Published on December 12th, 2013 |
by Jack Cowell
An unlikely mirror – impressions from Bangkok
As usual, many conflicting approaches have been taken by Western media outlets in trying to understand and decompose the current demonstrations in Thailand. Searching through the left wing European press and the ultra-conservative US media for opinion remains one of my favorite ways to read the news. On average the politics is loosely understood, and the mood of the people and their intentions analysed in part. Indeed it is a complicated business. It is rare that a popular movement will seek to depose an elected government and replace it with one of appointed people (for the time being). Yet it is also rare to have a situation in which the sister of a former deposed (militarily) leader, referred to many times as a dictator, is in charge of what the people refer to as the Shinawatra regime.
In any case, a fairly thorough overview of events as they have unfolded, the political background, and the demands and political aspirations of the opposition can be found anywhere. This article is not an appraisal of the movement or its demands. Writing as a foreigner in Thailand, to do so would be both a mistake and improper. What it is proper for this article to discuss however is what such events say about the UK.
Yesterday afternoon I was driven along Rama V Road in Central Bangkok, around the Royal Palace and towards the main area of demonstrations. I was struck by the congenial, almost jovial manner in which the protest seemed to be being carried out. I was slightly ill-at-ease, but only due to being a very sore thumb in a very big crowd. There was little in the way of a violent atmosphere, the good intentions of all and the will of these people to do what they see as best for their country was palpable. It was difficult to refrain from joining in.
What also struck me was how far this society is politicised. Every part of society seemed to be equally represented; the young shouting from the roofs of cars waving flags, the old walking beside them holding up placards, and the middle aged wearing Thai bracelets and blowing whistles to express their opinion. The organisation was impressive to say the least. Not only did every person present, of every background and position in society seem to be equally dedicated to what they were there for, but they all seemed equally well informed of why they were there. This may seem a simple thing to be impressed by, but it is a rare thing to find in political or civil movements in the West, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
Compare these scenes with any seen in London when there has been a mass demonstration in recent years involving large numbers of people, including the young. The London riots, initially an expression of displeasure at highly unpopular austerity measures being brought in by the Conservative government swiftly descended to looting, muggings and pointless assaults on innocent people. Some people just wanted to cause others harm, and they saw this as their opportunity. These people are in plentiful supply in England it seems, and it is for this reason that we cannot allow ourselves to be as politically active as the Thais apparently are.
The protests in Bangkok have not been peaceful in entirety; far from it. A ten minute journey across the city has become a 45 minute one due to barbed wire and blockades. But the violence is importantly political; it is not senseless, and it is not the product of a bored malaise. Most crucially, it is not counter-productive. With each skirmish with the police, the regime comes closer to having to step down. What good burning down a furniture shop did in London is beyond anyone.
I do not wish to say anything beyond pointing out the differences between our two societies in terms of the level of political awareness and the ability to carry out activities en mass without in-fighting and vandalism to emerge. While trouble has occurred in Bangkok during these demonstrations, my time in amongst the protest told me that nobody was looking for it, and that alone is enough to set this movement apart in terms of its likelihood of success. This fact has been true of so many demonstrations in the Thai capital which have raged for many reasons since 2006, not least because of the Shinawatra dynasty. The burning of buildings (such as the Central World shopping center) has always been a response to building tensions and government policies, not the beginning of a mindless and goalless rampage. That is something to bare in mind for any would be revolutionaries in Britain. Until we can trust ourselves not to loot and pillage the first chance we get, such a movement, if it were needed, would not succeed in our country. That is a sad fact indeed.
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