Can one little plaque do that much 'damage'?

Can one little plaque do that much 'damage'?

Less than 24 hours after the anti-dictatorship activists installed a plaque symbolising democracy at Sanam Luang before wrapping up the rally, state agencies managed to remove it, explaining that the brass item "damages" the historical site. Wow! Such swift action by state agencies is rare.

It remains unclear exactly who removed the plaque. Within hours after it disappeared, the Fine Arts Department (FAD) rushed to file a complaint against the demonstrators for violating the Historical Sites, Archaeological Objects, Art Objects and National Museum Act 1961.

The state agencies' vigorous attempts to protect the historical ground amazed me. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is among them. As the crowd gathered on Saturday, they spotted a newly installed BMA sign: "Sanam Luang has been registered as a historical site since 1977".

The ground is open to the public for recreational activities and exercise from 5am to 10pm. It's also used for royal ceremonies, state ceremonies and traditions held by the government, as well as annual Thai sports events; all activities must comply with regulations on use and maintenance by the City Hall 2012.

I, and also members of the public, welcome such a quick and enthusiastic action. Could we call it efficiency? Yet, it's strange to see how the two agencies were so quick to penalise protesters for planting a tiny object in the ground, when they so often turn a blind eye to the damage or even demolition of buildings or places -- mostly carried out by state agencies -- that are actually considered to be national heritage.

Remember the Wat Kallaya demolition saga? The FAD was nothing but a paper tiger in the case as the abbot bulldozed ancient structures one after the other to pave the way for ... a car park.

The same agency sat idle as the BMA flattened the Mahakan Fort Community known for old, wooden houses dating back to the early Rattanakosin era, booting out the people there and turning the plot into a "park" which looked more like a green lawn. The FAD failed to recognise the precious wooden houses, which were the last in Bangkok.

I should also mention how strange it is that the FAD still has no clue about the whereabouts of the Lak Si Monument that was removed to accommodate a road widening project two years ago.

I'm afraid the ground, among other historical sites in Bangkok and the whole country, has for a long time been damaged as a result of misguided state policies.

In order to have more parking space for this area, the late Samak Sundaravej, who was the then Bangkok governor, initiated an underground car park which drew a lot of flak.

The historical site was eventually turned into an on-the-ground parking lot, receiving several dozens of tourist coaches, and a tourist drop-off spot where hundreds of tourists wishing to visit the Grand Palace hopped on and off.

Sanam Luang's surface had already been damaged countless times. A concrete strip was paved in the middle of Sanam Luang for tourist buses to run through to drop off and pick up tourists. One half of the ground currently is paved with durable material that looks similar to either epoxy or asphalt.

Hasn't that compromised Sanam Luang's value?

In fact, it's value as a historical site has been tarnished for quite some time. Look at recent history: The ground was fenced off in 2013 to keep homeless people and prostitutes off the grounds. In so doing, there was hardly any space for pedestrians to walk along safely or to wait for buses on the pavement.

The use of Sanam Luang has varied and changed over time. Once it served as a public speaking ground during the administration of Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram.

And those in their late 40s may still remember how people enjoyed sharing recreational activities at Sanam Luang. Many learned how to ride a bicycle there, while others hunted for second-hand books from the weekend market.

Older people will remember kite-flying and a game in which one would try to cut the rope of the other's kite. The fences keep out those leisure seekers.

In the past few decades, more importantly, Sanam Luang became surrounded by the Royal Palace, city pillars, the newly rebuilt Supreme Court, state agencies and universities, and was the centre of Bangkok, where people would catch and transfer buses.

It used to be a key political venue where political parties would kick off or wrap up their poll campaigning before election day.

The old Sanam Luang is no more. Whether the change is good or bad is up to individuals. But by claiming that placing a tiny plaque into its grounds somehow has caused damage is simply absurd.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai


Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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