IN the days preceding the six-month anniversary of the latest military coup the three-finger salute made a comeback in Thailand, coinciding with the premiere of ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’. It was a case of life imitating art imitating life.
By now the images of young Thais showing the three-finger salute and getting hauled off by authorities have made a world tour, thanks to coverage from big media acronyms like AP, BBC, CNN , mass popular sites like Buzzfeed, numerous major newspapers, and even high-brow magazines like The Atlantic.
Natchacha Kongudom, one of the students detained for making the offending salute, told reporters:
The three-finger sign is a sign to show that I am calling for my basic right to live my life.
That’s the perspective of a young university student. Maj Gen Sansern Kaewkumnerd, Prime Minister’s Office deputy spokesman, gives a perspective of the junta:
Seeing a movie is a personal thing, and they all have a right to do that, but if, after seeing the movie, there are political activities involved, this is prohibited by martial law, which has been imposed since (last May’s) military intervention. (NYT)
Over the past six months living a life and doing mundane things can no longer be taken for granted in Thailand. Actions that would otherwise be considered normal like eating at McDonald’s or eating a sandwich, choosing a T-shirt to wear, or reading a book have taken on new meanings and, if done in public in a politically suggestive manner, can get one an “invitation” to a police station or a military facility for “attitude adjustment”.
Unless, of course, you were unfortunately aligned with the ousted government and/or had already been marked for having a record of talking famously and provocatively to the public about divisive concepts like democracy, freedom and human rights even before the coup — which would likely have granted you the honor of having your name on an official summons and spoken on national television without any immediate politically provocative action required on your part.
For those less famous, a piece of A-4 paper with a message or a silent gesture resembling criticism of the junta or demand for rights and freedom could also most assuredly earn you an encounter with authorities. In just weeks after May 22, these are the mundane activities that became problematic.
Understanding the junta’s vocabulary has also become and essential part of life — if you want to really know what’s going on and stay “happy” in the new regime, that is. People have become adept at collecting mundane words with not so mundane meanings. Among the top favorites in the junta’s newspeak are:
- invitation = 1) ‘request’ to report oneself at a police station or military camp ‘for a talk’ or ‘discussion’ (i.e. questioning) about one’s activity deemed not conducive to peace and order and happiness of the country (example), not synonymous with ‘arrest’; 2) official summons to report at a military facility (announced almost nightly on national television during the first few weeks, later understood to be quietly delivered at private residences), failure to report oneself has resulted in actual arrest (example), going into exile (example), and living as a fugitive abroad (example).
- accommodation = provision of free food and lodging for up to 7 days at a time at a given military facility in the early months after the May 22, 2014 ‘military intervention’ (see below) without access to a phone or Internet and without being charged (as allowed by Thailand’s martial law circa 1914), or as happened more recently for a shorter period of time (hours or overnight) at a military camp or police station; not synonymous with ‘detention’
- attitude adjustment = a ‘talk’ or ‘discussion’ session with military or police personnel which results from the ‘invitation’ and/or ‘accommodation’ which has the primary aim to ‘adjust the thinking’ of the invited/accommodated person or persons to achieve an ‘understanding’ that their activity is harmful to national peace and order or creating conflict in Thai society and, if the invited/accommodated person desires to be released, he or she will sign a written agreement (usually a prepared form) not to engage in the same or similarly divisive or harmful activities or expressing political opinions in the future, or face an actual arrest*; as this term has become somewhat pejorative, another alternative term ‘to have a moment of pause’ has been suggested by the military but this has yet to catch on (*Note: This has relaxed during the past week with several ‘invited’ persons refusing the sign the agreement having been released.)
- being invited for a coffee = slang term, arising from an incident in which a previously ‘invited’ person was asked to meet with a military personnel to ‘have a coffee’ at a neighborhood café which turned out to be another ‘invitation’
- meditation = spending a ‘quiet time’ under the care of soldiers in a military camp ‘away from distractions of the outside world’ in an undisclosed location without distracting contact with family and friends, the effect of such a meditation can result in being ‘happier than words can say’ (example); not synonymous with ‘enforced disappearance’
- military intervention = sudden seizure of power by the military from a popularly elected government; preferred term to ‘military coup’
- request for cooperation = a ‘request’ by military or police personnel to stop engaging in one’s politically suggestive (perceived or real) activity, failure to cooperate results in an ‘invitation’
- large discrepancy in prices = large difference (double or triple) between market prices and prices quoted in the current (post-‘military intervention’, post-populist) government’s procurement of equipment, specifically state-of-the-art Bosch multimedia microphones and not-so-state-of-the-art Plasma TVs; considered ‘not quite corruption’.
(See more lofty terms in A Glossary of 2014 Newspeak by Bangkok Post’s Kong Rithdee.)
It must be stated that life under the Thai junta is not at all a hardship, if individual rights and freedom are not your top priorities. If your happiness is derived from certainty, familiar hierarchy, peace and order, or simply absence of elected politicians, in particular the square-faced fugitive and his cronies, you would have had few complaints.
If you dislike too many divergent opinions and continuing conflicts, you would have found the “restoration” of peace and order highly satisfactory like the overwhelming majority of Thais, thank you. A tireless stream of opinion polls have confirmed how appreciative over 70-80-90% of Thais are that soldiers have stepped in to ‘reset’ the country and bring back not only happiness and reconciliation, but also moral governance to Thailand.
Reforms quickly started with authorities under new leadership of the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) “cleaning up” taxi mafias, extortion rackets, beach umbrellas, and whatnots. Undesirable people and things have been removed from beaches, Bangkok sidewalks, political offices, and tourist destinations. Bike lanes are being painted on roads and sidewalks in many cities. Even Bangkok governor has returned to work, painting bike lanes.
The hit Return Happiness to Thailand song penned by the NCPO leader and prime minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha himself has uplifted national spirit, with a melodic pleading for patience while the junta steers the country forward with much needed reforms. Our volunteer saviors will make Thailand good again. “Soon.”
To bring back love, how long will it take?
Please, will you wait? We will move beyond disputes
We will do what we promised. We are asking for a little more time.
And the beautiful land will return
We will do with sincerity
All we ask of you is to trust and have faith in us
The land will be good soon
Enjoy a new rendition by famous rock star Asanee Chotikul.
The beautiful song, all the non-populist free food, free haircuts, free World Cup broadcast, free movies, free Happiness festivities, owed money paid to the farmers in that disastrous rice pledging scheme by the last populist government, cut gas and petrol prices, lotto ticket price controls, salary raises for civil servants: all these “good” things should make anyone happy.
What’s more, the NCPO leader and PM just ordered a suspension of local elections covering over 1,000 local administrative positions nationwide, surely shutting the door in the faces of future corrupt elected politicians from the provinces. On the same day, the cabinet approved the planned Thai-China rail project, which paves the way for the building of 734kms of dual-track railways worth 400 billion baht (US$12.2 billion). That’s 400 billion taken away from the sticky hands of greedy elected politicians!
Really, what’s not to be happy about?
This is Part 1 of a three-part series. Follow these links to read the other instalments:
About the author:
Kaewmala is a writer, a blogger and an avid twitterer. She blogs at thaiwomantalks.com and is a provocateur of Thai language, culture and politics @thai_talk. Kaewmala is the author of a book that looks at the linguistic and cultural aspects of Thai sexuality called “Thai Love Talk”.