Even in absentia, missing plaque does its job

Even in absentia, missing plaque does its job

An activist holds a piece of paper which reads: 'Where has the plaque gone?' Thiti Wannamontha
An activist holds a piece of paper which reads: 'Where has the plaque gone?' Thiti Wannamontha

It's been more than a week since a plaque commemorating the 1932 Siamese Revolution disappeared from the road surface near the King Rama V statue in Bangkok, sparking a public outcry and giving the authorities another headache to deal with.

Needless to say, the plaque, which marks one of the most important incidents in modern Thai history, is a hot potato politically.

But though I fully sympathise with those inflamed by this apparent act of "political vandalism", the extent of the public outcry has surprised me. Like those who are up in arms, I also wish the plaque, which marks the political transition from absolutism or constitutional monarchy, had stayed at its original site.

But I believe Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has ordered a probe into the case, will never give a full account of what has happened. Nor could he restore the original plaque to its rightful place even by waiving his magical wand, a.k.a. the all-powerful Section 44 that has apparently survived the changing of the charter.

My reason for wanting to see the plaque back in place has little do with the Khana Ratsadon (People's Party) or it's legacy, and more to do with respecting the artefact's place in Thai history. But am I devastated that it is gone? Not really.

We have to admit that we barely paid attention to this plaque before. How many people knew it even existed? How many cared about its historical importance. Just a few -- before it became headline news.

Yet amid all this, a good point has been raised: We have been undervaluing this historical object for way too long. We knew it lay in a fairly unenviable site given that the city's motorists were running over it day in and day out. But no one seemed to really care.

And it's not just the plaque that was forgotten -- very few people remember what the date it commemorates, June 24, was all about in the first place.

Frankly, lamenting the plaque's loss now feels a bit ironic.

Especially if you consider all the other historical incidents that deserve a plaque or even a monument, but which have passed by with nothing of that nature left to commemorate them.

The May 17, 1992 uprising is a case in point. This is when the pro-democracy movement challenged the military -- and won. Because of this uprising, the country got what is known as the people's constitution, which was promulgated in 1997, only to see it torn down in a coup almost a decade later.

There has been much talk of erecting a monument in honour of the 1992 incident, but nothing has ever materialised. The area designated as a potential site for such a monument now sits in a sorry state.

What perks me up when I reflect on all this is that, sometimes, the absence of such a commemorative artefact can sometimes signify the importance of the event it would have memorialised.

What I mean to say is that its very absence draws attention to the fear of those who do not want it there in the first place.

In the case of the ill-fated plaque, the silver lining is that its sudden disappearance has triggered an interest in this particular period of Thai history like never before. The people who removed it probably didn't expect that.

As a result, the issue has gone viral, with many netizens researching the period of history the plaque was always supposed to remind us of.

My only concern is that some people seem to treat history like a soap opera -- meaning there must be good guys and bad guys; a hero and an antagonist. Typically, our history textbooks treat our neighbours as enemies, and we are made to subconsciously hate them because of their acts of betrayal or aggression.

Regarding the plaque, some netizens have tried to fit these historical figures into the "good guy/ bad guy" format. But I don't see how this is constructive.

When considering our history we should look back and find out what drove people's actions, and what the consequences were for both themselves and the country.

History is supposed to teach us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We just need to be wise enough to pay attention. As such, the plaque is certainly of historical importance. But it doesn't matter where it is, or isn't, just that we're having this conversation.

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Former editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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