Who Will Cross Thailand’s Invisible DMZ?

Photo: Associated Press

Re•tention: Pravit RojanaphrukSeeing the historic handshake between the leaders of South and North Korea, Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un last week, I couldn’t help but wonder about Thailand.

Thailand is not physically divided like North and South Korea. It is not technically at war and the loss of lives due to domestic conflicts is miniscule compared to the Korean War, which saw more than 3 million people killed and many parts of Seoul destroyed by the end of fighting, if not the war, in 1953.

Yet it looks as if North Korea and South Korea may be able to unite before Thais can, politically.

In the aftermath of the historic handshake, former senator Rosana Tositrakul urged both Yelllowshirts and Redshirts to put the decade-long political conflict behind and join hands.

She was viciously attacked.

It’s as if anyone who tries to find middle ground are automatically vilified. There are people who seems to benefit from this prolonged schism and hatred.

It’s easy to be branded a traitor if you try break from the caricature of what it is to be Yellow or Red.

The stereotype is that Yellowshirts, as well as the so-called Multi-colorshirts, hate ousted and fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra so much they were willing to accept, or even support, a coup and indefinite military rule with no further concern for Thailand, human rights, or what is right and wrong. On the other hand, Redshirts are seen as blindly supporting corrupt politicians like Thaksin and not caring what that entails for the country.

Like her or hate her, Rosana acknowledged that Yellowshirts have a penchant for backing military intervention despite the fact that military rule is not free from corruption. This is a good start, as Rosana herself is regarded by many as a former Yellowshirt leader. We need people from the Red side to be more honest publicly and admit how their blind association with Thaksin and Yingluck, who didn’t genuinely listen to the voices of those who did not vote for them, have brought so much conflict and problems to Thai society as well.

Alas, Thailand seems to lack top leaders from both sides that are willing to make a historic handshake and an admission of the shortfalls on their side.

Perhaps the pain exacted on Thai society hasn’t been severe enough compared to the divided Korea. Perhaps it’s been “just” 12 years or so since Thai society has become deeply divided and filled with mistrust and political hatred while in Koreas, it’s been six and a half decades and a good number of people are fed up with it.

If people cannot recognize the enormous price the society is paying as a result of continued political paralysis, then the only course is for society to keep paying the price at the detriment of Thailand until people become fed up and recognize that anything outweigh the current situation. It may take a generation to die out before Thai politics and society can truly start afresh and the level of mutual loathing which has become so toxic are gone. This can be readily observed on social media where trolls continue to spout political hatred, mostly under anonymous accounts.

To be united doesn’t mean to coerce everybody into thinking alike about Thai society and its preferred course. It is about learning to respect differing political opinions without vilifying or dehumanizing people who think differently. It’s about empathy and recognizing that people who disagree have the right to express their views, should be listened to and are fellow citizens. It means genuine desire to strike a compromise with the understanding that we can never get everyone to agree on everything and that some give and take, not winner takes all, will be necessary.

Failing these, Thai society will continued to be condemned to suffering under an invisible DMZ line that divide and paralyze Thai society.