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Friday, October 10, 2008
Don't lose heart
When the legendary newsman Sanpasiri Viriyasiri tried to broadcast what was happening when the police and militia stormed Thammasat University during the October 6, 1976 massacre, he was immediately fired.
Thirty-two years on, we now can watch the state's crackdown right in our living rooms live, and up to the minute.
So, if you are thinking out of frustration that the Oct 7 crackdown shows that our country is still stuck in the same political vicious cycle, and that all the previous efforts to end autocracy have been wasted, don't despair.
An open society is mandatory for democracy. We might be unhappy with many things in our country, but we cannot deny that ours is now a much more open society.
So take heart.
That the Oct 7 crackdown occurred 135 days after the anti-Thaksin protest started also shows that we have come a long way.
Three decades ago, the powers-that-be would not have wasted any time. We would certainly have seen more people killed and a lot of buildings and buses burned by a "third hand" to create a sense of anarchy before the military marched in.
The Sept 19, 2006 coup has taught us not to trust the military's vow of staying out of politics. Yet, the military's current extreme caution to appear politically correct is an important change that we cannot ignore.
The rumour mills no longer can spill their poisons to instigate violence as seriously as before, thanks to the more open media environment. The media's reports on the violence from both sides also help us to see the conflict in perspective and to form our own judgement amid the political divisiveness.
For example, we can dismiss as mere lies the insistence of the police that they had used only tear gas to disperse the crowd, because we have seen what happened to the protesters on our TV screens.
The scene when police hit the peaceful crowd in front of the Metropolitan Police Bureau with a barrage of tear gas, also came across clearly as excessive use of force, which must be condemned.
Meanwhile, how can we agree with some protesters' use of guns and sharp items as weapons?
How can we condone the sabre-rattling rhetoric of the protest leaders, who keep urging their followers to end Thaksin's - and his cronies' - rule at all costs?
We should be thankful for this ambivalence because it allows the silent majority's cry for non-violence to grow louder.
You may wonder why I am talking about positive changes when our country seems to be on the brink of anarchy.
It is because staying positive and being firm in our belief in non-violent change is the only way to prevent ourselves from being engulfed by the seemingly hopeless political situation.
Remaining positive is also what we should do when faced with a problem, if we want to call ours a Buddhist country.
Buddhism teaches us that change and inter-connectedness is the universal law that prevails for all. So if we want to initiate change, we must put the required factors in place.
If we want our democracy to go beyond the ballot-box ritual, we must understand that we cannot do away with money politics if the patron-client system which thrives on structural inequality remains intact.
Political decentralisation, land reform, progressive taxation, comprehensive state welfare. These are some of the measures necessary to bridge inequality as well as the rural-urban gap.
Another mandatory factor is the rule of law. Again, short of police reform, we cannot end police corruption and abuse of power.
If we see the authoritarian culture as our biggest stumbling block to democracy, the place to begin is our heart. Democracy cannot exist where there is no basic respect for human rights and dignity.
There are so many things to do to make our soil fertile for democracy to grow. We cannot bury ourselves in hopelessness. We must think of our children. We must not lose heart.
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