Memories of a massacre, cautionary tale for today – Bangkok Post, October 9, 2011
…The plays are highly controversial as they reveal a part of Thai history that is not officially recognised by the state. The events of Oct 6, 1976 are not a part of the history curricula of schools except at the university level and even then only at select institutions. Some TV media outlets have banned coverage of the plays and the overall commemoration…
[A controversial article that has strangely disappeared from the Bangkok Post website. Here is the full text.]
Memories of a massacre, cautionary tale for today
The co-founder of a group of activists staging plays centering on the slaughter of students on Oct 6, 1976 at Thammasat finds lessons written in blood about what can happen when divisions are left to fester into fury
Published: 9/10/2011 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
A group of young activists calling themselves “Prakai Fire” are staging three plays — The Hanging, The Dome Tunnel and True Reflections of Oct 6 — that centre on one of the most controversial days in modern Thai history. The plays are part of a two-week event that began on Oct 1 and concludes on Friday held at Thammasat University to commemorate the student massacre there on Oct 6, 1976.
CONFRONTATION: On Oct 6, 1976, police ordered protesters at Thammasat University, including both male and female students, to lie face down with their shirts off on the football field. PHOTO: BKK POST ARCHIVE
The plays are highly controversial as they reveal a part of Thai history that is not officially recognised by the state. The events of Oct 6, 1976 are not a part of the history curricula of schools except at the university level and even then only at select institutions. Some TV media outlets have banned coverage of the plays and the overall commemoration.
Porntip Mankong is the 23-year-old co-founder of Prakai Fire.
There are elements in society that are very unhappy about these plays. Have you been threatened?
Yes. For example, The Hanging was staged on Oct 4. There was a person who called to threaten us, saying he represented the Thammasat Students Association, which surprised us because we collaborate with the students association to do the plays. But he said his is a different association. He threatened that if we staged the play at Thammasat’s Larn Po, our security could not be guaranteed. So at first we wanted to change the venue to do it in front of the main auditorium. But in the end, the issue was cleared. Vipa Daomanee, a Thammasart professor and coordinator of the events, cleared it up for us.
Only one threat?
Only one direct threat. Others threats were made on our Facebook page — many of them. They say we are making money off the dead. They say we’re using history to exploit the sorrow of the people. They say we’re using the events of Oct 6 in connection with the red shirts. We do not understand this. Why would they think this way?
You’re only 23. How did you get involved in such hard-core, controversial issues?
I have been into activism since high school and also with the Student Federation of Thailand. Then I helped create Prakai Fire [a group of young activists]. In 2009 we began putting on performances for different labour organisations around the country when they staged rallies. But it was nothing political. We focused on working with the labourers.
During last year’s violence [in April and May], we saw an opportunity to do more. At the time, there were emergency laws in effect and everybody was under incredible pressure. We thought our work would help as an outlet to relieve that pressure and discourage people from grabbing weapons and turning to violence.
Where do you get your funding?
From donations. When we perform at a rally, we take donations — five baht here, 10 baht there. We don’t need the money. We are students. We are working people. Some still get money from parents.
How old are you guys?
One of our youngest actors is six years old. We have high school freshmen, juniors and seniors, as well as people in college and working people.
Your website states: `Every one of our performances has a clear political stance. There’s no need for interpretation and they’re not overly artistic. Our stance is that we stand together for the benefit of the prai [common people]. We don’t support powers that exist outside the system.’ Why prai? Doesn’t this say to people that you sympathise, if not collaborate, with the red shirts?
Well, because it’s a fashionable word. [She laughs]. No, in truth when we use the word prai we refer to workers, labourers and farmers — the people who lack rights in society. The term helps us communicate with those we believe need more information, especially about politics.
But doesn’t the word automatically cause misunderstandings and worsen social divisions?
Well, everyone loves to refer to `the people’ — the people this, the people that. But we know that they don’t represent the people. They are lobbyists in government. They get high salaries. They claim to work for the people, but they don’t.
Can you name any of these people?
I would rather not. [She laughs]. We thought about whether we should use the word prai a long time before doing so. In 2010, we went to the red shirt rallies and did a survey to see who these people really are. We found that most of them were middle class The results were that most of them were from the middle class both from Bangkok and the provinces. So what does prai mean? We decided to define prai as those with a political stance supporting the workers and farmers regardless of their incomes.
So, a prai, by your definition, is someone who stands up for the poor and not, let’s say, Thaksin Shinawatra?
We have to accept that a portion of the UDD [United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship] is for Thaksin. The fact is we can’t separate the UDD from the Puea Thai Party.
So your group doesn’t have any political affiliations?
We don’t care about the UDD [as an organisation]. But we care about the UDD as people. We believe that a portion of the demonstrators are for Thaksin.
However, we believe we have to lift the ideology above him so that’s not fixed on one man. Our professor taught us that if a country is governed by only one person and the people only have faith in that individual, trouble will follow once that person is out of power. It’s the system — whether executive, legislative, economic or judicial — that we have to focus on. If the system works, then those individuals who come into the system can make the country work.
How do your group’s three plays reflect Thai society today?
There were differences of opinions then and now. Oct 6 happened because there were differences of opinions. People were killed because of differences of opinions.
People on both sides?
Yes. Then there are those who fled into the jungle because of differences of opinions. The killings last year were the same — people killed because of differences of opinions. People can’t accept these differences and are ready to kill each other over them. Oct 6 should be a lesson.
If society had recognised the lessons of Oct 6, last year’s killings would not have happened. But Thai society still can’t accept differences of opinions. Everyone still prefers to sweep issues under the carpet. We need to use Oct 6, Black May 1992, or the events from last year as lessons and understand that it is OK to have differing opinions.
So you’re saying history repeats itself if we don’t learn from it?
You use the term `everyone’ when you’re talking about people driven to killing because they can’t accept differences of opinions. So you don’t put the blame on either side, whether that of the state or the people?
Yes. Everyone has differences of opinions. Then they fight. Also at issue is the power of the military. We want to push for military reforms. If the military had less power — or at least not excessive power — the violence wouldn’t have been so excessive.
These are the `powers that exist outside the system’ you referred to?
Other than the military, are there any other `powers that exist outside the system’?
There are those powers that interfere in politics. But let’s not talk about them.
Is Thailand on the right track with the Puea Thai government?
The people elected them democratically, which we should accept. We still want to push for military reforms. We still have concerns with power that exists outside the system. Our group only believes maybe 60 or 70 per cent in the Puea Thai Party because we still believe that there are capitalist and tycoon interests driving it. Our movement believes in a true political movement for the workers, which we believe could happen in the future.