Village Scouts being led in shouts of "Chai Yo" as they pass Thammasat University.
Village Scouts gathering at Sanam Luang - 4:15pm, November 28, 2004
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The Village Scouts are a patriotic group that was organized by the border patrol police to foster nationalism during the era of the communist insurgency. On Sunday afternoon at Sanam Luang, the largest gathering of Village Scouts took place since 1976 when the scouts assisted in a crackdown on protesters at Thammasat University. These days, however, most of the Scouts appear to be elderly men and women.
After spending time folding paper cranes to be dropped over provinces in the South, the scouts, grouped by province, marched around Sanam Luang, shouting "Chai Yo" as they passed Thammasat University. Then they returned to the center of the park to hear patriotic speeches.
The symbolism of this march would not be lost on those who are opposed to the Thai Rak Thai. The fear is that the premier is reviving the scouts as a threat to those who might oppose him. As the scouts helped put down student unrest in the 1970s, a march by Thammasat University is a symbolic act meant to show the muscle the prime minister can muster to support his position.
Update: There does not appear to be an article on this in Monday's Bangkok Post (they have a very early press deadline), but they did run a photo on the front page. The Nation's article on the gathering includes a history of the Scout movement:
Scout leader vows to banish separatists - The Nation, November 29, 2004
The 20,000 Village Scouts who rallied yesterday at Sanam Luang from throughout the Kingdom, brandishing national flags and belting out a Cold War-era patriotic song, were treated to a promise by one of their leaders that their "separatist" enemies in the South would soon be driven out of the country.
"They must be driven off Thai soil within 1,000 days!" intoned a clearly emotional octogenarian Pol Maj General Charoenrerk Charas-romrun, chairman of the advisory board of Thailand's largest rightwing mass organisation. "We shall fight to the death!"...
In 1976 alone, about two million Thais became village scouts, before the movement fizzled out in 1981, only to re-emerge yesterday to protect the country from the threat of southern separatism...
Update: Thai-language papers had nothing to say about the Village Scouts being called up again on Sunday. Neither Thairath, Matichon or Thaipost (or the English-language Bangkok Post) had editorials or comments on it. This is likely due to the sensitive issues of nationalism that the Scouts embody and perhaps sympathy with the Scouts' latest mission--to somehow bring peace in the South. Only the English-language Nation featured a history and perspective of the Scout movement.
Earlier: VILLAGE SCOUTS MEETING: Rally for peace raises concern - The Nation, November 22, 2004
Despite good intentions, scouts planned assembly sparks fears of a nationalist revival. Tens of thousands of village scouts are expected to converge on Bangkoks Sanam Luang on Sunday to promote peace efforts in the deep South, said the public relations chief for the Village Scout Operation Centre...
It will be the biggest political gathering of the group since they were deployed in 1976 to help suppress pro-democracy students...
Marching band playing the National Anthem.
Making origami cranes for the Thai Deep South is an activity to somehow promote peace in the region.
Above and below: Groups from many provinces were represented.