Bangkok May 21 and 22- Newspaper headlines “A Nation Mourns”

Bangkok continues to be on the mend- another night of quiet and another morning of more cleanup and normal activities. The subway and skytrain systems are still closed, but many of the roads are beginning to reopen. The military and police presence is significant, they are very calm, friendly and in control.

After watching CNN (and even the BBC) continue to try and make the conditions in Bangkok and divide in Thai society a story a drama, I wanted to offer some perspectives on the hysteria CNN is reporting.

First, there are not bands of red shirts roving the streets that are armed and randomly shooting. I know drama is good for CNN and daytime TV, but it isn’t happening.

Thai people are not happy about this, the vast majority of red shirts leaving Bangkok are not vowing to come back and “win”. CNN showed one red shirt saying “we will be back and win”, some want that but I do not think this view is shared by many of the red shirts and I do not think that red shirts feel victory was or is going to be achieved through violence. I read that 80% of the red shirts protesters left at the rally site were women or “older” people, not exactly a militia.

Some comments by Veera, on of the core red shirt leaders, upon turning himself in yesterday “The fight for democracy can only be achieved by non-violent means. That is undisputable.”

Comments by the Finance Minister when conducting an interview with BBC “no, the Thai government does not consider this a victory, we have major issues that must be addressed in our society.”

My comments.

It is hard for us to understand, but many red shirts didn’t know exactly what was happening.  We must realize these people do not have computers, internet access, smart phones and TV channels are limited to basic channels. Must of the news they received prior to and at the rally was coming from the red shirts stage- much easier to galvanize support and set an agenda when you control the information flow.  What will happen when they return home, see the pictures (hopefully) of the destruction in Bangkok?

The red shirts are not one group of radical people- they are a collection of groups from many different towns and cities, usually from the North and Northeast of Thailand. It was not like one small group of people came here upset and angry. While they are united in many ways, think of them like the Republican or Democrat party in the USA where they are made up of different groups and views (like non-violence).

Yes, the red shirts were paid and many left when the money dried up.  I visited the rally site numerous times and was told what they were paid and how they were paid. Following the money will help solve a great number of the challenges Thailand faces.

Yes, the red shirts were armed. I saw heavy weapons, saw them used, saw all kinds of Molotov cocktails and other small weapons. I do not think these were going to be used by the true red shirts, but by their militia. They did not arrive in Bangkok with deposed Generals leading a “black shirt guard”, this aspect of the protest came later- making me think violence was not their primary goal in Bangkok.

The government was not in position to stop the rally in the central business district when it moved there. Where were the police when the rally started? Why were the red shirts allowed to set up a massive stage in the middle of traffic? Wouldn’t you need to plan that for days? There was much talk that the police and military were not fully supporting the government, it appears that is what allowed the rally site to move to the key commercial area.

The yellow shirts closed the airport with their protest a few years ago, the red shirts were under pressure to do more than the yellow shirts.

The moment people begin losing their life, all rules change. The negotiations become much more emotional, how do you end a protest once this has happened?

Was the military harsh at times? Probably. But, when you see your fellow soldiers and commander shot and killed or blow up, how do you react? What do you do when pelted by stones amid a tire fire? At some point shoot first happens.

I make these comments in hopes that people will understand how the events unfolded. I do not have an opinion about which party should lead Thailand and who was right or wrong. I know, firsthand, the reds were not a wild band of M-79 toting farmers that were foaming at the mouth for violence. I also know the government struggled to be in control of the situation and many events unfolded- namely due to lack of speaking directly to each other- than allowed the conditions to spiral out of control and end with guns, barricades and tanks.

This is not a reflection of Thailand or Thai people.

The curfew and cleanup continues, the streets are getting back to normal and Bangkok is quickly becoming safe again. The mending of Thai people will take a long time and significant work, but key people appear to be doing and saying the right things to make this happen.

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About faranginbangkok

Additional pictures: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/faranginbangkok For more updates about Bangkok, Thailand and other thoughts: www.twitter.com/lilrichardb I began working in Bangkok during 2008- a time that featured a great deal of political unrest in Thailand and particularly Bangkok. I had lived in San Francisco for 15 years and was working on a project in Thailand. Generally I spent 2 weeks in Bangkok and then 3-4 weeks in San Francisco. Did Bangkok begin to feel like home? Yes, and No. Bangkok and the Thai culture forced me to feel many things, the change in culture and environment was so dramatic it forced the decision- embrace or ignore. I embraced and made Bangkok my home and base in 2009. I have enjoyed living in Bangkok, experiencing Thailand and the entire ASEAN region.
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One Response to Bangkok May 21 and 22- Newspaper headlines “A Nation Mourns”

  1. wbosch says:

    Thanks for an informative and fair minded post. It is all so sad. No one comes out a “winner” when these kind of events happen.

    I also appreciate your past posts as well. Reading and watching CNN and the BBC just made me wonder about them being “news” organizations. My wife’s family lives close to the area of conflict and we were worried about them. The only thing they lost was a lot of business.

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