Top: Activists place flowers and garlands around a small plaque memorializing the 1932 Revolution on June 24, 2015 in Bangkok.
At the end of last year, pro-democracy activist Arnon Nampha announced on his Facebook that in 2020, he will keep posting content about the revolt which ended absolute monarchy nearly 88 years ago “every day” because he felt its memories are being threatened.
“At least it will be a small voice that will reaffirm that we shall continue the mission of the People’s Party to the utmost,” Arnon wrote on his Facebook on Dec 31 last year. “If it’s not too much, I would like to invite friends to think and act on the matter. We shall fight together next year.”
What prompted Arnon to make the vow was the army’s decision to remove statues of two leaders of the 1932 democratic revolt and rename an artillery base in Lopburi province. The statues would be replaced by one depicting the late King Rama IX, according to the military.
The Lopburi base is currently named Fort Paholyothin Artillery Center in honor of Phraya Pahonphonphayuhasena, leader of the coup that ended absolute monarchy. The facility will be renamed Fort Bhumibol , the formal name of King Rama IX.
The move wasn’t the first which alarmed and upset people like Arnon. The sinister trend began nearly three years ago, in April 2017. That was when a plaque marking the spot where the revolt took place was mysteriously removed.
Equally mysterious – and even more baffling – was the appearance of a new plaque proclaiming a pro-monarchy slogan on the same spot soon after. No one claimed responsibility for the strange renovation.
Fast forward to late Dec 2018, a much bigger monument related to the same revolt, some five-storey high, was taken away from Lak Si Intersection without any explanation. Again, no one claimed responsibility.
Disturbingly, most Thai mainstream mass media simply pretended the theft of such epic proportions was not worth reporting about. Or they were told not to report about it, though I have no hard evidence of that possibility.
The missing monument was built to commemorate the defeat of a countercoup led by Prince Boworadet in 1933 to restore monarchical absolutism. Its fate remains a mystery to this day, but many assume the relic is probably already destroyed.
Ten months later, in Oct 2019, the rebel nobleman who died in 1947 as an opponent of democracy was resurrected by the army, symbolically at least, when the newly renovated Hall of Honor at the army headquarter was named after the prince himself.
I do not think Arnon is paranoid. If anything, given the series of events, we can’t even be certain that a national landmark like Democracy Monument may not “mysteriously” vanish in the middle of the night some day.
It should be clear by now that there is a deliberate and concerted effort to delete parts of Thai political history, or at least make Thai people forget about them. It was as if five years of junta’s rule wasn’t enough. Now, certain people want to take away our collective memories and replace it with a sanitized royalist version.
And they are so dishonest that they refuse to claim responsibility for their actions, preferring to hide under the shadow of anonymity.
In an attempt to remember what the public is being made to forget, people like Arnon pledged to keep the memories alive, by the means of social media.
On Sunday, Arnon republished the 1932 proclamation which contained a very scathing criticism of the absolute monarchy regime.
(Similar to many other “New Year resolutions” out there, Arnon already failed to keep his promise of posting 1932-related content less than two weeks after his vow.)
Arnon is not alone in this campaign. Some political activists, like Nitirat Subsomboon, are compiling a calendar of important dates related to Thai people’s struggle for a more equal and democratic society over the centuries. These episodes in history tend to be ignored, wilfully or not, with hardly a mention in school history textbooks.
Is Thailand heading towards an era where people have starkly different take on their own political history? If so, what will be the repercussions?
It’s now clear that there are dissidents who will not just let others tamper with their memories without putting up a fight. They are starting the preservation effort by declaring that certain Thai political history is an endangered species – at risk of being erased.