How Thailand should remember October

opinion October 10, 2016 01:00

By The Nation

Country needs non-partisan reflections on its history



October is a month etched indelibly in our collective political memory. That month in 1973, a “tyrannical” government was overthrown. That same month three years later, student activists were accused of being “communists” and lynched in a gross atrocity never seen before in modern Thai history. More recently, again in October, demonstrators marching against what they branded as the “Thaksin regime” were tear-gassed and fired on with live bullets. Deaths and injuries marked these black days of the month.
Politically significant moments, many of them bloody, have been accumulating, though, and they have spread throughout the rest of the Thai calendar. May is remembered by some for the uprising against the military-backed Suchinda Kraprayoon government in 1992, during which many people died. 
But supporters of Thaksin Shina-watra use the period the mark the crackdown on red shirts at Ratchaprasong Intersection in 2010.
Their opposite numbers, the anti-Thaksin camp, consider December 2013, when the movement succeeded in launching prolonged street protests, to be historic and a major catalyst for change.
Thai political turbulence has its roots in dark human instinct, ideological differences and raw greed. This is why the days and months mentioned above mean different things to different people. Even June 24, which marked the country’s massive shift from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, is not reminisced with complete unity. And December 10, Constitution Day, has been more for propagation than genuine patriotism. 
Pluralistic opinions are good, but we are a far cry from being a positively diversified country. There’s a thin line between being an “open” society and a “divided” nation. But the biggest difference is that the former can tolerate the differences while the latter cannot. The former does not celebrate any historic day with a political agenda but the latter does. The former tries to understand, but the latter does not. The former has one moral standard, but the latter associates most moral issues with political or ideological leanings.
To look at the bright side, maybe this is about growing up. It has been a very painful process but some may argue that Thailand has been lucky in many ways. Countries have had civil wars because of political conflicts but the Kingdom has seen relatively small death and injury tolls despite regular eruptions of violence. Our soul searching is continuing, underlined by the fact that political activists emerging from the October events of the 1970s have parted ways ideologically, with many now sitting on opposite sides of the current political divide.
In other words, the “Octobers” of the ’70s were a culmination of one thing – and the commencement of another. The period saw the rise and fall of military dictatorship and set the stage for an unprecedented yearning for democracy. In the decades that followed, the craving for democracy has reached a crescendo, but we can’t really say that our understanding of democracy was ripe during subsequent years. In fact, the existing political crisis stemmed from clashing interpretations of democracy between two camps of Thais. 
Again, the two sides are looking at “October” and seeing different things, with stereotyping being the order of the day. To truly mark the month of October, we should look at it as a major step on our political learning process, not as an ultimate judgement against anyone or any entity. History is valuable only when all prejudices are left out of the equation to allow true reflection to take place. If the biases remain, it’s very likely that bad history will repeat itself.