of 1968 and became one of the symbols of anticommunist movement when he happened to be one of five founding signatories of Charter 77 in January 1977.

Disseminating Charter 77 and other texts, among them “The Power of the Powerless”, was a criminal offence. I vaguely remember the Charter  from VOA and Radio Free Europe broadcasts during the eighties, when listening to ‘imperialist powers’ was illegal, nonetheless popular, daily or weekly routine of many. Being a reticent teenager at that time I appreciated the power and symbolism of those unflinching words that were periodically condemned by the regime as demagogic, abusive piece of writing,” and individual signers were variously described as “traitors and renegades,” “a loyal servant and agent of imperialism,” “a bankrupt politician,” and “an international adventurer.”

Now, you may, or may not wonder why I am mentioning all this. Well, the longer I live in Thailand, the more it seems to me there is some uncanny resemblance between the situation in Czechoslovakia of 70’ and 80’ and post coup 2006 Thailand. Indeed, many would say I compare incomparable, that there are huge cultural, historical and developmental differences between the far left communist totality and bi-spectral schism of far right royalism, fighting for its place in the scorching sun with centrist and left leaning liberalism of the present day Thailand. Seventies and eighties in Czechoslovakia were period of calm, persecution and fear. The fear was in all of us. Ever-present. Omnipotent and pervasive. Those were not times of open revolt. Rather than talking up the revolution, people were more likely to engage themselves in escapism of TV soap operas, football, local travelling, partying. Seemingly normal life. Back then as now. As in Thailand. That’s why people like Havel were so out of ordinary. Shocking for some. Thrilling for others. And still, speak to an average person on the street…, and all you got were evasive looks of embarrassment. As you get now in Thailand when mentioning Daranee Charnchoengsilapakul, Suwicha Thakhor and numerous others. Same, same, but different. Eerily similar language, different era, half way across the world. It feels like a different galaxy. Havel was incarcerated by the regime several times. The Thai prisoners of conscience are still behind bars. The voyage to the future hasn’t started yet.


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