Revolution Plaque: Latest Casualty of 1932 Revolution’s Endangered Legacy

Soldiers posted around the Democracy Monument in 2014 in Bangkok.

The 1932 Revolutionary Plaque, recently removed and replaced with one bearing royalist inscriptions, wasn’t the first historical object or structure from that period removed or at risk.

Read: Authorities Respond to Questions About Missing Plaque With Arrests, Silence

Among items destroyed, demolished or facing threats are the Supreme Court Building, Democracy Monument and the first draft of the June 24, 1932, declaration ending absolute monarchy. Here’s a look at the fate of these other historical artifacts of the 1932 revolt.

File photo of the old Supreme Court building from Feb. 26, 2010. Photo: Matichon

Where’s the Old Supreme Court Building?

The simple answer is: It’s gone. Built soon after the revolt by the Promoters, aka People’s Party or Khana Ratsadon, the building once stood for modern Thailand. It was torn down in 2013 to make way for a new building with nothing architecturally or historically linked to the 1932 revolt.

The building was “one of the most important edifices” that infused new meaning into an existing form after the revolt, wrote Koompong Noobanjong, an associate professor of architecture at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology, Ladkrabang, in his 2013 text “The Aesthetics of Power: Architecture, Modernity, and Identity from Siam to Thailand.”

“The simplified traditional Siamese lotus order in the front façade replaced classical Doric capitals at the entrance. These capitals stood for modern Thailand – a democratic and Western-oriented country that could preserve its own cultural heritage,” Koompong wrote. The scholar added that the now-demolished building, based on the Ecole des Beaux-Arts axia plan, incorporated the concept Thainess, or kwampenthai, and portrayed the 1932 coup promoters as an “avant-garde movement [working] toward a civilized society.”

The decision to demolish the building, which was next to the Royal Cremation Grounds (Sanam Luang) on the eastern side and a walking distant to the Grand Palace, was in fact made earlier, was made in 2007, by the Justice Ministry itself.

“The plan met with strong opposition from several academics and architectural professionals due to the aesthetic and historical importance of the building, whose design and iconography were based on the ideological principles of the Khana Ratsadon,” Koompong noted.

Koompong cites a “politics of representation” for reshaping the physical environment.

“The insinuation behind the politics of representation in the proposal indicates the problematic relationships among the monarchy, democratic ideology, kwampenthai [Thainess], and modern Thai society, as epitomized by the current atmosphere of Ratchadamnoen Avenue.”

The old Supreme Court Building near the Justice Ministry and Sanam Luang. Source: Koompong Noobanjong / ‘The Aesthetics of Power: Architecture, Modernity, and Identity from Siam to Thailand’ (2013)

 

Hundreds gathered at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on May 26, 2016, to mark two years under military rule.

The Democracy Monument

The most prominent and visible remnant of 1932’s architectural heritage is the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Built by The Promoters in 1938 as Thailand’s equivalent to Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, its center elevates a symbolic representation of the first constitution. There, large gilt stacked bowls symbolize the monarchy as recipient of a gilt, palm-leaf-shaped book, representing the constitution. In 1948, a suggestion was made to replace it with a statue of King Rama VII to reconcile The Promoters and the monarchy, but it was saved by the military dictator at the time, according to Saranyu Thepsongkroh of Kasetsart University.

It was Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, a major leader of The Promoters, who cited a lack of funds to make the change, according to Saranyu, a historian who has written about the monument’s history.

Instead, Rama VII, the man who was compelled to grant the kingdom a constitution after the 1932 coup, was commemorated with a statue in front of the current House of Parliament.

The former plaque, at left, and the new one which replaced it, at right.

After the Revolution plaque’s removal came to public attention Friday, some expressed concerns on social media of what might become of the iconic monument.

Koonpong noted that the monument “disrupted the physical continuity of Ratchadamnoen Avenue (literally “the royal processional path”), thus symbolically terminating the monarchical succession via its arbitrative power.”

Despite a futuristic, neo-fascist style that Koompong wrote “rendered the monument a tribute to the military dictatorship and its tyrannical clout” in strongman Pibul’s later years, the pro-democracy constituency eventually appropriated it as their own.

Today it has the added gravitas of lives lost in bloody protests there which ousted dictators in 1973 and 1992, and unsuccessfully after the May 2014 coup. Although the people represented in its bas-relief murals play passive roles, the monument is undoubtedly the strongest symbol of the people’s aspiration for freedom, equality and democracy.

The Promoters’ Declaration

The removed plaque marked where the bloodless revolution began with a speech.

What happened to the document read by Gen. Phraya Phahon Phonphayuhasena in front of military officers on that June 24 morning which declared the end of absolute monarchy?

Gen. Phraya Phahon Phonphayuhasena. Photo: Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy

According to a number of memoirs and interviews, the speech was short enough for Phraya Phahon to fold in his pocket – and written in German to avoid detection were he arrested beforehand.

According to Sinsawat Yodbantoey, a former manager of the Pridi Banomyong Institute and a leading archivist of materials on the People’s Party, the paper was destroyed long ago by Phahon’s wife.

“Part of the documents have been burned by Phahon’s wife because she was afraid some danger may befall her children and grandchildren,” Sinsawat said, citing a son of Phahon, Thailand’s second prime minister.

“So many records have been destroyed due to fear,” Sinsawat noted.

A longer declaration detailing grievances against the king and distributed to the public survived.

Sinsawat, 60, added that even copied texts of that declaration have become controversial, with few daring to cite it today for its strong denunciation of the monarchy.

Related stories:

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1932 Democratic Revolution Plaque Removed
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