BANGKOK — Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s suggestion that Thais read dystopian classic Animal Farm snowballed into an avalanche of social media ridicule Thursday.
The junta chairman recommends George Orwell’s masterpiece as a reminder to the Thai people to always work towards the interests of their country despite ongoing struggles by rival factions to form the next government, a government spokesman said yesterday.
“The Prime Minister respects the law and votes from every party,” Lt. Gen. Weerachon Sukhonthapatipak said. “He wants society to consider national interests and unity.”
He then added, “The Prime Minister also recommends everyone read the Thai edition of Animal Farm. It’s a book that offers good advice on how to live our lives.”
It didn’t take long before critics of the junta seized on the irony that appears to have been lost on the regime leader, who overthrew an elected government in 2014 with promises of returning happiness to Thailand.
For his opponents, it is Prayuth who resembles Napoleon, the revolutionary pig who rallied disgruntled animals in the fictional farm to seize power from their two-legged owner, only to betray their hope for a better world by installing his own autocracy.
“He probably recommended it to take a jab at politicians as usual,” user tanawatofficial wrote on Twitter. “But it turns out the book was about taking a jab at dictatorship!”
“[Maybe] he is so used to wielding military power that he doesn’t see anything problematic or abnormal about a tyrannical regime?” user Pipad Krajaejun wrote on Facebook.
Pro-democracy campaigner Nuttaa “Bow” Mahattana also questioned whether Prayuth really understood the book’s meaning.
“Maybe Gen. Prayuth didn’t actually read the book,” Nuttaa wrote on her Facebook. “The basic lesson from the book is that there is no perfect way of governance. We must gradually learn and develop our choices.”
She continued, “But the most important thing is we have to hold on to our right to choose. Don’t let any half-man, half-pig gang take it away from us.”
Renewed interest in the book even extends beyond the online realm. A Facebook event was created to invite people to read Animal Farm and discuss its messages together at Chatuchak Park at 5pm today.
Perhaps alarmed by the backlash at Prayuth’s book suggestion, government spokesman Weerachon later told reporters the junta leader believes Animal Farm has nothing to do with Thai politics.
“The Prime Minister does not wish people to connect everything to politics,” Weerachon said. “What one can learn from the book is this: even though we may want to have everything that is better, we may not be able to fulfill all of our hopes, and no one can make everyone happy.”
Orwell’s much-loved satire has been translated into Thai for nine editions. Incidentally, as one literature student noted, each edition coincides with political turmoil and coups for the past 50 years.
For instance, the first Thai edition released in 1959 came just a year after Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat’s coup plunged Thailand into a dark age of military dictatorship. The 1977 edition was also published the same year of a military coup, and a year after right-wing militias and police massacred left-leaning students at Thammasat University.