Objects and symbols have meanings independent of what those behind may intend to communicate.
I thought of four such examples when it comes to the latest development in Thai politics.
The Great Container Wall of Thailand
Could anyone have missed that the latest tactic used by the government of Gen Prayut Chan-ocha to stop anti-government protesters / monarchy reformists from marching from point A to B is to block the streets and bridges with shipping containers?
Most were two layers tall. While its efficacy is debatable, as demonstrators are nimble and change the protest site to avoid being contained, the walls of containers reflect not just a siege mentality on part of the powers that be, but also a symbolic unwilling to have a genuine dialogue and negotiate with the protesters.
The protest guards said they received complaints from local residents that the massive obstacles laid by police are preventing them from leaving their homes and commuting in the area. #Thailand #ม็อบ10ธันวา #KE pic.twitter.com/fhyHdClVHV
— Khaosod English (@KhaosodEnglish) December 10, 2020
Good politics means building bridges. Here, however, the government is literally installing walls and some walls such as the one near the Bangkok office of the UN agencies even blocked a real bridge.
Last week, I even saw one such wall blocking the road leading up to the Grand Palace despite protesters not making any announcement that they would head there. This means the siege mentality is filled with distrust, thus the need to build or install container walls to keep not zombies and the demonstrators out.
Restart Thailand or Republic of Thailand?
The recent announcement by the Free Youth movement, a key faction within the larger protest movement, to introduce the RT or Restart Thailand symbol, which uncannily resembles the hammer and sickle led many to ask whether they were commies or whether RT in fact stands for the Republic of Thailand.
Too many people have weighed in on the matter already and I will spare you my two cents.
What’s clear, however, is that the Thai political system is too restrictive for it’s unconstitutional to change the Thai political system from that of a kingdom to anything else.
In fact, a mere desire to even set up a political party with the word socialist or socialism in its name illegal under Thai law.
Much of what we hear was thus more like innuendo. And whether you are a communist or a die-hard capitalist, a republican or ultra-royalist, the country remains unfree to publicly imagine and suggest an alternative Thailand, as a republic or communist state.
Traditional Thai Dress and a Surprising Tattoo
Is mocking another person a basic human right? In Thailand, the answer likely depends on whom you mock.
Jatuporn Sae Ung, a 23-year-old transgender and a core demonstrator, appeared at a protest site in late October dressed like a noble woman in a splendid pink traditional Thai silk dress, complete with a servant holding an umbrella for her.
As she walked past a long red carpet laid out for her at the protest site on Silom Rd that evening, fellow demonstrators were either kneeling or squatting to have an audience with her. Some exclaimed, ‘Long Live Your Majesty’.
On Thursday she was charged with defaming the queen by the act of mocking. Since when is mocking a crime, I do not know.
If found guilty, Jatuporn could face up to 15 years in prison under archaic and draconian lese majeste law. At least 31 are either charged or in the process of being charged for violating the law with the youngest being just 16.
The latest person to be charged was identified on Friday as activist Pimsiri Petchnamrob, who has campaigned for LGBT rights and freedom of speech for many years. Like in other cases, police did not make clear what she did to deserve lese majeste.
Back to Jatuporn, while waiting to hear the charges made against her per police summon letter, she summoned me briefly first in front of the Yannawa Police station to show me a tattoo on her upper left chest.
I saw a large traditional thai numeral 9, a symbol of the late king Rama IX, or king Bhumibol, and a tattoo message, part of it read ‘I vow to serve your majesty beneath your few through all my reincarnations’.
King Bhumibol passed away in Oct 2016. Die-hard royalists tattooed themselves after his death and Jatuporn was one of them. She told me her political ideology has since changed.
When I asked if she would remove the tattoo, now that she has been charged with committing lese majeste offence under the reign of a new king, who’s the only son of the late Rama IX. Jatuporn replied saying she will keep the tattoo as “a reminder” of her past.
The royalist tattoo on a chest of a person accused lese majeste offender, I think, is a reminder of a changing time.