Why do guys go to Bangkok
Do the young Thais know what they are doing?
A disease has broken out in Thailand, said Apirat Kongsompong, commander in chief of the Royal Thai Army, speaking to cadets in August. The protests in Thailand were already in full swing by then. The name of the disease: hatred of the nation. This disease is much worse than COVID-19, said the general, because it is incurable.
This allegation is in the context of an educational campaign by the military government that came to power in a 2014 coup. The ex-general and incumbent Prime Minister Prayuth Chan Ocha called shortly after the seizure of power to put "Thainess" at the center of the education of young Thais. "Thainess" is meant to describe the essence of what it means to be Thai. She emphasizes the uniqueness of Thai culture and the inferiority of other cultures. "Thainess" is closely linked to Buddhism and monarchy. According to this idea, there can be no Thailand without a king.
"Thainess" to maintain the status quo
The sociologist Omsin Jatuporn from Chiang Mai University in Thailand is critical of the military's educational initiative in an article: This policy aims to promote an ideology that "maintains the status quo for the elites and their privileged position in society." It is an attempt to control the population. Incidentally, ignore the generals' idea of "Thainess" that there can be no "pure Thainess" in a globalized and diverse world.
The conflict between conservative notions of "Thainess" and the desire of many young Thais to follow international fashions broke out when in June the students of Thailand refused to accept that they were told how to wear their hair. There were protests against the humiliating forced public haircuts by school authorities.
What does it mean to be Thai?
The controversy over the hairstyle is only one building block in understanding the current protests. But the demand that the predominantly young demonstrators have in the meantime for a reform of the monarchy is an attack on "Thainess" as propagated by the military. It is therefore also a question of identity. What does it mean to be a Thai in 2020? Can you be Thai and reject the monarchy?
Today's Prime Minister Prayuth (left center) and members of the Royal Council prostrate themselves in front of the new King Vajiralongkorn in 2016. Traditionalists do not want to touch the hierarchical culture of Thailand
Conservative elites like Commander-in-Chief Apirat Kongsompong are blocking the young demonstrators' responses by pathologizing the demonstrators. They are terminally ill, crazy.
The fault of the foreign country
Another defense strategy is to claim that the protests are controlled from abroad, that the predominantly young demonstrators do not know what they are doing.
A graphic has been circulating in Thai social media for a year that is supposed to prove the supposed influence of external forces (DW does not show the graphic in order not to further spread the conspiracy theory). The usual suspects appear in a crude mix: George Soros' Open Society Foundation, the Bild newspaper that reported critically on the king in Germany, Netflix, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The graphic suggests a network of all these organizations and people who would have driven the students in Thailand onto the streets. The US embassy in Thailand was even forced to issue an official statement in September stating: "The United States government is not funding or supporting any of the protests in Thailand."
The predominantly young demonstrators demand respect for their point of view
This kind of accusation, which makes a serious examination of the protesters' demands superfluous, has been gaining popularity for years, as Thomas Carothers and Richard Youngs found in a 2015 study for "The Carnegie Endowment": "A striking element of the reactions to the Recent protests is the frequency and regularity with which the country's leaders blame foreigners for the protests, reflecting, among other factors, the inability of the 'leaders' to believe that there are real civil society sectors in their countries with legitimate, independent voices gives."
DW spoke to various Thai activists and demonstrators about this allegation. Of course, it cannot be denied that the protesters' demands are also inspired by ideas and discussions in other countries. The parallels between the organization and form of the protests in Thailand and those in Hong Kong are obvious. In a networked globalized world, it cannot be otherwise.
However, it annoys the Thai demonstrators that they are denied the ability to make their own judgments. Ploy * says of the allegations: "These are absurd but predictable allegations by the yellow shirts [royalists, editor's note]. I think it is time to overcome these conspiracy theories. It is always someone else who is behind the protests." stand and disturb the stability of Thailand. Nobody needs to interfere as our politics are already unstable. " The 28-year-old Kaew * adds: "Since last week I have been part of the protests almost every day because I want an equal society in Thailand. We go because we want to, not because we have been told."
Criticism from within our own ranks
An open letter from Thai students from Oxford and Cambridge Universities on October 19 - the day the Bangkok State of Emergency was lifted yesterday - can serve as another example of young Thais being critical and independent. Graduates from these renowned universities enjoy a special status in Thailand. Many influential figures in Thai history have studied at Oxford or Cambridge. For example King Rama VI (Oxford) and the former Prime Ministers Anand Panyarachun (Cambridge) and Abhisit Vejjajiva (Oxford).
Excerpt (in English) of the open letter to the Thai government. It was signed by more than 100 Thais
In an interview with Deutsche Welle, the students are self-confident and describe themselves as privileged. They are convinced that they will play an important role in the country's future. In their open letter they do not adopt the position of the student demonstrators in Thailand who are calling for a reform of the monarchy, but at the same time they criticize the government. You stand up for freedom of expression and demand, among other things, an end to the state of emergency, the release of all arrested demonstrators and an open and fair debate on a new constitution.
They see it as their duty to intervene and show that, as part of the elite, they do not simply support the government's measures in silence, but instead advocate a non-violent and open debate about the future of the country. When asked by DW, they assured me that this would also include a discussion of the status of the monarchy.
With the collaboration of Emmy Sasipornkarn.
* The names have been changed to protect the interviewees.
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