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The Unquiet Agony of the Young Doves: Thailand After the Coup

Posted on Jan 22, 2015

By Chiranuch Premchaiporn

  Nachacha Kongudom, 21, raises a three-fingered salute outside a cinema where “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1” was showing in Bangkok last November. Police detained three students at the opening of the film. Opponents of last May’s military coup in Thailand have adopted the movie’s three-finger salute as a show of defiance, which has led to its banning by the military-imposed government. AP/Sakchai Lalit

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Dozens of books were torn up and burned on a clay stove in the kitchen. This included a book of music, “The White Dove,” which was the favorite poetry book of a child who was not aware of politics, and was not aware that there was the elimination of young doves, from both death and being.

—My memory of the Oct. 6, 1976, massacre


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Oct. 6, 1976: A distorted photograph became the fuse that resulted in the massacre of students at Thammasat University. Right-wing newspapers distorted a photograph of a play portraying the hanging of two electrical workers and said that the play constituted defamation of the prince (his rank at that time). Two hundred military radio stations used it to incite the massacre. As a result, there were 46 deaths that were counted, and more than 100 people whose deaths were not recorded. Hundreds were injured and student leaders were imprisoned. Young men and women chose to leave the cities for the jungle because their homes were no longer safe.

Oct. 6, 1996: Twenty years passed after the Oct. 6, 1976, massacre before there was an opportunity to hold the first commemoration. This was a time in Thai society when democracy was once again standing on its own two feet. The events of Black May in 1992 awakened the people, and the soldiers were forced back into the barracks to solely be “professional soldiers.”

Oct. 6, 2013: The commemoration this year was larger than usual because it was the 40th anniversary of Oct. 14, 1973. Traditionally, the commemorative event was dull and young activists secretly teased that it was the “Ching Ming Festival of the Octobrists.” This year the event changed and it was an exhibition of “Remembering 37 years of Oct. 6 and 40 years of Oct. 14.” The commemoration took place amid a political atmosphere that had grown intense since the Sept. 19, 2006, coup.

Since then, political conflict has divided people into color-coded factions: yellow, red, sky blue. These are subdivided into combinations such as progressive red, free yellow and others. All of this made the artistic and cultural commemoration of the month of October more exciting than usual, and included Chinese opera, likay [Thai folk drama], music, and “The Wolf Bride,” a stage play. The play was performed by the Prakai Fai theater group, whose members were part of the new generation of activists. They joined together on an ad hoc basis for this performance. The satirical comedy presented by this unknown theater group was met with applause, laughter and satisfaction.

On Oct. 30, 2013, not long after the performance, the Royal Monarch Alert Protection Network organized a meeting of its members and more than 200 attended. They played clips of the stage performance of “The Wolf Bride.” More than 50 people present put their names down as volunteers to make appointments at their local police stations to file complaints under Article 112 (of the Criminal Code, which stipulates that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years”) against the theater group on Nov. 1. At the same time, the Senate Committee to Monitor the Enforcement of Laws and Standards Related to the Protection of the Monarchy invited the organizers of the commemorative events to give their accounts as part of the investigation of the staging of the play.

Oct. 6, 2014: Pornthip Munkhong, or Golf, the director of “The Wolf Bride,” and Patiwat Saraiyaem, or Bank, a fine arts student at Khon Kaen University and one of the actors, have become political prisoners. They are suspects in a national security case of alleged violation of Article 112, or lèse majesté, due to the play that they performed during last year’s commemoration of the October events.

If the play “The Hanging” was once like a goat leading society astray in the past, then the play “The Wolf Bride” is like a lamb that is being relentlessly hunted in the present. It is a ridiculous cycle, but there is no laughter. The persecution and coercion forces the young doves to bow down. Some have been hunted down. Some cannot bear it and must flee to live in another land.

Golf is a small young woman who is full of strength. When I saw her behind the bars at the Criminal Court, she looked more gaunt than usual. The energy with which she once glowed, and which those close to her could feel, seemed astonishingly faint. Speaking to me as if lamenting to herself, she said, “I have to be strong and do whatever I can to kill time to make it pass by quickly in here, right?” I swallowed the lump in my throat and simply nodded.

Bank studied and trained in local music and is proud to be an Isan (northeastern) artist. In August 2013, he won a contest for children’s lullabies, in the category of Isan children’s lullabies. Even after his freedom was taken from him, he still pushed himself to practice singing mor lam (northeastern folk music). He told his university friends who went to visit him that “I am human and I have to struggle. You do not need to worry. I have adjusted myself already and I do not have any problems.” Even though Bank held firm to this, some of his older friends who visited him could not help but worry how long he would be able to remain a cheerful young man.

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