The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has done itself no favours in the last few days. Its treatment of the June 24 anniversary of the 1932 revolution was a self-inflicted shot to the foot. The arrest of a pro-democracy activist was self-defeating. The appalling decision to block a YouTube video clip of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator has once again put Thailand on the world's media front pages -- as a laughing stock.
The disappearance of the iconic plaque in the Royal Plaza in April set the stage for this disappointing attitude. The government either would not or could not explain what happened. The CCTV failed. The plaque commemorated the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy and the first taste of Thai democracy. It was only a small symbol, but was boosted into high importance when the government decided to stonewall all investigations into how and why it disappeared.
That posture set the stage for more ridiculous events on the actual anniversary. The worst decision was to block the YouTube video clip. It featured the speech from Chaplin's 1940 movie by the film's hero. He says, "The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people."
A netizen translated the short speech and put Thai subtitles on the clip, which lasts only three and a half minutes. It was one of several exhibits that were planned by the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights for its anniversary seminar. Also on show for the Saturday event was the Thai documentary The Six Principles, produced by the Pridi Banomyong Foundation.
One presumes the government will once again obstruct all inquiries into the Charlie Chaplin fiasco. Who instructed YouTube to block access to Thai viewers will likely remain a mystery. But the truly mysterious question is "why"? Before the clip was blocked, it had been watched by a few dozen people. Now that the regime has made it famous, and YouTube has properly unblocked it, more than 13,000 had clicked to watch as of press time.
Once again, by its aggressive censorship, the regime has only succeeded in making material more popular. The same happened when the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society warned the country not to look at the Facebook pages of anti-regime figures. The likes, shares and subscriptions increased by a magnitude.
The regime's attitude towards the June 24 anniversary, including the needless arrest of activist Rangsiman Rome, is highly disappointing. It completely ignores the high significance of the 1932 event. Trying to impose national silence and flush the 1932 revolution down the memory hole cannot work.
A thinking regime could have organised seminars, for example. There are plenty of opinions about the value of the Khana Ratsadon actions.
Many Thais value the memory of that group of mostly young patriots. And for many, the overthrow of the absolute monarchy was a negative act. The government and the National Council for Peace and Order will not even give an opinion. Their attempt to wipe the national memories and history books will never succeed.
This regime seized power on a single promise to bring reconciliation. It is not just failing at the task. Actions such as the weekend attacks on sense and sensibility only drive more wedges between factions and groups. The sad part is there is no reason for it. Open discussion of the 1932 revolution would be good for the national soul.