Bitter lessons for students lie in wait

Bitter lessons for students lie in wait

In this Oct 6, 2016 photo, banners explain what happened at the blood-soaked crackdown four decades ago. Krit Promsaka na Sakolnakorn
In this Oct 6, 2016 photo, banners explain what happened at the blood-soaked crackdown four decades ago. Krit Promsaka na Sakolnakorn

This Wednesday will be the 45th anniversary of the "October 6 incident", one of the darkest days in contemporary Thai history. Some lessons from the incident have yet to be learned.

It was a tragic day when innocent students and ordinary people, besieged inside Thammasat University, were brutally killed, lynched or assaulted by their fellow citizens, apparently consumed by madness and savagery after being brainwashed by the army-run Yankroh radio station, blaring hateful rhetoric into their eardrums all day and night before the bloodshed on Oct 6, 1976.

Many among us who are in now in our 60s or over knew something about the killings by the right-wing mob on that fateful day and the players involved in the brutal crackdown.

Among them are border patrol policemen, metropolitan police, village scouts, the Nawapon and the Red Guar thugs.

But little was known about the behind-the-scenes key players who plotted and ordered the brutal crackdown of the students who were branded communists bent on destroying the monarchy by the right-wing propaganda machine.

State officials then and now are reluctant to talk about the traumatic event. They have wanted us to forget about it and to leave it buried deep inside our memory. Hence, the incident has become taboo.

That was why the administration of Thammasat University rejected the request by the student organisation to use the campus to hold an event to commemorate the 45th anniversary of Oct 6 incident.

But the student activists, many of them members of the "Three-Fingered" movement, remain defiant and are determined to go ahead with their plan.

Thanks to the university administration for deciding to back down, but permission also must be sought from the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovations due to restrictions under the Communicable Disease Act which prohibits public gatherings.

Hopefully, the ministry will not raise any objection. The commemorative event should be held on campus to remind the new generation, most of whom are unaware of the event, that bloodshed is not a solution to political or ideological differences. And that it must not be repeated again.

The role of some media outlets in fanning hatred of the students among right-wing radicals and royalists remains a difficult topic for public discussions among the media partly because one of them, the right-wing Dao Sayam newspaper, no longer exists.

But in today's climate of political polarisation in which Thais are divided into three camps, pro-monarchy, anti-monarchy or reformists, and the silent majority, social media has become the favourite tool of anti-royalists to drum up support to their cause and at the same time, attack and ridicule the other side.

"Salim" is the favourite insult used by the anti-monarchy group against anyone who does not agree with their political stance.

This will only alienate the moderate or the silent majority and backfire on the anti-royalists such as the Ratsadon group.

The latest case in point is about a columnist and TV personality, well-known for her stance on the monarchy, who accused the owner of the Nam Prik (shrimp paste) Nittaya store of not welcoming "red shirt" customers after the owner barred her livestreaming the store's business.

Her accusation led to a call for a boycott of the store by supporters of the red-shirt movement.

But royalists responded with massive orders of the shrimp paste from the store, rendering the boycott call futile.

Democracy is not just about free expression, but also about openness and being receptive to divergent views.

Ridiculing or insulting others for their views as the Ratsadon group and its likes prefer to do is narrow-minded.

Instead, they should be more open-minded if they are to gain more supporters than foes.

On the issue of monarchy, many new-generation Thais have a different viewpoint from their elders who hold this institution in high respect. That is not surprising.

Times have changed. So do people's opinions, especially in an era when people have more access to certain information through social media which is normally not available from conventional print or broadcast media.

The organisers of the Oct 6 incident commemoration may have wanted to use the event to snipe at Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and demand his resignation.

But there are lessons to be learned from the fateful event as well as the preceding event three years earlier, the October 14 uprising, specifically pertaining to the student movement and activism -- its rise and decline and loss of public support.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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