Opinion: A Land of Smiles So Easily Cracked by Conflict

Riot police clash with protesters in front of the parliament on Oct. 7, 2008.

Re•tention: Pravit Rojanaphruk

A man was arrested Tuesday for killing his wife and her family of five in the northern province of Uttaradit. Another man arrested on the same day after killing his girlfriend after she ended their four-year-relationship and refused to be back with him – this time in the southern city of Hat Yai.

Using force to “end” unresolved conflicts – domestic or otherwise – is prevalent in Thailand.

All too often, men resorted to violence when their relationships turn sour. All too often, soldiers and some citizens resort to military coups in a bid to “solve” political conflicts.

All too often, censorship and self-censorship are used as replacements for discussing sensitive topics, particularly the monarchy.

This is a society in need of learning to deal with conflicts in a peaceful way. This is a society in need of learning to understand instead of forcing people to simply accept the brute force of power – military or otherwise.

Change can only come when Thai society recognizes that it is very bad at dealing with conflicts. On one hand, there is the myth of the Land of Smiles, where people coexist happily and in peace. On the other, when conflict avoidance no longer works, people resort to violence to suppress or kill the party of conflicts.

Many Thais tend to superficially avoid conflicts to the point where they do not know how to deal with them in a mature way when confronted with one.

Take Thai politics over the past dozen years, covering both the 2007 and the latest 2014 coups. What was it all about?

Was it just about Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra? Was it about suppression of anti-monarchist and republican sentiments? Was it about the military exploiting political conflicts for their own gain as they usurped power from the people twice in 12 years? Or was it about a society still deeply divided on what kind of political system best suits the country?

Discussing the role of the military junta is delicate enough, discussion the role of the monarchy in a critically way in Thailand without breaking the law is almost impossible.

How can we resolve conflicts and move forward as a nation then?

How can we move on as a nation when people in an open disagreement – such as the current call by a small number of demonstrators for an end to further postponements of the promised elections – are painted as troublemakers?

Just before the New Year, the Constitution Defense Monument – a monument marking the 1933 defeat of royalist rebels – was mysteriously removed and not reported by majority of the Thai press. It’s whereabouts are unknown and it could have simply been pulverized by now: yet another act of violence in trying to resolve historical conflicts.

What about the Deep South? It’s another failed spot for conflict resolution where so-called “peace talks” are heading nowhere, while deadly violence has flared up weekly for much of the past decade.

Many Thai Buddhists seem unwilling to find real solutions that would make Thai-Malay Muslims feel significantly more respected, such as allowing for elected governors on the three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

Everywhere we look, Thais seem more adept at conflicts avoidance, to the point where when impossible to avoid, they don’t know how to deal with it peacefully and capably.

Without first admitting that we are so bad at conflict resolution and learning to resolve things peacefully, there won’t be any solution except more violence – domestic or national.