For some Thais, supporting or at least condoning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is backed by some disturbing logic. Meanwhile, those against the invasion also grapple with uneasy questions about the U.S. as well as the fact that Thailand, like nothing close to a superpower and whatever they do may have minimal impact.
First, let’s look at Thais who support the war by arguing that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Thais who hate America and the West because they support Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha’s coup and hate those who are against Prayut, against lese majeste, if not against the monarchy.
These Thais condone and support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A simple one word missing in their logic or heart is “humanity” as they cheered the advancement of Vladimir Putin’s murderous army.
Others say since Tzar Nicolas II of Russia once helped Thailand over a century ago to thwart colonial powers from colonizing Thailand, we should not condemn what Russian ambassador Evgeny Tomikhin claims to be its “special military operations” in Ukraine.
This is a heavily edited and selective memory regarding Thai relations with Russia for when Russia was part of the Soviet Union. It nearly succeeded in turning Thailand into a fake socialist state as they supported then the enemy of Thailand, read Vietnam, to move closer to Thailand through Cambodia.
Some Thais are neither for or against Russia. The common ‘logic’ employed by these Thais is that this is a clash between the world’s superpowers and Ukraine is just a pawn caught and used in the conflicts and so Thais should just stay put and not do anything about it.
They also argue that to condemn Russia would strain the good relations between Bangkok and Moscow and one should consider the fact that Russians constitute a major group of tourists to Thailand. (Let me set one thing straight, we should not hate Russians, tourists or otherwise and those Russian tourists stranded in Thailand deserve our sympathy and hospitality as well. But we make it clear that we are against Putin’s war. There should be no place for Russiaphobia in Thailand.)
The notion of global citizen is so far removed from these people’s imagination. Well, if they would not give a hoot about what is happening in Myanmar, Palestine, Syria, and other places outside Thailand, why should we expect these Thais to care about what is happening in a remote country where most Thais have never visited? This is a reminder as to how parochial and selfish some Thais can be and yet manage to justify their apathy.
Now, what about Thais who oppose the invasion of Ukraine by Russia? Truth be told, it is not easy being citizens of a third-class power.
First-class in terms of military and economic powers are the superpowers like the United States and China. Second-class powers are countries like Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and Japan followed by countries like South Korea. Then there are third-class powers like Thailand and most of the rest, if not the rest, of the Southeast Asia nations.
Truth be told, what we expressing as Thais may have very little, and some would argue no real perceptible impact, on what is happening in Ukraine right now. “So why bother?” some might ask.
Others say politics, domestic or international, is dirty and ugly, full of powerful groups fighting for more power and eyeing to use ordinary folks as their pawns in the conflicts. Yes, this is partly true and inevitable. But what if we do nothing? What kind of Thailand, what kind of world will we get?
Yes, the war in Ukraine, strictly speaking, is not Thailand’s war. But as a global citizen, will we simply sit and watch the atrocity unfold like other news items from afar – like a real life war film unrolling non-stop for three weeks now?
Yes, it is true that what Thai citizens can do (and forget about the Thai government’s Janus-faced policy or Siamese diplomacy, which is not the topic of the commentary here) is very limiting indeed. Tangible efforts could be humanitarian by nature – such as donating money to Ukraine or reputable international relief organizations.
Wealthier Thais who care can also contact the Ukrainian Embassy in Bangkok to offer free lodging to stranded Ukrainians in Thailand. The embassy said on Friday a hundred offers have been made but over 3,000 are stranded and seven million baht of public and private donations have been received. Not all those stranded are cashless, however, said the embassy’s top diplomat Olexandr Dysak on Friday.
Some of these people also tackle the grey areas where the U.S. is probably using Ukraine as a tool in its proxy war to contain Russia. Simply because the U.S. has checkered records about its imperial adventures, invading countries like Iraq or Afghanistan, and have killed many innocent people, should not be a reason for concerned Thais to turn a blind eye to the deaths, destructions, devastations, and suffering of ordinary Ukrainians.
Others say if you did not care for Palestine, for Myanmar which is next door, or Syria, why should you even bother to care for Ukraine? Well, there can always be a first step for you.
If the massive and graphic invasion of Ukraine by Russia, covered real time by local and international media, cannot awaken a sense of global citizenship and humanity in some of you, in some Thais’ hearts, it is hard to imagine what will.
This is not a perfect world of good versus evil, but because of that, it should not be an excuse for anyone who cares about what is happening in the world to abandon their sense and responsibility and humanity as a global citizen.
On Saturday, when some thirty Thais and Ukrainians protested in front of the Russian Embassy in Bangkok, the anti-war Thais who were well-equipped with a loud speakers invited two Ukrainians speakers to address the small crowd in English with an interpreter translating it into Thai.
This is solidarity, a message of comforts that Ukrainians are not alone, not even in this faraway land called Thailand. I listened to the two female Ukrainians thanking Thai protesters for being in front of the Russian Embassy to condemn Putin along with them.
One female Thai organizer, Lek Patchanee asked me when was the last time Thai activists gathered in front of the Myanmar Embassy to protest against the Burmese junta. She then concluded that a revisit to the Myanmar Embassy was long overdue.