BANGKOK — The government Monday said it’s working to answer a bizarre question that has left historians and officials baffled: Who owns Bangkok’s Victory Monument?
Though millions of Thais and foreigners are familiar with the sight of the busy landmark – which also serves as a commuter hub – no agency claims ownership of the monument, which has been standing for over 70 years.
“Every relevant agency has to attend a meeting to decide who will be assigned responsibility for the Victory Monument,” deputy junta chief Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters today.
Prawit’s call came after chief of the Ratchathewi district, where the monument is located, proposed building a museum and pedestrian tunnels beneath it. The proposal ran into a wall when it became unclear which agency’s permission would be needed. While it keeps the grass trimmed and monument cleaned, the district office said it does not own the site.
“It’s a no man’s land,” district chief Teerayut Phumisak said in July.
And that’s how the latest pillar of bureaucratic SNAFU unfolded.
The veteran’s association, which organizes a ceremony every Veterans Day at the site, said it’s only responsible for the event and referred inquiries to the city planning department, who in turn said it did not own the building and passed the baht to the treasury department, who likewise denied ownership and suggested asking the highway department.
To the surprise of no one at this point, the highway department said it had no information about the monument and passed the ball to fine arts department. The latter said it will search its archive of historical records to settle the issue.
Prawit, the junta No.2, said he had no idea when the conclusion will be reached.
A historian expressed surprise that no government agency has claimed Bangkok’s most iconic war memorial. But he also notes that ownership of a historical site has always been something everyone took for granted.
“We never asked ourselves this question before,” Thamrongsak Petchlertanan said in an interview. “Because we always knew it was government property. We never observed who actually owns it.”
The monument was built in 1941 to celebrate Thailand’s victory in its conquest of French colonies in Indochina. Inspired by modernist aesthetics at the time, it features an obelisk rising from a base guarded by five hulking statues representing the four branches of the armed forces and civilian volunteers.
The victory it marks did not last. After the end of World War II, Thailand – who joined the Axis powers following Japanese invasion in December 1941 – was forced to return the territories to the French government.
Thamrongsak urged the government to settle the issue quickly.
“No one in these agencies would step forward because it means they would have to spend money and people on it,” the historian said with a laugh. “It’s a mission for the government to decide who will be responsible.”
NHK news report of the monument’s grand opening in 1942.