Opening an old wound

Opening an old wound

File photo dated Oct 4, 2020 shows an attendant of exhibition  during the commemoration two years ago watch at the photo that shows the lynching taken place 46 years ago. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)
File photo dated Oct 4, 2020 shows an attendant of exhibition during the commemoration two years ago watch at the photo that shows the lynching taken place 46 years ago. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)

Today the nation again commemorates the Oct 6, 1976 massacre of leftist protesters on a college campus during a violent crackdown by police and right-wing paramilitaries, one of the most tragic incidents to blight Thailand's history.

As is the case every year, a formal event will take place at Thammasat University in the early hours -- with restrictions in place, and almost certainly under state surveillance.

The 1976 incident and subsequent bloodletting followed days of student-led peaceful protest against the return of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn after three years of self-exile.

The violence, which saw the country plunge into an abysmal dictatorship, abruptly derailed the student movement and other organisations as many members fled to the jungle and joined the then-Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) in pursuit of leftist ideologies.

It was the so-called 22/2523 policy issued in 1979 during the Prem Tinsulanonda administration which embraced the return of students disillusioned with ideological clashes in the communist world.

Some went to study abroad and became scholars, like Thongchai Vinichakul and Seksan Prasertkul, while others enrolled in politics.

It is regrettable there has been no probe into the events that transpired. Worse still, the families of those slain by state security forces and groups of right-wing extremists, for example the village scouts, have since complained of attempts by the state to curb their commemorative activities.

A plan to have a monument bearing the names of the victims has also never got off the ground, while calls for fact-finding have been ignored.

The massacre has also been little mentioned in history textbooks, in what many have labelled "forced forgetfulness".

But this year, the organisers were even more disappointed as Thammasat University has closed its football field, the commemoration's centre stage, from activities to allow for re-planting. The activists released pictures of the land being ploughed.

At best, this is poor timing. Some see it as an excuse to minimise the event, after last year's edition was hindered by Covid-19 restrictions, and believe the university administration owes the public an explanation.

Instead of staying silent, Thammasat University should play a leading role in conducting a probe into the lynching that happened on its campus and adjacent areas nearly half a century ago, as well as the hanging of two anti-Thanom protesters in Nakhon Pathom province just a few weeks prior.

At least there should be open discussions about the incident and the bereaved given a chance to clear their loved ones' names and enter state-sponsored rehabilitation programmes.

Opening this old wound can be advantageous. A neutral probe would give society a chance to learn from the incident, rather than seeing the same old mistakes repeated.

This learning process is crucial, especially when society is facing political divisiveness and polarised opinion.

It's an opportunity lost, now that over four decades have passed, with evidence like photos destroyed and several of those involved having passed away.

But it's not too late.

The university should take the lead, and start off by helping the organising panel mark the event in a constructive way.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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