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The Fear and Loathing of Lèse Majesté

It’s been nearly 4 months since I left Thailand. I have neglected Autarchy & Liberty in the meantime, getting on with my life in London. Yeah, I’ve been tweeting a lot, but generally speaking I was rather keen to avoid posting anything significantly over 140 characters. A temporary hitch you may call it, trying to understand my past, trying to see the future… Earlier today I tweeted: “The change will come to Thailand when people stop watching their tongues, just to avoid Lèse majesté. No regime can imprison hundreds at once.” Not surprisingly, a few moments later I got several answers that prompted me to put down, rather hastily written, several lines over the Twitter shorthand limit on fear and Lèse majesté. I truly loathe myself for all that cheap,  syncopathic, and thoroughly wrong speech….

…And still, I’d like to say my thanks  to my Twitter followers, and especially to Tony Hedges who offered his view, saying: “it wouldn’t be in the hundreds, you’d be surprised how many people talk about it behind closed doors…” That made me truly wonder, and… anyone else who cares…read my take on reasons behind this  anxiety from my, rather peculiar, perspective:

The fear of Lèse majesté, or rather specifically, uneasiness that accompanies any meaningful discussion about Lèse majesté abolition or thorough reform is perfectly justified. This fear is nearly overwhelming, and in some mysterious ways, it is laid bare by those who insist that Darunee Charnchoensilpakul and others  are foolish, mean, stupid, mentally unstable and thus deserving to be heavily reprimanded…

All this reminds me of times when, a quarter century ago, being the “immature adolescent”, I despised and feared Czech and Russian Communists, listening to VOA, Radio Free Europe and BBC on a huge transistor radio, semi illegally and behind the closed doors, with volume down and all that…

In Thailand, it seems, they’ve gone about it all in smarter manner – it is not illegal to listen to and watch foreign media, and, to my knowledge,  never has been. The regime is more accommodating – making sure the consequence of  breaching Lèse majesté laws are properly understood by exemplary punishment and consequent leniency afforded to victims by the King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and therefore safeguarding that any anti Royalist resistance is ridiculed and propagandized as absolutely un-Thai. As with Chinese Communists, the Thai Royalists make sure they’re a step ahead. In China “everyone” supports the Communist Party. In Thailand “everyone” supports the Royalist establishment.  The question is…for how long… , and I have no answers here…

And indeed, I equate Chinese Communists with Thai Royalists. Call me naive, but I somehow believe most of both Thais and Chinese would strongly disagree with me. Or perhaps they will stay quiet, saying nothing, thinking how ridiculously vile I am. Or maybe not?  Am I just “Western foreigner” who doesn’t get it?

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Abused or confused?

Phor Phiang is Thai term for ‘sufficiency economy’. This is what we know. It is also a general knowledge that ‘phor phiang’ is associated with H.M.K. Bhumibol Adulyadej. It came into prominence especially after the coup of 2006, and in the following years it was promoted as a part of ‘national agenda’, as it is, among others, stated in the following excerpt:

“The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET), in conjunction with Crown Property Bureau, Siam Commercial Bank PCL and Siam Cement Group, has published 80,000 copies of an easy-to-read book aimed at promoting the King’s Sufficiency Economy philosophy among primary and high school students. The book, Phor-Phor-809, will be distributed to academic institutions nationwide.

In the book’s title, phor-phor is an acronym for the Thai word: phor-phiang (sufficiency), and the number 809 refers to the King’s 80th birthday as the ninth sovereign of the Chakri dynasty. The volume is suitable for teaching and explains how to apply Sufficiency Economy in day-to-day living.”

For King’s birthday Thai bourse publishes Sufficiency Economy for youth l ข่าวทั่วไป PRESS RELEASE l LOCAL — Thu 6 Dec 2007 14:16:39

Now, let’s move on. There’s nothing unusual about anything we read above. We all know this is the way royal pronouncements are dealt with, we have learned to understand them, bow our heads and keep on eating our rice porridge.  Anyone who lives in Thailand and reads newspapers also knows Thanong Khanthong, “a vigorous and outspoken supporter of the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the 2006 military coup”*, who himself, back in early March, 2009, wrote in his Overdrive column ‘Lese Majeste allows criticism but not abuse’: “I would argue that there is nothing was wrong with lese majeste law.” **  Many of those who know Thanong are also aware that he is relatively actively using his twitter account to communicate with his followers, friends and adversaries.  His ‘phor phiang’ tweets should not surprise us. They are normally accepted with a slight bemusement, and are perceived as quirky, or even outrageous. Nothing can shock us, right? And yet today, on Friday the 13th of August, I was slightly shattered when reading:

“@ThanongK “I claim phr phiang model is mine cause I want the buck to stop here. In fact phor phiang is middle path principle belonging to Buddha.”

I couldn’t help myself but to reply: “ @igorc166 @ThanongK Phor Phiang yours? That’s LM statement, no?”

Needless to say, I am still waiting for his answer. I honestly feel confused. But should I feel abused?

*The Nation’s Thanong Khanthong on criticism of the monarchy;  Political Prisoners in Thailand, March 9, 2009. Political Prisoners in Thailand is one of numerous websites blocked by Thai ICT http://118.175.8.61/

** The Nation, OVERDRIVE, Lese Majeste allows criticism but not abuse’, By Thanong Khanthong, The Nation, published on March 6, 2009

Only a wet dream (Revisited)

This is an edited version of a short post, originally dated 28th of May 2010. (And I deleted the former one, so apologies..!)

Here it’s how I compare Chinese communists with Thai Democrats…

The Chinese have corrected mistakes of former Socialist and Communist countries and allowed the façade of free-market. They’ve made their communist propaganda a national priority. Chase, prosecute and punish dissent! How different are policies of Communist Party of China (CPC) from policies of Democrat Party? It would be interesting to know how Privy Council comes into mix but I am neither an expert nor insider here.

All in all, in Thailand they say they do not like communism (double-faced lie!), they say they do not propagate (lie again). The Royalist propaganda, along with image worshipping, has been the mainstay in Thai public life for decades.

The Kingdom of Thailand is actually very similar to former communist countries of Europe (in late 70. and 80.) where they had in some cases actually allowed minor quasi parties to contest elections to propone the semblance of plurality, only to win 97% of vote. That’s Democrat Party/PAD’s wet dream, impossible to replicate in any form.

Nonetheless, it seems the Democrat Party prefers to look into the future anyway. Perhaps, the Democrats would like to model themselves according to Chinese Communist Party paradigm of competent macroeconomic policies, along with quashing and censoring dissent by all means, and denying it all the same.

Friday 28th May 2010 (Edited on Friday, 13th August 2010)

Not the way you understand

Khun Thanong Khanthong,  Managing editor of  The Nation, sent me this Twitter DM today: < “I know what you’re up to. Europe is being destroyed. We have our problems. But we have to sort it out our way — not the way you understand.” >

My reply, which I also posted on Twitlonger http://bit.ly/bqtUda , is here: 

 “Thank you for your DM, khun Thanong. Though I prefer not to DM you back, I appreciate your reply. I agree with you that Thais must sort their own problems by themselves. But a history teaches us that in times of crisis it’s better to open the country up then shut it down. Thai society is in a deep crisis now, indeed. You know Thai society your way; I know Thai society my way. It is at war with itself, strangulating free expression, pontificating about its virtues that do not really exist. I have lived through communist absurdity in my early years, and I can recognize totalitarian society, thank you very much!
The “banker/merchant class over the past centuries has emerged as the most powerful” is also the one that needs to wake up and see why it is so despised by the Thai poor and not so poor. They’re a caste of its own, many of them behave and think the same way as Communist Party members and their demagogue economists used to. They’re as vile and exploitive.
Thailand needs to move on. Thai people will not be fed totalitarian propaganda forever. In Buddhism, as you know, everything’s impermanent.
And I wonder, what do you think I’m up to?”

The future hasn’t started yet

“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.

Witch’s cat

Suranand Vejjajiva thinks that ” Thai Government needs no PR, it needs substance – product must be good first for PR to work.”  Well, nothing to argue about here. This is my 5-points reconciliation plan. Just in case …

Thai Government should: (1) admit the 90 deaths that occurred during its tenure could have been avoided, (2) acknowledge they are all in over their heads with the military, (3) offer its deepest condolences to families of deceased, whoever they were, (4) announce a date for early election, and (5) trudge along without spouting absurdities about how everything’s back to normal and that it’s good to love each other. Instead it should quit. Resigning without delay will be the best possible PR for this toad-like government that had been living in the incubator since its unsightly conception.

But somehow I do not believe this will happen. Quitting without fight is not in script for this government. Stay Strong is the verso of what Reconciliation is the recto. Two pages taken from book of witchcraft spells. And your cousin Abhisit is the witch’s cat in disguise. But he won’t ever learn to talk to the dead.

Bringing it back from the dead

I have kept this blog dormant for more than one year. Registered it. Didn`t know what to do with it. Left for England. And came back. Forgot about it. Kept it in the attic of my mind until March 2010. Same as with Twitter. Joined. Forgot. Thought nothing of it at all. Kept posting tweets. Used twilonger for longer messages. Knew the blog was still there. It kept coming back. Yesterday I was prompted to go for it. It`s still a work in progress. And it will be this way for a long time.
Today I posted my writings from the last couple of weeks. Will try to update regularly. No guarantees though…