The Junta’s Attempted Monopoly on Patriotism

Some of the 11 academics who petitioned the UN on May 6, 2016, outside the United Nations office in Bangkok. Photo: Matichon

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer

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Failing rationally to defend the continued imposition of military rule and repression over Thailand, the junta and its supporters resort to character assassination to deal with opponents.

Those engaging foreign states and international bodies in trying to roll back repression at home are branded traitors.

Recently Maj. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a military government spokesperson, said the 11 academics that petitioned the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on May 6 about deteriorating human rights conditions, urging the UN to intervene, are doing something akin to “opening the gate to a dangerous enemy.”

On social media, those supporting the naming and shaming of the junta by foreign states are often regarded as unpatriotic while those engaging with embassies of concerned foreign states are branded traitors dragging a Trojan horse into Thailand.

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Such an attitude not only fails to grasp the situation which is far more complicated than an us-versus-them worldview, it is also emblematic of some people’s attempted monopoly over the notion of patriotism.

The black-and-white view of Thailand versus foreign (mostly Western) barbarians regularly espoused by junta supporters on social media belie the fact that there exists no consensus in Thailand today on how the kingdom should be governed.

Such views also brush aside the continued repression against citizens who oppose the junta and paint foreign states and organizations as vultures preparing to prey upon Thailand.

Anyone who observed the recently-concluded session of Thailand’s human rights review at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday, would not fail to notice that countries like Belgium, long a friend of Thailand, urged it to stop putting civilians on military tribunal.

Norway, herself a kingdom, recommended the abolition of the controversial and draconian lese majeste law.

(On a personal note, Finland asked why the junta banned me from travelling to Helsinki to attend the World Press Freedom Day conference earlier this month and I am thankful for that.)

These countries stood to gain little if anything from the Thai state by upsetting the junta. But they did what they did because to them, democratic principles and freedom of expression also matter.

There were other critical human rights recommendations made by countries like Australia, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States and others – these constitute diplomatic goodwill.

It would have been much easier for these nations to just keep quiet and proceed to treat the regime as if it’s just another legitimate administration and proceed with normal diplomatic visits and trade like China and Japan have been doing.

Many who refused to accept the junta as legitimate are suffering, and in times of trouble some friendly states refuse to just turn a blind eye and be silent. They shall be remembered fondly and I personally thank them.

Meanwhile, those taking relief at the sight of continued foreign criticism against the junta, myself included, have been accused of selling out Thailand and labeled traitors.

Those making the accusations should be aware that no one should have a monopoly on what constitutes patriotism.

The fact that a good number of Thais are grateful to see foreign states criticizing Thailand’s human rights situation is not because they do not love Thailand but because they neither recognize the repressive regime led by junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha as representing them or as being legitimate.

Also, their views on what constitute the ideal Thai state differ starkly from those who relish supporting the continued suppression of fellow Thais by the unelected junta ruling the country.

Just because many Thais are appalled by this, doesn’t make them any less patriotic. There are better ways to defend Thailand’s interests than blindly supporting what the junta is doing.

The ruling military regime and its supporters should not mistake the lack of support for them as an act of betrayal against Thailand’s national interests.

The junta and its supporters are just parts of Thailand and not loving them does not equate to not loving Thailand.

No true patriot can ever support the repression of their fellow countrymen for holding differing political views.