THAILAND: History is ‘Rewritten’ by the Victors

ELIZABETH NAAI WRITES – The famed Land of Smiles could be mistaken for the Land of Scowls as color-coded political strife continues. On November 3, junta leader and present Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha prescribed a Thaksin-detox for the media to remedy Thailand’s conflict.

Since the coup against Yingluck Shinawatra’s government in May, royalists have dictated the nation’s agenda. Yellow shirts have not wielded this political power since 2001 and the “new victors” seek to rewrite history by erasing Thaksin Shinawatra from it. General Prayut received multiple questions during a press conference about the recent Shinawatra trip to China. He responded by requesting that the media refrain from publishing stories and pictures of the fugitive Prime Minster so the government could dissolve the remaining conflict.

Royalists are not simply removing Thaksin from public consciousness, they are erasing him from history. In September, the Ministry of Education complied with a government order to equip public schools with new history textbooks. Thaksin and the Red Shirt party’s political victories from 2001 to 2011 were erased from the texts. It would appear royalists are following the Roman example of damnatio memoiriae, meaning the damning of a memory.

The junta government’s agenda goes beyond damning Thaksin’s memory, it is damning the ideas he and the Red Shirt party represent. By labeling him a “fugitive,” the government has taken control of the narrative. Simply put, the junta feels that Thaksin poses a threat to national peace and security, and the solution is to simply erase him from public memory.

Excluding lèse majesté, Thailand boasts a relatively free society, including freedom of the press, as General Prayut has assured. But if this freedom “violates other peoples’ rights,” including to live in a peaceful society, then General Prayut will use “laws or power of force” to remove Thaksin from the news. Even if mainstream media complies, it will be next to impossible to truly damn the idea of Thaksin if he continues to live on through social media.

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