From Manager, February 7, 2017
On the tombstone: Gen. Romklao [along with his date of both and death which are too small to read here]
On the flag: Reconciliation [this word is also used to mean “harmony”]
[This shows the many groups involved in the junta’s reconciliation plan following Deputy PM Prawit’s banner of “harmony.” As they march, they trod over the grave Col. Romklao (posthumously promoted to general) who was gunned down supposedly by “men in black” during a pitched battle between the military and armed Red Shirt protesters in 2010.
These men in black were a conspicuous part of Red Shirt protests displaying their weaponry and were often seen at the front lines resisting attempts to disperse their protests in Bangkok.
The cartoonist is chiding the junta for ignoring the deaths of its own in a rush to create harmony. The Manager/ASTV newspaper in particular has often harshly attacked the military when it feels it might seek a political peace that includes a pardon for Thaksin and an absolving of the Red Shirts.
It has been difficult to assign legal culpability for actions taken during the Red Shirt sieges of Bangkok. When Thaksin-directed governments are in power, legal cases against Red Shirts are dropped or dismissed and charges are drummed up against opposition parties. When Thaksin-directed governments are out of power, the reverse happens, and the Red Shirts and Thaksin-allied politicians find themselves under legal threat again.
In all of this the military is essentially immune from legal action. The military has a self-appointed role as the protector of the nation and will brook no oversight of its decisions. Perhaps even more consequential, all sides seek to ally themselves with the army to some extent to provide backup and stability for their political ambitions.
Implicit in the Thai conceptualization of harmony (or reconciliation) is the idea that the attainment of harmony means no one is blamed and the past is forgotten. This is why activists react so strongly when these ideas are brought up. They know harmony and reconciliation mean unconditional forgiveness no matter who did what or if any wrong was done. It means protest-related deaths will remain forever unsolved. It also lays bare political groups like the Red Shirts as hungering after martyr’s deaths so they can be traded away in a future amnesty deal that absolves all sides as long as their political goals are met.
But those who protest amnesty are the minority. They are pushing back against the wider, more dominant themes of their culture. These beliefs are quite different than the beliefs assumed to be simply common sense by the Western world.
Western beliefs that free speech is the highest value and that the open airing of truth is cathartic do not apply here. The Thai focus on unity means that deference and the careful editing of one’s speech is thought to be very important. Blaming and any open discussion of issues that might cause others to “lose face” is believed, in the Thai world, to cause a violent and unreasoning reaction. To prevent this, the open truth-telling of the West is to be avoided in the name of preserving the unity of the nation’s metaphorical village. This is the impulse that underlies Thailand’s “forgive and forget” reconciliation plans over the years.
The desire for unity and Thai-style reconciliation means that during future political squabbles the army or political pressure groups like the Red Shirts will again be incentivized to provoke situations to create martyrs for their cause. This is with the aim of insisting that only a pardon or amnesty will solve the situation and usher in a political reset devoid of any finger-pointing or justice for those who died in the process.]
See also: Analysis: Thailand’s Half Democracy
2Bangkok.com Editor Ron Morris’ book, The Thai Book: A Field Guide to Thai Political Motivations, is available in the Kindle Store.