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Deforming Thai Politics


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Deforming Thai Politics

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Deforming Thai Politics

  1. 1. Techer Cmlosirior Ltd, Salisbur,v 6t20t2011 Third Text, Vol. 25, lssue 4, july, 2011, 419-429 cTTtis87587 fi tntr*a**p ll Routledoe Deforming Thai Politics As Read through Thai Contemporary Art 10 Pandit Chanrochanakit THE GHOST OF THAKSIN 1. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, P itni tiue, CUIO, Milan, 2009, p 13 2. The Ministry of Culture organised the exhibition 'Imagine Peace'at rhe Bangkok Art and Culture Centre betrveen 25 fune and 22 August 2010. According to its curator, Apinan Poshyananda, the exhibition was meant to express'the desire tbr peace and reconciliation', See 'Inagine Peace: Thai Exhibit on [the] Political Crisis', http//ww.,asp?intsec=1 1 Ecint_new=3904fJ, accessed 10 August 2010. 3. The letter to Montien Boonma is part of Navin Rawanchaikul's installation P lease Dotnte Your ldeas to a Silpathc'nr Artst in his Silpathom award-winning exhibition held at Queen Sirikit Art Gallery from 29 July to 10 August 2010. 4, I refer to each artist by his or her first name, following Thai custom. 5. The PAD, the anri-Tlraksin movement also known as the 'yellow shin' movement, was founded on 8 February 2006. The founders were Sondhi Limthongkul, Chamlong fA]gbost uill appear under certain condi:tions, uthen it is ttot qaite light and nat quite darh. (at tbe break of dautn flnd at uailight).t 20 Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Primitiue, 2009 After the May 2010 military crackdown on rhe Red Shirts, the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the governmenr of Abhisit Vejjajiva encouraged the country's best-known artists to organise an exhibition. Titled 'Imagine Peace', the exhibition was intended to reconcile the mptures caused by three years of protracted domestic political conflicts from 2006 to the present. As Navin Rawanchaikul stated in his letter to the late Montien Boonma: Actually there is currently a huge show called 'Imagine Peace' at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Cenrre.' They claim that the aim is to heal our 30 sociery through art, after the recent political conflic that climaxed in unexpected violence and bloodshed on the sreets of our country. Although I like a few pieces in that exhibition, including your powerful drawing, it is sad to see that artists are being used as tools for government propaganda.s 35 Back in 2006, groups of people formed an anti-Thaksin movement and wore symbolic yellow shirts to represent their support of the king. Many artists helped to paint the protest stage backdrop, including Vasan Sitthiket, an outspoken 'Yellow Shirt' artist on rhe side of the People's Alliance for Demouacy (PAD), the leading anti-Thaksin faction. Although Vasan has denied any affiliation as such, he has appeared on rhe PAD sfage, participating in poetry readings on various occasions that collectively reaffirm his opposition to Thaksin Shinawatra and the Red Shirt movement.4 Moreover, Vasan ioined the PAD the very day of its formation.s His affiliations are explicitly articulated in a group exhibition titled '2A /20', where Vasan juxtaposes rwo paintings. The first, 1,7-1,9 May 7992, refers to the }lf:ay 1992 movement which saw thousands prorest against the government of General Suchinda Kraprayoon as a democratic movement. A man holding a national flag is shot by a rifle, and at the top of the Trird Texr ISSN 0952'8822 print/ISSN 1475-5297 online (Q http://ww.tandf .co.ukljournals DOI: 10.1 080/09528822.201 1..587687 Third Text (2011) 4.5 50
  2. 2. 424 Srimuang, Somsak Kcaisuk, Sornkiat Pongpaibul, Pipob Thongchai and Suriyami Katasila, Vasan and many othe. affists loined the PAD, using their art to raise funds via art auctions, campaign T-shirts etc. work is a sentence which readst '77-19 May 1.992 - Thais dead for democracy.' The second painting portrays the May 2010 movement involving the protests staged by Thaksin's 'Red Shirt' supporters as a nondemocratic movement. Titled 19 May 2010 (2010), it bears another legend: 'Thais dead for the crook.' The painting shows a man in a red shin about to throw a burning Molotov cocktail. The man's red T-shirt shows the face of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister ousted in a military coup.6 According to Vasan's painting, he advocates the Yellow Shirts' opposition to Thaksin, whom he portrays as a man of evil. His statement in suppon of the exhibition clearly states this: I do my political art to warn Thai sociery about how ugly Thai politics 6. Thaksin Shinarvatra served two terms as Prime Minister of Thailand from 2001 to 2006. He was ousted by a military coup on 19 September 2006, See Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker, Thaksin, second edition, Silkworm Books, Bangkok, 2009 for more details. 60 is, and to show the misery and sufferin_g of the Thai people who are born to be rhe prey of political power games.l Vasan is not the only Thai artist who targets Thaksin; a number of nonPAD artists have also worked on themes with an anti-Thaksin sentiment. For exanrple, Pichaya Khunnawat's Mr. Tricky 12005*2007) shows a man with a square face walking on four legs; the face is a caricature of Thaksin with dollar signs in his eyes.8 The painting is meant to represent 65 70 the Thaksin government as greedy and corrupt. In August 2005, Porntaweesak Rimsakul held a solo exhibition based on his childhood 80 85 90 ;il '..* Porntaweesak Rimsakul, RGB's War,2005, mixed media installation, courtesy of the artist, photo: Steven Pettifor 100
  3. 3. 421 7. Vasan Simhiket, 20120: 20 Years 20 Artists: Ann iuersary Ccl e b ati on Fxhibitiof, , 3 August- t 5 A,ugst 2A10, Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and Ahko Art Gallery, memories of growing up in a province whose activities were centred on a military base. In the exhibition, Porntaweesak took a number of soldiers' helmets and repurposed them as radio-controlled cars. The audience could then control each helmet by using a remote control, using the helmets to fight each other and produce colours - red, blue or g.reen on a wooden board. Ark Fongsamut notes: Bangkok, 2010, p 24 8, Elaine W Ng,'Thailand', ArtAsiaPacifc Alnduc 2008 13).,2Q08,pp267268 9. Ark Fongsamut, 'Pomtaweesak Rimsakul', P ornraue esa k's E* hi bi t ion 7 September-Z9 Octobet 2006, 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok,2006 10. ln Phongpaichit and Baker, op cir, pp 278-279. See another tmnslation from Wikipedia which reads: 'In horse racing they have the stable and the owner of the stable ovsns the horse. The jockey comes and rides the horse during the race. but the jockey does not own the horse. It's very easy [to comprehend].', 'Prem Tinsulanonda', accessed 20 August 2010, I 1, I use the term 'middle class' in the manner of a discursive concept; a$ suggested by James Ockey, there are two outstanding Iroups among the middle class, The first is the group made newly rich by the economic prosperity of the 1980s and 1990s that Ockey calls the 'consumer middle class'. They enloy the fruitful products of economic development bur are scldom sati$fied with public policy. The second group enjoys careers that grant them a higher status than that of the rural poor. See Chapter Seven,'Thai Middle Class Elements: I:ading in Democracy?', in James Ockey, MaAiag Democra cy : Leadersh ip, Class, Gender, atd I P alti cipa tion in Thailand, Silkworm, Bangkok, 2005, pp 151P olitica 177. 12. See discussion on Thaksin Shinawatra and his charges in Phongpaichit and Chriq op cit, and debates on The military, in command during the time of a weak political system, has now become a servant as political parties have gained in strength. A one paffy system raises so many doubts about political power that people focus on the commercial benefits, as if money can buy anything. The corflict between political benefits and public benefits is thus raised. Porntaweesak cannot help wanting to examine and raise this question, in which the state of authoriry and the state of being under a commander are revised.e 115 Porntaweesak's work recalls a famous phrase uttered by General Prem Tinsulanonda in his speech at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy shortly before 19 September 2006, when the Royal Thai Army staged a coup against Thaksin's government. In it Prem stated: 120 I am a member of the cavalry and know a thing or two about horses. In horseracing, horse owoers hire jockeys to ride their horses. The jockeys do not own the horses, they iust ride them. A government is like a horse, surprises soldiers, but the real owners are the country, and the king. Some jockeys ride well, and other don't, Governments are the same.lo 125 It In his work, Porntaweesak echoed Prem's impressive speech, in the way in which it allowed the audience to control the soldier's helmets and project colours onto the canvas. The freedom to mobilise helmets allowed the audience to exercise their desire to control the military, a desire that was realised during the PAD campaign. The project was highly appreciated by its audience, mostly members of the Thai middle class.ll The curator, historian and critic Apinan Poshyananda remarked, for instance, that Porntaweesak capttues the feeling of Bangkok residents and the ways 130 in which they support military intervention in Thai politics. Shortly after Porntaweesak's exhibition, the army staged its coup d'6tat. The junta, the so-called 'Council for Democratic Reform' (CDR), stated that Thaksin had destroyed the checks and balances designed to protect independent organisations in accordance with the 1997 constitution.lz The Thaksin governmenr was also charged with corruption, and allegations that these practices had personally enriched the former prime minister himself. As a result, the image that remained of the Thaksin government was that of a corrupt state which it was ethically iustifiable to remove. When the CDR seized power from Thaksin, the iunta dissolved Parliament and the Senate, and a 'year zero' was announced. Bangkok residents celebrated the coup by giving army officials garlands and gift baskets, flirting with the tank drivers by wearing 'coyote' (skimpy) costumes and hot-pants, and even taking wedding photos in front of the tanks. It was the first time that the Thai army had received such a warm welcome and public support since the violent suppression of protests against anofher military government in 145 150 May 1.992. Yet despite such support, it was only the start of what might be described as an illusive freedom. Thai politics after the 2005 coup has 155
  4. 4. 422 Thaksin's undemocratic acts and reasons to overthrown him and his government in Kasian Techapira, 'Toppling Thaksin', Nera LeF Rca!ru 39, May-June 2006, pp 537 and Thongchai Winichakul, 'Toppling Democracy',,forzal o/ Contentporury Asia,vol J8, no 1, Febrnary 2008, pp 1 1-37.!?inichakul's argrments support Tamada's anallsis of the process of de-democratisadon and the rise of pro-monarchist been a process of limited democracy with more iudicial intervention known as 'Tulakarnpiwat', whereby the judiciary has been allowed a greater role in auditing legal processes, as well as in inspecting and recruiting personnel into organisations entrusted to maintain a system of checks and balances in legal and political processes. Tulakarnpiwat reveals a tension between popular sovereignfy and an autocratic regime. Porqtaweesak's remote-controlled helmets are not iust toys and objects of art, but rather a sign of the different aesthetics of contemporary Thai cultures, which reflect back upon one another. As Arjun Appadurai observed, the work of imagination operates in the 6elds of both arts and politics.l3 Aesthetics and politics are interfwined and it is the deformation of both that will serve as the focus of this article. sntiments. RED SIIIRTS v YELLOW SHIRTS: A SIGN AF THE 'DEFORJVT,ATrON' 160 165 t70 AF THAI POLITTCS Eoetybody's contem7orary and eternal rec11tteflce,14 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Proiect Rural voters form the maiority of Thai society and elect the majority of representatives who are then empowered to form a government. Yet as the well-known political scientist Anek Laothamatas points out, although rural constituents elected the government, it was the urban middle classes which overthrew it. He stresses that the key to economic and political reform is to empower the middle classes, so that they can elect their 13. Ariun Appadurai, Modemity at Large, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1 996 14. Valter Beniamin, T/:e Ar eadcs Ptoj ect, Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, trans, Belknap Press, New York, 20Q2,p 917 15. Anek Laothamaus, $oag nagara prachathippatai {Tales of Tuo Denocratic Cities: A Path to Economia and Political Refumation for D em ocra cy, Matichon hess, Bangkok, 7995, p 12 16. Thamrongsak Petchlertanan, Kordng haffi Pa tiu'st -fi tpr a h aftt - kabot nai kcmmourg thai patchxban: Batwihroh lae ekasarn lExcuses for Rmlxtion-Coup- Rebellion in Carrent Thai Politics: An Aflalysis aftd D o ctm e utsl, Foundation for the Pmmotion of Social Sciences and Humanities Text Books Proiect, Bangkok, 2007, pp I 3-,14 representatives, while at the same time allowing their rural, workingclass counterparts the capacity to control, and even remove, the government, thereby creatin_g a new balance of power between the urban middle class and rural poor.rr Anek's bold statement reflects a belief on the part of the Thai middle class who consider representatives from the rural provinces to be mostly under-qualified and simply local tycoons or part of a local mafia. The Thai middle class is constantly dissatisfied with what it perceives as the low calibre of available candidates, To its members, it is this low standard that has led to mismanagement and political corruption. Though the 1997 Constitution was a product of participatory drafting and thus itself a democratic instrument, the Thai middle class would not tolerate 'wicked politicians', as was made clear by their support of the military coup on 19 September 2006. Chai-Anan Samudhavanija, another Thai political scientist, characterises this cycle as the 'vicious circle' of Thai politics and the path of Thai democracy since the 1"932 revolution has been disrupted by a number of coups. The main reasons given for carrying out the coups have focused on the corrupt management of government, on conflicts between bureaucratic officials and politicians, and on the Llse maiest| law.16 Thai elites believe that democracy is a product of Western civilisation, so to establish democracy in Thai society is akin to growing an apple tree in a tropical forest - it is simply impossible to reproduce'Western models within a Thai cultural framework. Hence, democratic culture does not fit with Thai society and Thai culture. According to this viewpoint Thais have to adapt some of the elements of democracy to the particularities 175 180 185 r90 795 200 205
  5. 5. 423 of their socio-cultural environment; only then will it be possible to create a Thai-style democracy. This democracy is characterised as an adapted version of Western practices so that Thais still have an excuse not to follow l0estern standards of democratic government, and the idea of an elected government is not a necessary pre-condition, if the government in power proves itself efficient. This represents a significant schism befween rural and urban people's understanding of how democracy is meant to be practised. It is believed that rural people expect their representatives to address questions of lack by ensuring their welfare and overall standard of living through a so-called patronage system. On the other hand, the urban middle class seeks more advanced policies to cope with rapid global changes and challenges. The middle class's distrust of politicians, mainly elected by the rural poor, compelled those who drafted the 2007 constitution to limit the powers of the House of Representatives but enhance those of the ludicial branch. It is widely controversial whether such constitutional practices are democratic. I argue that such claims are the point from which to assess the deformation of Thai democracy. The alibi of Thai-style democracy can be measured by examining a process of de-democratisation. Yoshifumi Tamada, a long-time scholar of Thai politics, states that such a process began with the critiques of the extra-stability of government, a phenomenon of the 1,997 constitution. The triumph of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Parry after the first term in the 2005 election was a threat to the middle class, who felt that Thaksin would monopolise the political realm.17 As a result, Thaksin was condemned with ldse maiestd charges and manipulating the rural poor through his populist policies. He was also charged with corruption, an accusation which prompted the architects of the 2007 constitution to delegate further powers to the iudiciary, allowing them to recruit members for political institutions and the so-called 'Tulakarnpiwat'. As mentioned earlier, the 2006 coup was supported by the PAD and urban middle class who also look for a higher moral standard from politicians. They even proposed a 30:70 proportional representation divided between rural and urban representatives. The de-democratisation started when 210 215 235 exceptions were deployed. I argue that Thai-style democracy is deforming Thai politics, since it has been employed by the Thai establishment in order to consolidate even more power within the bureaucratic and political elites. The deformation is revealed in the field of democratic practices that reduce partici- pation by the general public, preventing them from engaging with complicated challenges while putting the real power of decision-making into the hands of a narrow circle of elites - ie the judicial branch and highly respected persons - those most likely to express their hatred of 'bad politicians' while taking little part in the actual process of electoral 17, Ychifumi Tamada, 'Demaracy, Democratization and Dedemocratization', Fa Diaw l(cn, vol 6, no 4,2008, pp 98-1 39 18. Iola Lenzi, 'BACC Opens to Contemporary Art', C Arrs 6, November-December 2008, pp 98-102 politics. Over the years, many works of Thai art have been produced on the subject of the urban/rural dichotomy; for example, Chalud Nimsamer's Rural Sculptare 17982).18 Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook's The Two Planet Series (2008), which comprised videos and photographs recording the responses of Thai rural villagers to canonical W'estern arfiivorks, pushes the questions of aesthetic displacement further by articulating the displacement of democratic practices in which democracy is imagined, localised 255
  6. 6. 424 and comprehended from below. Mdnet's Luncheon on the Grass and Thai Villagers (2008) is one example, in which Araya is shown displaying Manet's Luncheon on the Grass to villagers, asking them to discuss what they see. The subsequent conversation revolved around how the villagers '!7hy, for perceived the work and its subjects as odd. example, did the model have to be naked? Why was she a 'floozy'? Vhy did the legs of the male subiects convey such intimate feelings towards the naked female subjects? Ifhy did the men in the painting have their clothes on while the women are naked or half-naked?le The focus of the work lies in bringing a painting originally intended for an indoor gallery space outside, where it could be seen next to ordinary villagers. Araya explains that she wanted to introduce European masterpieces to Thai farmers and listen to their uninhibited reaction; the p,rrpori was to find out what she could learn from Thai 260 265 270 farmers.2O However, such an experiment might be considered as an allegory to the notion of democracy and its practice in Thailand. The middle classes who condemn rural people {or not understanding international values and the practices of democracy will themselves never fully understand what democracy is meant to be. In contrast, the rural people feel that the middle class have privileges over and above their own situation as manifested through the ways in which they can gain access to a standard of living superior to their own. This disagreement leads to an aesthetic iudgement where the politics of aesthetics begins. Here we have a well-known painting and a question as to whether or not rural people could understand and appreciate it. This offers parallels to questions about democratic values and a process of democratisation, which might lead to the understanding and practices of a democratic regime. How can one agree on the rule of law and popular sovereignty but disrust the decision of the majority? Likewise, what might we rightfully expect from the arts? Araya's practice enables us to contemplate the fact that democracy from the Western world, which should be a universal value, has been transformed and translated in Thailand into a spatial practice - a deformed democracy. It is a democratic regime of 275 280 285 290 exceptions. LOSTIAI THE CrrIES Jim Thompson, the American merchant once known as the'King' of Thai silk, disappeared in 1967 during a trip to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. In order to celebrate Thompson's 100th birthday, the Jim Thompson House Museum commissioned Navin Rawanchaikul to organise an art exhibition. Navin made a series of cartoons based on the question: .What if Jim Thompson came back to Thailand in the year 2005?' Navin imagined that Jim would certainly have been 19. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, 'In This Circumstancet the Sole Object of Attention Should Be the Treachery of the Moon', Ardel Gallery of Modem An, Bangkok, 2008 20. Ibid amazed by the changes to the ciry in which he once lived. The installation comprised a life-size Jim Thompson sculpture, with a set of pictures narrating the imagined return of Jim Thompson to the streets of Bangkok more than thirty years after his disappearance. In the piece, he searches for his old home, only to find that Bangkok has changed so drastically he cannot find his way. Old Thompson only remembers thet he had a home near Saen Saeb canal and that he once owned a Thai silk 310
  7. 7. 425 Navin Rawanchaikul, detail from lost in tbe City (Long krung),2006, acrylic on canvas, 220 x 1,624 cm, photo courtesy Navin Production Co, Ltd, collection of Narong lntanate company. Thompson travels to Sanamluang nearby the Grand Palace, without knowing his destination or having any friends; there he meets Navin who is trying to make ends meet by selling peanuts. Navin brings Uncle Jim along with him, thus starting the adventure. Navin entitled the exhibition 'Lost in the City' or 'Long krung' and reproduced a street scene, sefting up a footpath in the exhibition hall, where he then installed a series of murals representing scenes from daily life in Bangkok. These remarkable murals employed a contempor- ary-traditional Thai style with both realistic and fictitious stories. from the streets of Bangkok were rendered on an eight-panel painting which showed not only a growing and disorderly Bangkok, but also the failed attempts to cope with the demonstrations by the PAD 'Yellow Shirts'. On panel six, the PAD are shown gathering in front of Democracy Monument in central Bangkok, whose distinctive towering wing-like pillars were erected to commemorate the 1932 coup that resulted in the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. Holding Scenes 35.5
  8. 8. 426 Navin Rawanchaikul, losl in tbe City (Long krung),2006, mixed media, installation view at Jim Thompson Art Bangkok, photo courtesy Navin Production Co, Ltd, collection of Narong lntanate 21. Police General Kovit 'Wattana, a former Chief oI the National Thai Police, who at that time u,as the Minister of the Interior, answering a question posed by the opposition in which he used the term'mob meesen'to imply that the PAD is supported by the elites in Thailand, especially pro-monarchists and ultra-royalists. It is the major reason why the PAD was able to seize Government House for 193 days (from 25 May to 2 December 2008) without being disbanded. The PAD seized Don Muang and Suvanabhumi Airpons from 25 November to 2 December 2008. In Center, banners reading gu chart ('rescue the nation') and toftan rabob Thaksin (down with the Thaksin regime), they march on Rajadamnern Avenue, and at nearby Democracy Monument there is a tank with riot police in tow. The tank's gun is filled with roses, a reference to both rhe actual moment of, and the PAD's support for, the 2005 coup. On the far right of the mural is a group in red shirts fighting with a man wearing 395 400 a yellow shirt. Navin's murals underpin the political turmoil of the street protests in which the PAD had an advantage over the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, or the UDD, some of whose members are known to be Thaksin suppofters. The PAD movement is outspoken about who its supporters are; one police general referred to the PAD as mob meesen ('the privileged mob').21 The way in which the UDD has been treated raises the question of double standards in terms of law enforcement and democratic practices in Thailand. There was a call for order when a military-led crackdown on UDD protesters was ordered by rhe government's Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation 41.5
  9. 9. 427 contrast, the UDD gathered on Raiadamnern on 12 March 2010 and were violently crushed by roops on 1 0 April 2010. The death toll reached twentysix. As a result, the UDD moved to Raiaprasong Road on 14 April 2010. Tragically, Apbhisit Vejjajiva st up the Cenre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation {CRES) on 7 April 2010, under the State of Emergency Act 2005, to deal with the mass protest. In the end, the military, acting under the ordere of the CRES, broke up the UDD protest site at Ra japrasong Junction on 19 May 2010. UDD protesters and members of the public, including two foreign joumalists, were killed, bringing the total number of deaths to ninetyone. The creation of the CRES as a reacdon to the UDD protests, in conrast to the (lack of) reafiion to the PAD protests, raises the issue of double standards in Thai politics. 22. The legal civil war is not an ovcr-simplifi cd statcmcnt. It is widely known that CRES closed down and blocked more rhan 65,000 websites accusing them of posting matters {alling under ldse majest6 legislation. Many community radio stations were also shut down, Yet the CRES, the Minister of Justice and Army leaders announced that they would hunt down anyone involved in acts of ldre malest6 including even organising anti-lise maiest6 networks. Ironically, freedom of expression and freedom o{ the mcdia were promoted after the May 1992 massacre and posited in the 1997 constitution as well as the 2007 constitution. Under the state of emergency such freedom is banned, however. 23. Walter Beniamin,'Theses on the Philosophy of History', I llumin ations, (CRES) on 19 May 2010, yet in that same month more than forty UDD protesters were fatally shot. CRES denies that the Royal Thai Army used live bullets against demonstrators, claiming instead that a group of black shins who appeared from nowhere started kiling people on the streets in order to frame CRES for murdering civilians.22 As of November 2010, the state of emergency still existed in parts of Thailand, and recalls lTalter Benjamin's view of the state of emergency as declared by a fascist regime.z't The state of exception becomes a condition and rule or, in other words,. a historical norm. It is what Giorgio Agamben calls 'a legal civil waf .24 420 425 DEFOR}ffNG THAI POLITICS Before the sound of niltety rounds of gunfire rang out, Kru r-ong proclaimed.: 'May dicutorship be destroyed, long liue democraqt." 430 Apichatpong'Weerasethakul, Primitiue, 2009 Inhis Primitiue project, Apichatpong Weerasethakul resurrects an unspoken story of the first violent clashes between the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) and the Thai government at Nabua Village in Renunakorn district in the province of Nakhorn Phanom, which took place on 7 August 1965. The CPT announced a conventional war against the Thai government in order to liberate Thais from government rule during the so-called 'bureaucratic polity' period. In this context, the 435 440 case of Krong Jundawong was an exemplar. Krong, a local teacher who joined the Free Thai Movement during the Second'l7orld War, was influenced by socialist ideology and had represented Sakolnakorn province on many occasions. He was later indicted under the Communist Act BE (7942) and sentenced to death under Article Seventeen of the Consti- 2495 445 tution BE 25AZ fl959'1. According to local history, his last words were 'long live democracy'. His body was riddled with more than ninery bullets.26 Krong's execution represents the height of Thailand's dictatorial rule. Along with many other young intellectuals and local politicians, he was a victim of this dictatorship. Many fled to foin the CPT in the jungle. The story of Nabua Village and Krong are intertwined in Apichatpong's frlms Phantoms of Nabua (2009), and later Uncle Boonmee-Who Can Recall His Past Liues (2010). The latter, which focuses on reincarnation and the Buddhist concepts of life, was awarded a Palme d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Despite their international success, Apichatpong's films have been frequently subjected to bans and censorship, especially as the 1930 Film Act still controls freedom of expression in Thailand. Syndromes and a Century (Saeng Satau.,atl was banned from theatres in Thailand for containing scenes in which a Buddhist monk plays a guitar, a doctor drinks alcohol while working in a hospital, and a doctor has an erection while kissing his girlfriend. These scenes were alleged to be inappropriate and disrespectful as they portrayed both the Buddhist clergy and the medical profession in a negative light. The targeting of Syndromes and a Century antagonised young film-makers and the art community at large. Apichatpong set up an online petition in mid-July 2007 and gained more than 450 455 460 465
  10. 10. 428 5000 supporters, avowing that it was 'a matter of basic human rights and the dignity of human beings under a democratic society"" Apichatpong's interest in primitivism and ghosts can be seen as symbolising the deformation of democracy. As he points out' the Power of ghosts is unknown and invisible: Schocken Books, New York, 196&, p 257 Ghosts 24. Giorgio Agambeo, State Excep ti on, Kevin Attell, trans, University of Chica go of Pres, Clhicago, 200.5, p 2 25. Veerarthakul, Pimitiue, op cit, P 12 26. hap://ww.komchadluek. net, accessed 15 August 2005 27. Brian Mertens, 'Apichatpong Bids to Unshackle Thai Cinema', ArtAsiaPacific 55, September/October 2007, p93 28. Apichatpong Wcrasthakul.'Influencc: Today and Tomorrow', ArtAsiaPacific Almanac 2008, no 3, 2008, p 269 29. Nick Nostitz, Red as Yellou Vol 1: Thailand's Crisr of ldeztrry, White Lotus, Bangkok,2009, p vi 30. Head was presented to CTV as a gift from the Indian Embaxy to commemorate sixty-two years of the Indian-Thai relationship with the suppon of the Ministry of Culture, the Bureau of the Crown Propeny, the lndiaThailand Chamber of Commerce, and the Cenral Pattana Group. 31. Susan Buck-Morss, T&e Dialectix of Seeing: Waltet Bmiamin and tbe Arcades Prolact, rVIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989, p 8l 32. The proiect'Shopping to Rescue the [Thai] Nation' was held right after the May 2010 massacre. The Abhisit Government and BMA worked closely to make sure that shop owners could get space and make a good return after the UDD had been dispersed. in December 2004... are utilised as a device to contol and set moral standards. This ultimate, hidden institution evokes fear and, at the same time, provides cornfort.2s Ghosts stalked Thailand after the Tsunami struck - the unknown, invisible powers in society - Democratic organisations such as the UDD and PAD wield a power that is similarly unknown, although it tends to provoke anxiety more often than it provides comfort. On the one hand, the PAD enioys a certain advantage in that charges of terrorism and seizing the airport have since been disputed. Moreover, PAD supporters continue to watch their television station, consume their products and connne themselves to a closed circle. One photographer noted that the PAD movement is more of a cult than a demonstration.2e At the height of the UDD protests, between 14 April and 19 May 2010, more than 10,000 UDD supporters gathered in front of Raiprasong's shopping arcades and centres. On 19 May, the CRES ordered the military to storm the UDD protest camp from their position across the other side of the street. The death toll went up steadily, even though the killing zone was located near Central Vorld (the building .World Trade Center', but when it was sold to was formerly called the Central Pattna Public Company Limited, its name was changed to Central forld), a luxurious shopping arcade. Indian artist Ravinder Reddy's Headbore witness to the shooting of rhe UDD protesters, given its location immediately outside the Zen department store adjacent to Central' A rumour spread afterwards that the head was a sign of redemption from sickness, bad luck and black magic. According to Thai custom, when a person gets sick and believes that the sickness is caused by an evil spirit, he or she makes a small doll and takes apart its head as a gesture of sacrifice. Installed near the Phra Trimurati (God of Love) shrine, Head was believed to be a bad omen for UDD protesters who camped at Rajaprasong junction, which is also an area where the famous Bhrama, Narai, Laksmi, Indra and Ganesha shrines are located. Such superstition is widespread among urban middle classes, whose business and living conditions depend on economic and political stability. The haunted Head and the death of UDD protesters contaminated these Bangkok shopping sites, yet their deaths as well as those of international iournalists have been intentionally dismissed in the wake of the middle classes' call to return to the good old days of Siam Square's shopping centre and Central Vorld. Their call re0ects Benjamin's notion of the phantasmagoria 470 475 480 485 490 495 500 510 attached to the fetishism of commodities,3l in which the Thai middle class interests itself, as Susan Buck-Morss highlights. After the protest was over, they came to Siam Square, started cleaning the street signs, footpaths and bus stops, and resumed their shopping. The Abhisit government and Bangkok Metropolitan Adminisration (BMA) allowed shop owners and shopping malls to use the streets of Bangkok as a venue for the campaigi-Sfr"p Cbuay Clal ('shopping for the Nation').32 .515
  11. 11. 429 In his analysis of Francis Bacon's work, Gilles Deleuze explains that the sensation felt lies in what is painted, and that sensation is the master of deformation. The sensation is thus beyond figurative representation; it goes directly to our instincts.33 Deformation starts from the very moment that we realise the sublect exists, a quality that in this context may be regarded as 'the ghostly deforming of the UDD', which reveals the fact that rural subjects are no longer confined to the middle-class imagination. As Kham Phaka, a writer and activist, states: 'Thailand is no longer the same; Thai people have changed, only the elites can no longer capture these changes and deceive themselves.'3o Her article reminds me of Giuseppe di Lampedusa's words, 'things have to change so that they can stay the same'.'t' To paraphrase di Lampedusa, the UDD had to be dispersed so that the Thai elites and middle class could stay the same. Nevertheless, the UDD and affiliated democratic movements haunt the Abhisit government, persistent in their calls for a truly democratic regime. 525 530 535 DEMOCRACYDEFORMED I 33. Gilles Deleuze, Froncrb Bacon: The Logic of Sersalioz, Daniel 7 Smith, trans, University of Minnesom Press, Minneapolis, 2002, pp 3138 34. Kham Phaka,Ntb tae nee pai mai meun derm lProm Now On [Thai People] W// Nor Be the SaueJ, Matichon Sudsapda (Matichon l?eekly), 24-30 April 2009 35. Sven Lutticken, 'On Gerald Raunig: Art and Revolution', Art Forum, September 2007, p 83 36. See have explored the terrain of contemporary Thai art and politics and explained that the violent intervention of the Thai army is often supported by the middle classes, who have implemented various forms of cultural governance within the arts. It should be noted that the Thai government's cultural governance prolect is still under way; it employs art as propaganda even as it attempts to de-politicise art. Exemplary in this regard is 'Imagine Peace', the exhibition organised by the Ministry of Culture with which I began this anicle. The project sought to bring happiness and reconciliation back to Thailand and on the surface it might have succeeded: participating artists have refrained from criticising the government and itsuse of violence against UDD protestetr.3t Y.t, us can be inferred from Apichatpong Weerasethakul's statement in2007 in which he declared the presence of 'cultural cops' among us, and in Navin Rawanchaikul's letter to Montien Boonma, it is possible to see that Thai state ideology is heavily contingent on the assumption and exercise of control. It is the propagation of a new form of Thai-style democracy, one that might be described as a democracy deformed. 540 545 550 5S5 http://ww,matichon, php?newsid= 1277631908&grpid= &catid=0, accsed October 2010. l8 I dedicate this article to those who fell during the'legal civil war'in Thailand in April and May 2010. I would like to thank the editors Joan Kee and Patrick Flores for their ceaseless efforts in helping me with my difficulties during the political turmoil in Thailand, and also Araya Rasdjarrearnsook, Gridthiya Gaweewong, ITilliam Warren Library, Thanom Chapakdee, Worathep Akrabutr, and the Kyo Reading Room. Special thanks are also due to Amporn Jiranikorn for her review of my paper and her useful comments, and to Navin Rawanchaikul for his prompt support. 560 565 570