In the book of exile, Thaksin pens his legacy

In the book of exile, Thaksin pens his legacy

There are exiles that last a lifetime and others that last a weekend. To be exiled, says the self-exiled writer Roberto Bolano, "is not to disappear but to shrink, to slowly or quickly get smaller and smaller until we reach our real height, the true height of the self".

Cast out in exile, has Thaksin Shinawatra shrunk smaller and smaller until he's reached the true height of his self, or has he grown larger and larger until he's staring into the depths of his soul?

Has exile - banishment, wandering, flight, nomadic projectiles in the Bedouin desert - made him think more, or think less, about what history has done to him or what he's doing to history?

Exile, continues Bolano, is courage. "True exile," he wrote, "is the true measure of each writer." I believe he was thinking about Hugo, Dante, Swift, Joyce, Neruda, Hemingway, Wilde and other famous literary exiles, and yet in a bitter coincidence of history, the narrative of exile ensnares both writers and politicians alike.

To writers, the mark of courage Bolano talks about is clear and fundamental: The courage to keep shrinking and to keep writing. For politicians, the idea of courage is much harder to define, or malleable according to their agendas and whims. Courage to stick to what they believe in, if they actually believe in something.

Courage to be defiant or to be humbled. Courage to forge ahead or to retreat. Courage to openly remote-control and manipulate the events happening far away. Courage to publicly, desperately go against the opinion even of their own supporters in order to end their exiles. Courage to trample on the dead and whitewash history, and the courage to call that courage and not treachery.

All exiles, or at least most of them, want to come home. That's a given. But how they come home - sauntering down a red carpet or forcing their vengeance through the padlocked gate like rabid rottweilers - is a bigger test of courage and integrity of political exiles.

The flawed amnesty bill that would grant mass impunity to those who deserve trials and that would bring Thaksin home is now in the Senate - after the absurd marathon 19-hour parliamentary session that lasted until 4am yesterday, a proof of desperation on the part of Pheu Thai MPs who pushed the bill despite protests against it from all colours.

The ex-PM has the ball, but which narrative is he plotting for himself?

Thaksin was overthrown by unlawful forces, not at gunpoint but pretty close, but the real story is how he's conspiring to return. That, and not the exile, will be a measure of his true self.

In his free time, Thaksin could study other high-profile exile-and-comeback narratives. After victorious expeditions in Europe and North Africa, Napoleon was declared a threat to peace and exiled to the island of Elba; there he plotted a return, escaped, braved an arrest, and marched back to Paris - only to go into battle again, was defeated at Waterloo and exiled again to St Helena (a worse place than Dubai). Lenin was exiled to Siberia (a prison term, actually) and later he was in a self-imposed exile in Europe before returning to lead the successful Bolshevik Revolution. Alberto Fujimori of Peru was exiled (fled) to Japan; his return to Peru was as an arrested man who would be tried and later jailed.

The scariest precedent however - I guess this is what's on a lot of people's minds, though no one speaks about it at the moment - is the tempestuous exile and return of Field Marshall Thanom Kittikajorn. Driven out after the Oct 14, 1973 uprising, Thanom's return to Thailand as a novice monk three years later led to the horror of Oct 6, 1976, when right-wing factions massacred students at Thammasat University in a brutal episode that laid bare to witnesses not just the crime of murders, but of institutionalised hatred.

Which story was flashing through Thaksin's mind when he pressed his MPs to push the blanket amnesty bill - that of Napoleon, Lenin, Fujimori or Thanom - we have no idea. Typical of his brash confidence, Thaksin probably believes he can write his own story that pans out unlike any other, especially now that he seems to be able to appease the force that once ousted him. His story, nevertheless, will also become history. Exile shrinks some people and aggrandises others. And courage, yes, can be easily confused with cunning, conspiracy, and plain cowardice.

Take your pick.


Kong Rithdee is deputy Life editor, Bangkok Post.

Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post columnist

Kong Rithdee is a Bangkok Post columnist. He has written about films for 18 years with the Bangkok Post and other publications, and is one of the most prominent writers on cinema in the region.

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