Clearing the smog of corruption- a letter to Friends and Comrades

30 October 2010

During the last few months I have written and posted several articles about the political crisis in Thailand, but I want to write more personally.

I left Bangkok on 24 April this year for a one month trip to Europe with an invitation from the Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland (SASK) and a multiple-entry Schengen visa. The bloody crackdown in Bangkok came just after I arrived in Europe.

After watching in horror what happened, I wrote and published what I felt, and have since been advised by friends to not return to Thailand for the time-being. (See footnote on  lès majesté).

Some friends have asked: “Is it worth writing about the Monarchy when you must face such unpleasant repercussions. Why not keep doing your important work without discussing the role of the Monarchy in politics?”

Thankfully, even in Thailand, the greater the attempts to silence the masses, the louder the voice of the opposition. Although most of the Thai intelligentsia remains mute as usual, little by little, we see more academics trying to break the silence.

What brought Thailand to this crisis?

With 90 dead and 2,000 wounded, the 2010 April-May crackdown has raised many dormant questions in many minds . . “Why are so many NGOs and trade union so silent about state-violence on the streets of Bangkok?” “Is tolerance of political oppression in Thailand coming to an end or not?”

I found my reaction to the violence of the Thai state left me no choice. Immediately I sent out a Call for International Solidarity Action with the People of Thailand and organised an on-line petition: ‘Stop the Bloodshed in Thailand’. With a deep breath I dived into writing ‘Why I don’t Love the King’, and then I up-dated the article we wrote last year: ‘The Voter’s Uprising that is changing perceptions in Thailand’.

Much of what I tried to express in these two essays is, now in October, well reflected, in greater detail, in the ‘Preliminary Report into the Situation of the Kingdom of Thailand With Regard to the Commission of Crimes Against Humanity’: a 61-page document submitted to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by Amsterdam and Peroff LLP – ‘On Behalf of The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship and Others’. For full details please see: http://robertamsterdam.com/thailand/

Feed back from these writings has shown they have helped at least some Thai people break-through the blanket of fear that lès majesté has been casting over Thailand – for decades.

Amazingly, the Abhisit Government, drowning in guilt, is using the law of lès majesté increasingly aggressively against anyone referring to the Monarchy in any way that does not please either the Government or the chiefs of the Royal Thai Army. Besides doubling the military budget, the current Government has thrown billions of Baht to the Ministry of the Interior with the intention of organising not less than 800,000 ‘Village Scouts to Protect the Monarchy’ and 200 ‘Cyber Scouts’ to police the internet. Some 250 000 websites have been blocked. Needless-to-say 82% of all new web sites are created to discuss the issue of Monarchy.

People on the secret list of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) are detained and charged with lès majesté without warning. Their cases are often conducted with interrogation of family members behind closed doors etc.

Because of such danger-in-the-dark and of risk to colleagues, I have cut most connections to my family and friends, to the TLC staff, to my own home, and stopped using the mobile number I used for 10 years.

All this has been heart-breaking at times.

How did Thailand get into this mess?

Please see my new website www.timeupthailand.net

Thailand began facing deepening political turmoil early in 2006, accompanied by non-violent and later extremely violent street protests, turmoil that has affected the lives of the whole nation.

Are you red or yellow?

Well, there are people who come in Green to protest the impact of power plants and dumping of toxic waste, and there are ordinary workers in many colours demanding that Thailand ratify the ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining. TLC has always marched with the unions.

To people on the outside, Thailand’s muddy politics must appear confused. They are, but we face strange complications. Thaksin’s poor reputation in the West has made it easier for the right-wing Royalist and yellow-shirted democrats, celebrities, academics, trade unionists and NGOs to steal power shamelessly – without any objection from the West, and not a squeak from the ASEAN.

Since 2006, Thai people have been forced to deal with six governments: Thaksin’s legitimately elected government, a military Junta, the Junta’s appointed government, two governments headed by PMs from the Thaksin-camp, and, after being soundly defeated in 3 electoral battles, the current Abhisit government, whose Democrat Party finally clawed and slithered it’s way to power in December 2008.

Kicked-started by the PAD, this ‘colour-war’ has mocked and divided Thai society as never before, painfully splitting households, NGOs and trade unions.

As mentioned, the split started to emerge clearly early in 2006, when anti-FTA and anti-privatisation NGOs and trade unions started to fall-in with the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) to kick out Thaksin ‘no-matter-what.’

I found myself in clear disagreement with the undemocratic character of the political process that was unfolding and, even though we had worked well together in good agreement for years, I began to fall out of agreement with many trade union and NGO comrades and friends. TLC staff were of course completely free to decide for themselves, but TLC as an organisation stood firm for ‘participatory democracy’ and did not lend itself to either the Yellow or Red Shirt mobilisation. I never participated in any Yellow Shirt action and lost contact with many friends. It was a difficult time and many friendship are being destroyed by this colour-war.

However, the bloody massacres in the centre of Bangkok were real. We are now witnessing, finally, a growing interest in the question . . “How come the NGOs, trade union leaders and academics who demanded the Thaksin-camp to not crackdown on Yellow Shirt demonstrations, remained so mute when the Abhisit-camp sent the elite forces of the Royal Thai Army against Red Shirt demonstrations in 2009 and 2010?

Take ‘FTA Watch’ as an example. They started participating in the Yellow-Shirt mobilisation already in December 2005. At the ASEAN Peoples Forum in September 2010 and the Asia-Europe People’s Forum in October they were still complimenting themselves on their achievements under the Junta’s 2007 Constitution.

The whole, huge confusion is typically Thai – a result of mixing social movement against neo-liberal globalisation with royalist-military concepts of ‘national security’.

It was a tragicomedy to watch so many Thai leaders drifting to the crazy Yellow-Shirt mobilisation. All PAD actions screwed-up badly. Their attempts to legitimise the 2006 military coup turned a bloodless coup into a bloodbath.

The tragedy was compounded when PAD leaders were rewarded by the Royalists with ministerial portfolios, by being made Senators and so on.

In a desperate attempt to gain some status, the amazing PAD formed a New Political Party, and then, even in Bangkok their supposed-to-be-heartland, the New Political Party failed to win a single seat in municipal elections.

Many NGO leaders who participated in PAD actions now sit on the National Reconciliation Council (and it’s sub-councils), which has an annual budget of 200 million Baht and is managed by the National Health Commission, which is chaired by Abhisit.

Some of the first people to align themselves with the Abhisit government after the bloody May crackdown – by arranging for themselves an ‘official visit’ to Government House – was a band of prominent unionists and self-appointed civil society ‘leaders’. They showed not a cent of interest in speaking on behalf of the families of the 90 (working class) people murdered, or for the 2,000 wounded by the military. They went to negotiate financial compensation for people who couldn’t get to work in down-town Bangkok during the Red Shirt demonstration!

The heavy funding by the global unions and trade unions in the North, that began in the 1970ies, rarely reached the grass-root of Thai society. These days That trade unions are gradually receiving more funding from the Government-funded Thai Health Promotion Foundation, which, in practice translates to a further undermining of the bottom-up, rights-based approach to labour organisation.

People interested in the paragraphs above would understand more by looking into how and why Somsak Kosaisook (the PAD leader who heads the New Political Party) was presented with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Human Rights Award in 2006.

How come so many unions and elite NGOs voted in contravention of their own statutes of justice?

They say to me: “You might be correct in your analysis of Thai politics, but what is the point of supporting the Red Shirts? If the Red Shirts win – Thaksin would return. Is that what you want?”

The Red Shirts began to emerge in hundreds of thousands in 2009. They were far from defeated by Abhisit’s horrifying crackdowns in the Aprils of 2009 and 2010. Certainly they will continue to mobilise for a General Election – and not cease until there is a new, properly and fairly elected Government.

Thailand’s civic celebrities and leading lights have long lived a precarious life on the back of a tiger, placed there by a mix of self-interest and fear of lès majesté. Up on the back of a tiger they are sitting ducks for royalist snipers and quack accordingly. If they fall off they must look into the eyes of the tiger.

Thaksin’s popularity threatened to push them off, so they joined the tactics of the Royalists and Yellow Shirts to help the Democrat Party kick him out. And the result? What fragile democracy Thailand had was blown apart.

Shooting-down a leading tycoon in a society ruled by corruption changes nothing.

The future of democracy in Thailand rests with whether or not we can be honest enough to find the strength to shake-off the monarcho-military corruption that has stamped the country since 1947. Can we be transparent enough to strengthen our democratic principles enough to clean-up the parliamentary system once and for all.

People must recognise and be encouraged in their understanding that their active participation in politics is most needed, most honourable, essential and critical. People must realise that they can and must take ownership of governance at every level – from village to National Assembly.

Why are so many NGO leaders and academics unable to wake-up? Do they still believe the Red Shirts are stupid farmers? Has the word ‘integrity’ in Thai lost all meaning?

After I sent out a statement condemning the 2006 military coup, a senior Thai aid agency official told me my statement did not represent ‘the Thai NGO position’! One month after the coup, at the Thai Social Forum in October 2006, there was a debate amongst right and left NGOs on whether or not to demonstrate under the military junta. A few decided to demonstrate, but the majority, especially those funded by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (who came to the forum in yellow), did not. And then, after the bloody May crackdown in 2010, I was told by a senior regional NGO official: “You don’t love Thailand and don’t deserve to be a Thai.”!

Since 2000, many funding agencies have been pulling out of Thailand, causing many NGOs to look elsewhere for support. Many have turned to the funding schemes of the ministries. The ‘Thai Health Promotion Foundation’ (THPF, 2001, financed by sales tax on tobacco, alcohol etc.), has been playing an increasingly significant role in guiding NGOs. Under the monitored guidelines of the THPF many NGOs have shifted the emphasis of their work from ‘rights based approach’ to ‘service provider’. Since they are required to withdraw from political mobilisation, many NGOs have now departed from the critical task of campaigning for participatory democracy.

Of the overseas aid agencies that have remained in Thailand, many have begun to regard Thailand as merely a convenient location for managing their S-E Asia programmes. Turning a blind eye on the political turmoil that has engulfed the society in which they work has became a custom. So long as their favourite PAD-Thai  is available at lunchtime, that’s all that really matters in Thailand.

Even under Thaksin Thai NGOs and aid agencies were heavily censored and self-censored – being obliged to report their activities to the Ministry of the Interior, police etc.

Agencies funding the rights-based approach have always been under constant threat of interrogation – of having their offices searched, shut-down and so on. There has always been a strong tendency to submit to the forces of the Tyrannosaurus – to compromise with human rights.

Little-by-little, the staff of the regional and international aid agencies became natural allies of the Yellow and, for grass-root, rights-based people’s organisations funding became increasingly difficult or impossible to obtain.

Who says we have to reconcile with this Government?

Since 2006 many NGOs, not just TLC, have found it harder and harder to move their work forward according to plan. Thailand’s mad colour politics not only divided our organisations but it also wounded our ability to be objective.

Many organisations used their resources to support the Yellow Shirt mobilisation, placing enormous stress on their ability to sustain any coherence in their work for human rights.

We have come to the point where all of us must understand that this crazy colour-war is a serious threat to the last vestiges of political sanity in Thailand. We really do need to help each other climb out of this very ugly pit, but how?

NGOs and INGOs will achieve nothing by deluding themselves into imagining that they can by playing along with political corruption.

In July this year, Abhisit appointed former Prime Minister Anan Panyarachun to lead his National Reconciliation Council, allocating 600 million Baht (14.6 million Euro) for the next 3 years (200 million Baht/year). As mentioned, Anan selected well-known NGOs and academics to sit on his Council.

Not surprisingly, during it’s first public hearing on 17 October 2010, the NRC met with strong protest and the message: ‘A pity that death cannot be reconciled.”

Protests such as this are a healthy sign that the Thai patron-client culture of seniorities, that has choked and poisoned Thai culture and undermined the integrity and effectiveness of NGO networks for decades, is now, to some extent, being put under the laser and challenged – especially by young activists.

Thai Social Movement Watch

New generation intellectuals and activists are beginning to question the legitimacy and established role of NGO leaders and academics. Thai Social Movement Watch was formed just two months ago to help raise critical voices from the rank and file – voices of people that see and recognise injustice for what it is – injustice.

NGOs are important because they function like a company – they are often able to identify and address problems in a way that the bureaucratic machinery cannot or will not. The problem with NGOs is that as they specialise and become ‘expert’ they have a tendency to start acting as representatives of the people – instead of facilitating and educating people to help themselves.

Thailand’s traditional patron-client culture bred an NGO culture with precious little interest in self-moderation. It promoted an NGO celebrity culture, in effect a thoroughly non-democratic NGO culture that became deeply and irreversibly embedded in the dirty games of Thailand’s mainstream politics and the masterly Thai concept of ‘Good People’.

If Thailand is to climb out from the mud, we must welcome movements like Thai Social Movement Watch – and actively support the opening-up of healthy criticism of Thai NGO culture.

By accepting to sit on the NRC well-known NGO personalities provided an illegitimate Government with an undeserved smattering legitimacy. They themselves became party to Abhisit’s oppressive ‘state of emergency’ and his desperate attempt to delay a General Election for as long as possible – in the hope that time would help his attempts to ‘cover-up’ his atrocities and enable to him to manipulate, somehow, the electorate in his favour.

For the sake of the future of democracy throughout Indo-China, for the sake of the people of Burma and of all the ASEAN countries, global INGOs, unions and inter-governmental agencies must look deeper, more carefully and more honestly into the root causes of what Ban Ki Moon called Thailand’s ‘internal affair’, a dirty affair to be sure, an ‘internal affair’ which has been taken, with full legitimacy, to the International Criminal Court.

When will need for letters such as this be behind us?

Observing the confused and contradictory characteristics of Thailand’s violent colour-politics, TLC made a general decision to stay concentrated on grass-root field work.

Since 2006 we have made several field trips along the Thai-Burma border, along the Mekong and throughout ‘Isan’ in the north-east, working mainly on migrant worker rights and issues. These field trips resulted in, at first, the establishment of the Network against Exploitation and Trafficking of Migrant Workers (NAT) in 2007. In 2009 we were able to establish the Migrant Workers Union Thailand (MWUT).

For the past three years, our work on migrant worker rights (combining Thai and Burmese migrant worker issues) has developed greatly, in collaboration with many organisations working to eliminate labour trafficking. We work to promote and develop ideas for rehabilitation through better understanding of the possibilities offered by organic farming, which is (finally) becoming recognised, all around the world, as one of the essential pathways for eliminating poverty, for building self-reliance, sustainable development and essential economic empowerment.

It was in the service of MWUT that I came to Europe in April, to follow-up on the suffering and plight of the hundreds of small farmers from Isan who had become badly caught-up in the false promises of the forest berry industry in Scandinavia, and also to follow-up on some migrant worker cases in Poland and Spain.

In view of the crackdown, my decision to speak out against corruption in Thailand more strongly than ever before has affected my whole life – all my work and schedules.

Just now I do my best to continue to work from Europe. Since April we have completed two 4 000 km field-trips in Scandinavia and several working trips in Europe – to Bucharest, Turin, Geneva and Brussels. In Thailand the TLC staff continues to work hard but, for myself, not being able to attend to tasks in Thailand that require my direct inter-action disturbs me very much all the time. Under the circumstances we cannot expect too much, but TLC, like many other grass-root NGOs at this time, needs the on-going solidarity of old friends and comrades to help it through this extraordinary period of political confusion.

* * *

This is a long letter for friends who may have been wondering . . ‘Where is Junya?’ or maybe ‘Why has her writing become so aggressive?’.

I do not feel aggressive, but yes of course I feel angry. There is an important difference. The depth and extent and impact of the political and other forms of corruption in Thailand are making a lot of people angry, not just me. The rot must be attacked and exposed with vigour.

After decades of allowing the principles of democracy to remain subservient to the ideas about ‘national security’ that are perpetrated by militaristic royalists (backed by the USA), I would like, as a Thai, to say that we Thai are in the midst of a very real struggle to rescue and restore our democracy.

My hope is that, by sharing our analysis of the on-going crisis in Thailand – with the Thai public, with the International Community, with the people of the world, we might be able to find a non-violent way to overcome our gaping democracy deficits, and of strengthening the roots of our democracy.

To facilitate the sharing of analysis, I have launched a new initiative called ‘Action for People’s Democracy in Thailand’. We have received a great amount of ‘in principle support’ from thousands of people and I feel, more so than when I started TLC, that I am not working alone.

Staying firm and true to oneself as a human being and as an ordinary Thai citizen is not easy amidst all this political manipulation and chaos.

Action for People’s Democracy in Thailand wants to say to the millions of comrades in Thailand who resist the meaninglessness of Thai politics that they have many good reasons to not give up. The whole world is confused, not just Thailand, but “Together we will prevail”!

For the time-being I must remain in Europe, but leaving my whole huge life in Thailand unattended – my work, TLC, my family and friends and especially my Open Heart Organic Home project is painful at the best of times.

Open Heart has already hosted many friends and comrades. Although still in an early stage the project has already taught us much about food security and self-reliance. If any friends have some possibility to visit Open Heart while I am away please do so, and let me know. I shall write separately about Open Heart.

In closing this letter – which I don’t want to do, I must say that I could not have made it alive through the last 4 years without the support of all my friends and without the support I receive from Riku.

So . .  Please support . . Action for People’s Democracy in Thailand :)

I will return to Thailand as soon as possible.

In solidarity with all your work.

Lek.

Footnote:

About lés majesté

Since the military Coup in 2006 the number of cases of lès majesté has increased 2,000 %.

The question of whether Thailand needs a Monarchy, or what kind of a Monarchy it needs, rests with the electorate, and can be only decided by the electorate. In 2010 it should not be difficult to understand that the neither the Monarchy or the nation need a law of lès majesté.

In Thailand lès majesté is a tool to silence, oppress and suppress the aspirations of the lower class. It serves only a small, selfish, highly privileged, power-elite. It does not serve the Monarchy. It is a tool to ensure that neither democracy nor sustainable development for the majority can progress.

Continued current use of lès majesté will serve only to alienate the Monarchy from the People – serve only to self-ensure the downfall of the Thai Monarchy.

This post is also available in: Thai

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