BANGKOK — The revolution that introduced democracy to Thailand may have taken place almost a century ago, but for many young people, it’s as new as yesterday.
Despite its significance in Thai political systems, the 1932 Siamese Revolution is rarely, if ever, taught in school textbooks, a silence that prompted some young people to join Wednesday’s rally to commemorate the 88th anniversary of the democratic coup, and seek to learn more about the forgotten history.
“Even reading it today, the declaration written 88 years ago is still fresh,” student activist “Ford” Tatthep, said.
Ford was speaking from a rally on BTS Skywalk at Pathum Wan Intersection where demonstrators gathered to honor the revolutionaries, known as the People’s Party, under watchful eyes of the police.
Two 22-year-old students who attended the protest said they had only learned about the 1932 Revolution through a “one-sided” narrative in school textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education. The pair said they only learned more about the revolt in university.
“We believe that what the People’s Party did was correct,” one of the students said. “In university they teach using different sources. It’s important to study history from a multifaceted perspective. Things that society told us aren’t always the truth.”
Activist “Champ,” who made the news in 2014 when he was arrested for reading George Orwell’s “1984” in front of Siam Paragon, said that in school he was only taught about the revolution in a negative light.
“They barely mentioned it,” he said. “When they did, teachers would say that the People’s Party seized power before the country was ready for democracy. They taught that the People’s Party were bad men that jockeyed each other for power.”
Both Champ and Ford said that they only learned about the revolution through self-study, reading non-curriculum history books or attending classes in universities.
“What I learned there had more evidence and sense. It’s not history about miracles, merit, or mercy,” Ford said.
People’s Party Resurrected
Yesterday’s rally was led by anti-government activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, who later said he was followed by an unmarked vehicle after leaving the protest.
“Democracy is not just for people interested in politics, only at Thammasat. Democracy is for everyone to participate in,” Penguin said at the rally. “The saying that Thai people aren’t ready for democracy is a lie. Democracy in Thailand is always being blocked.”
The group also read aloud the People’s Party Declaration that the revolutionaries had handed out to the public in leaflets when they brought down the absolute monarchy almost a century ago.
Some of the rousing sentences in the 88-year-old declaration may shock Thais today – “If the people are ignorant, the King is ignorant too, as we are all from the same nation.” The words were met with rousing cheers and applause at the protest.
“That people do not know what royalty knows is because royalty blocks them from full education in fear that if the people have education they will know the evil of royalty and not allow them to plant rice on their backs,” Penguin read aloud.
Police showed up in force even before the protest and tried to cordon off the press into one area and activists into another. After a scuffle, police abandoned their attempts and soon the activists huddled into one side of the skywalk.
The activists also set up a sign with these words from the declaration: “Let all people know that our country belongs to the people – not to the king, as has been deceitfully claimed.”
Close to the quotes was a photoshopped picture of Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha as a blindfolded puppet next to a playing card showing the King of Hearts.
After Penguin and his group finished their reading of the 1932 declaration, other activists tossed copies of it in the air – much like the soldiers did 88 years ago.