BURNING ISSUE

It may be time to take off the bilindfold


In Thailand, reality and its acknowledgement have a way of being supplanted by fiction and denial.

Take for instance the gathering of some 10,000 red shirts last Sunday at Rajprasong intersection to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2006 coup and the fourth month since the military cracked down on the movement.

The one thing conspicuously missing from media coverage was the angry messages emblazoned on the corrugated iron wall outside CentralWorld, which is being rebuilt after the red shirts allegedly burned it down in the aftermath of the crackdown.

Until late Sunday afternoon, the walls were plastered with colourful feel-good propaganda calling for national unity, which were later replaced by angry messages aimed squarely at the established old elite saying things that cannot be reproduced here or anywhere else without the risk of violating the lese majeste law.

At about 7pm that Sunday evening, a number of red shirts stood in front of the wall airing their anger and political grievances. The very next day, these messages were removed and life went on as if they were never there to begin with.

The 25-metre long wall of corrugated iron is still there, with absolutely no sign of there being any colourful messages written on it - it's just bare and grey.

But on Sunday night, the wall carried heartfelt messages from |a substantial number of red shirts before someone decided to |sanitise the wall and remove it |from the history of Thai politics, circa 2010.

A Western photojournalist, who understood the meaning of some of those messages, told this writer about how uneasy they made him feel and was wondering what he should do with the photographs.

The gap between what many Thai people want to believe about certain issues and the reality of the beliefs held by some red-shirt Thais has never become wider. The April-May protests and the subsequent crackdown, which led to a combined total of 91 deaths, only served to widen the gap and instil more anger and paranoia. The gap between what is spoken and admitted privately, and what is recited and dismissed publicly is widening and exacting an increasing cost on Thai society.

On Tuesday, Surakiart Sathirathai, who was foreign minister under Thaksin Shinawatra and distanced himself from the premier before the September 2006 coup, said in a speech at Siam University that "people who defame and attack the [royal] institution" are "becoming more visible". He acknowledged this to be one of the two root causes for the current political divide, though he failed to explain why he thinks that might be the case.

The messages on the wall were unprecedented and their almost-immediate removal is symptomatic of a censored society, while those who disagree with the red shirts are too afraid to ask why so many red shirts think and believe in the things they do.

Denying what a substantial |number of the population thinks and believes will not pull the country out of the current political impasse.

A Pandora's box was opened when the coup ousted Thaksin four years ago. The least we can do now, after 91 people have died, is to start acknowledging what others feel and ask ourselves why.

 


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