Red-shirt protesters can be considered "emerging active citizens" with an alliance that transcends class division, Thammasat University anthropology lecturer Yukti Mukdawijitra said yesterday.
Yukit, who is studying the phenomena of the red shirts, said he would rather refer to many members of the movement as middle class rather than the rural poor because they had achieved political consciousness as a result of the economic transformation of Thailand from the 1990s. The class conflict cannot be defined as one between the upper and lower classes, though there are definitely two groups with different political ideology in Thailand.
"Positively speaking, both [the red and the yellow shirts] have alliances that transcend class boundary. However the words phrai [commoners] and the ammataya [aristocrats] form part of the discourse being employed by the red shirts. To clearly link the yellow shirts to the old elite, the red shirts have been employing old language [referring to the feudal term phrai], when the reality is not that extreme," he said, referring to the current debate on whether or not phrai and ammataya still exist.
What we have today, Yukti said, is an emerging political consciousness with |a socio-economic base. "It means that if |we can't reverse the clock, we will have to walk hand in hand with this group of people."
The lecturer also warned about Bangkokians and educated Thais persistently deluding themselves about the dynamics of the red shirts. "They see the movement as being prone to violence, while I would like to call them 'brutal peace makers' [who are calling for negotiation and peace] who should be looking for structural peace, not immediate peace," he said. He also warned peace advocates to not exacerbate the situation through discourse about the red shirts being violence prone.
"Try to speak their language. Talk about justice," Yukti advised.
He said it was imperative that Bangkokians and the elite stop believing the red shirts are just blind supporters of ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra or that they had been paid to join the protest, and instead recognise that they are fighting for justice and that they are, indeed, politically conscious. He also urged people to not summarily portray the red shirts as being anti-royalist.
As for the aristocratic elite, Yukti said they were no longer like they would have been under an absolute monarchy, in that they now depend on democratic discourse and are very dependent on one person - Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda. However, he added, this group was not quite sure where it can stand in today's Thailand because Thai politics has changed.