A Thai boy splashes water on motorcyclists during the Songkran festival to celebrate Thai New Year in Bangkok, Thailand. Pic: AP.

As April approaches again, so is the traditional Thai New Year’s festival known as “Songkran”. Many Thais will take the days off and travel to their families, conduct merit-making and/or join in the fun of splashing each other with water – which has arguably taken over as the main part of Songkran for many, most of all foreign tourists.

It is also arguably – besides the Christmas season – the time of year that is most heavily advertised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) in order to bring in a lot tourists (and given the current political crisis, the country needs a lot of tourists now too). Where else in the world could you celebrate the Thai New Year other than in Thailand itself, right?

Well…

A Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) executive said on Tuesday that she plans to consult other state agencies to see if legal action could be taken to protect Thailand’s cultural heritage in the wake of a Singaporean plan to hold a “Songkran” festival in the city-state next month.

TAT Deputy Governor for Tourism Products Vilaiwan Twichasri said she would hold talks with officials at the Department of Intellectual Property, Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Culture to study intellectual property provisions on the issue.

If the law allows, TAT could take legal steps to prevent member states of the Asean Economic Community from conducting and organising traditional cultural activities based on Thai arts and culture, such as Songkran and Loy Krathong festival.

Suit eyed for Singapore Songkran“, Bangkok Post, March 18, 2014

*gasp* How could they! How could the Singaporeans exploit something essentially Thai and attempt to make an easy buck at the same time when the tourists are to supposed to come to Thailand and spend their money here?

Don’t let the ever vigilant Thai Ministry of Culture get hold of this…

A senior Culture Ministry official has threatened to sue organisers of a Songkran festival in Singapore next month, saying it will undermine the value of the rival Thai New Year celebration.

Culture Surveillance Bureau director Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn said Songkran is not just about splashing water for fun, but is aimed at strengthening relationships between family members and communities.

Singapore is using the festival to promote tourism, without acknowledging the value of the traditions behind Songkran, she said. “This is wrong because the value of the traditional celebration is being distorted,” she said.

Official threatens to sue Singapore over Songkran“, Bangkok Post, March 19, 2014

…too late! The self-proclaimed cultural heralds of ‘Thainess’ – or as we regularly call them “ThaiMiniCult” – yet again come out swinging hard, all in the name to protect the sanctimony of Thai culture – or the construct of what they believe it supposedly is. Just as seen numerous times in the past, the (moral) Thai authority knows best how to preserve our values and traditions against pesky foreign influences, as it happened with Thai food just to name one case. Or that one time where it saw Thailand’s moral reputation endangered by a lame SNL-sketch? Or that other time Lady Gaga wanted to buy a fake watch? And does anybody still remember “planking”?

As if that wasn’t enough, the “ThaiMiniCult” also has to explain us Thais what Songkran is actually about – and that is definitely not splashing water and dancing around topless (regardless that the moral crusade was undermined by a traditional painting depicting topless women on the ministry’s website)!

Let’s assume for a minute they would actually go ahead with a legal complaint: where would they file it? And since when has Thailand trademarked Songkran? Even if it would be a registered intangible cultural heritage – which the Thai authorities are working on hard lately – that wouldn’t either. You cannot simply monopolize culture (something “ThaiMiniCult” regularly lays claim on domestically), even if you end up using it a marketing schtick – which the Thai officials are accusing Singapore of of doing exactly that, by the way.

Then there’s the stated fear of Songkran being “distorted” from its original “Thai” roots. How are you going to forbid other countries to celebrate a festival that essentially the same? Mid-April marks the new year for many other countries in the region: Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia, Thingyan in Burma, Pbee Mai Lao in Laos and even in Yunnan, China – they are all essentially celebrating the same festival with the same customs and traditions in the same way the Thais do.

And one more thing: nobody has thought of suing Thailand for its interpretation of Christmas  – and its utter failure to acknowledge the values and tradition of that holiday – yet. Let’s hope they don’t try to steal it.

ADDENDUM (March 20, 2014): Thanks to a reader, I was pointed to a similar shindig that is planned to take place in – of all places – in my hometown of Bremen, Germany. A so-called “Songkran – Festival of Water Bremen” will take place “sometime this summer 2014″ and feature “a unique festival ground… thousands of squirt guns…a giant pool-area…and DJs.” Let’s hope ThaiMiniCult won’t be invading my former stomping grounds soon…

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About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and freelance foreign TV correspondent. He writes about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and has worked for Channel NewsAsia. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.